Country Music Hall of Fame Member Bonnie Brown Dies At 77

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• July 19, 2016
Bonnie Brown

Bonnie Brown

Funeral services were held for Country Music Hall of Fame member Bonnie Brown on Saturday, July 23 at 10 a.m. at the Presbyterian Church in Dardanelle.

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Bonnie Brown, who entered the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2015 as a member of The Browns, died Saturday (July 16) at age 77.

With her siblings Jim Ed Brown and Maxine Brown, she created a dulcet-singing harmony trio that achieved success on both country and pop hit parades. The Browns’ 1959 smash hit “The Three Bells” was the first true “Nashville Sound” single to “crossover” and become a No. 1 pop success. Bonnie, Jim Ed and Maxine also had simultaneous pop and country hits with the tender folk-flavored, ballad singles “Scarlet Ribbons” and “The Old Lamplighter.” Bonnie Brown sang with her siblings throughout most of the 1950s and 1960s, placing 20 titles on the country charts.

She was the youngest member of the trio, being four years younger than her brother and seven years younger than her sister. All of the singing Browns were raised in Arkansas. Jim Ed and Maxine came to local prominence as a duo, then achieve national success with the 1954 hit “Looking Back to See.” Bonnie Brown joined them the following year, just after she graduated from high school.

From the start, the trio’s sibling harmony blend was exquisite, with Jim Ed’s fluid baritone, Maxine’s resonant alto and Bonnie’s lilting soprano creating memorable audio overtones. They scored immediately on the country charts with “Here Today and Gone Tomorrow” (1955), “I Take the Chance” (1956) and “I Heard the Bluebirds Sing” (1957).

The Browns’ country successes continued with “Would You Care” (1958) and “Beyond the Shadow” (1959). All three Brown siblings were pitch-perfect harmony singers, but the pattern became Jim Ed singing lead with Bonnie and Maxine as his blending vocalists. They became stars at both The Louisiana Hayride and The Ozark Jubilee. In the early 1950s, The Browns toured with the then-emerging star Elvis Presley, who took a shine to both Bonnie and Maxine.

Bonnie Brown provided the group with much of its visual appeal. Her striking beauty remained with her throughout her subsequent life, onstage and off. The trio’s elegant harmony singing was nowhere better illustrated than on 1959’s “The Three Bells.” This charming, chiming story song was adapted by The Browns from a French pop hit. Produced by Chet Atkins, it was No. 1 on the country charts for 10 weeks and No. 1 on the pop charts for four weeks. Then as now, this was a stunning feat for a Nashville country record.

Bonnie and her siblings replicated that hit’s sound on the pop and country successes “Scarlet Ribbons” (1959) and “The Old Lamplighter” (1960). Then The Browns solidified their country stardom with “Send Me the Pillow You Dream On” (1961), “Then I’ll Stop Loving You” (1964), “Everybody’s Darlin’ Plus Mine” (1964), “I’d Be Just Fool Enough” (1966), “Coming Back to You” (1966) and other hits.

Bonnie Brown

Bonnie Brown

The Browns joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry in 1963.

Bonnie Brown withdrew from the group in 1967 to settle back home in Arkansas with her husband and raise their daughters. Jim Ed Brown went on to have a hugely successful solo career. Maxine Brown also made solo records. The trio reunited several times over the years, usually at the Opry. Bonnie and Maxine also appeared on Jim Ed’s final album, 2015’s In Style Again. Later that year, Jim Ed Brown was diagnosed with lung cancer. He died in June 2015, but was presented with his Hall of Fame honor at his bedside before he passed away. Bonnie and Maxine attended the group’s official Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Nashville that fall.

Bonnie Brown also had lung cancer. She died of the disease on Saturday afternoon, July 16, at Baptist Health Medical Center in Little Rock.

Dr. Gene “Brownie” Ring, her husband of more than 56 years, died in January. Bonnie Jean Brown is survived by their daughters Kelly and Robin, by several grandchildren and by her sister Maxine.

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About the Author

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

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