LifeNotes: Radio Personality Robert “Hoss” Burns Passes

"Hoss" Burns

Robert “Hoss” Burns

Former WSIX Nashville radio disc jockey Robert “Hoss” Burns has died at age 56.

According to his former colleague and longtime friend Devon O’Day, Burns was found dead in his Old Hickory apartment last Thursday. He passed away on Dec. 16. The radio personality, singer and songwriter had been recovering from heart surgery.

During his years at WSIX, Burns was twice nominated as the CMA’s medium-market broadcast personality of the year. He was also the host of the nationally-syndicated weekly radio series Country Hitmakers, as well as of a number of national radio specials.

Robert Charles Burns was born in Sisbee, Texas, and raised in Port Arthur. He began his radio career at age 16 as an early-morning DJ broadcasting before school. He attended the University of Texas in Austin for two years, studying voice, saxophone, piano, music theory and composition.

Heading back to East Texas, he went on the air at KLVI-AM and KYKR-FM in Beaumont. He also launched his career as a voice-over artist, working for all three television stations in the market. He was billed as Chuck Burns during his Texas career.

Burns was hired by WSIX-FM in 1986. It was at this time that he adopted the pseudonym Hoss Burns. He remained with WSIX for nine years.

He made history as the first country music personality to publicly disclose his HIV-positive status. He did so in the context of a 12-hour broadcasting marathon that became a fundraiser for St. Jude. During the broadcast, more than 100 artists pledged their support for him, including Garth Brooks, Billy Ray Cyrus, Reba McEntire and a tearful Lorrie Morgan.

Following his retirement from broadcasting in 1995, Burns continued to work as a voice-over artist. In addition, he worked as an AIDS activist. “I’m not dying with AIDS, I’m living with it,” he said to journalist Phyllis Stark.

He was also a singer and a songwriter who was published by Sony-Tree. His songs have been recorded by Alan Jackson, Kenny Chesney, Eddy Arnold, Doug Stone, Dionne Warwick and two dozen other artists. Among his best-known songs is the Christmas favorite “Just Put a Ribbon in Your Hair.”

He was behind the charity recording “Let’s Open Up Our Hearts.” This led to him being honored by then-President George Bush for donating $150,000 to the Cities In Schools program in Washington, D.C. In addition, Burns raised funds for Special Olympics, Dreammakers, Nashville CARES and many other causes.

Hoss Burns is survived by his father Robert Lee and by five siblings. Arrangements are being handled by Phillips-Robinson Funeral Home. The private memorial will be for the family. A public celebration of life is to be announced.

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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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