LifeNotes: R.I.P. Nashville R&B Vet Audrey Bryant

Audrey Jean Bryant-Watkins

Audrey Jean Bryant-Watkins

Vintage Nashville singer Audrey Bryant passed away last week at age 76. Bryant died on April 7. Her funeral service was private and for immediate family only.

One of her r&b performances was featured on the CD Night Train to Nashville, which won the 2005 Grammy Award as Best Historical Album. The record accompanied an acclaimed exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame about the history of Nashville’s r&b and soul-music scene. It saluted Bryant, among others. The exhibit’s full title was “Night Train to Nashville: Music City Rhythm & Blues, 1945-1970.”

Audrey Bryant first came to Nashville’s attention in the 1950s when she began appearing on local television. According to the liner notes of the Grammy-winning CD, she pantomimed records by Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, Etta James and the like on WSIX-TV. This was as a cast member on local DJ Noel Ball’s Bop Hop teen TV show, beginning in 1954.

“I believe I was the first black female to be a cast member on Nashville television – maybe in the whole state of Tennessee,” Bryant recalled.

Her prominence and talent were such that Chet Atkins reportedly scouted her to record country music on Music Row. She declined, she said. Still, producer Red Wortham recruited mainstream Nashville musicians — including piano-playing Country Music Hall of Fame member Hargus “Pig” Robbins — to back her in the studio in 1959.

One result was the rockabilly-flavored “Let’s Trade a Little” on Do-Re-Mi Records. This is the track that appeared on the Grammy-winning Night Train to Nashville 47 years later. Her vintage recording of “Good, Good Love’ was reissued on 2001s Nashville Rock ‘N’ Roll.

She was Audrey Jean Bryant-Watkins at the time of her death.

She is survived by husband James P. Watkins, daughter Jamye K.Watkins-Jenkins, three grandsons and one great-grandson.

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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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