All The Chapel Bells Are Ringing For Jim Ed Brown

Jim Ed Brown.jpg

Submitted by Don Graham

When I was I kid growing up in Montreal we would pack up the car every August and head to Toronto to visit our Nana. My memories of those summers at Nana’s were streetcars, oatmeal cookies and listening to her big radio in the parlour. In 1959 there was one song that everything stopped for; Nana’s favourite song, “The Three Bells” by The Browns. The song told the story of the little newsboy Jimmy Brown. The church bells in the little valley town rang when Jimmy was born, when he got married and when he passed away. Nana loved the bible passages and the sentiment of the song. She also loved the lead voice. The voice was that of Jim Ed Brown who formed The Browns with his sisters Maxine and Bonnie. Sadly Jim Ed passed away last week at the age of 81 in Franklin, Tennessee. The cause of death was listed as lung cancer.

The song almost didn’t get recorded. The Browns were preparing to disband as a group and were finishing up a final recording session when their producer Chet Atkins, asked them if there was something they fancied recording. They suggested “The Three Bells” which had been a hit in French by Edith Piaf called Les Trois Cloches. Jim Ed remembered that after the session Chet said “I know you folks are thinking about breaking up but I think you’ve just recorded the biggest record we’ve ever made.” And big it was making it to number one the pop and country charts.

James Edward Brown was born on April 1, 1934, in Sparkman, Arkansas. His father owned a farm, a sawmill, a cafe and a small grocery store, bringing up his family in Benton and Pine Bluff.

The family would listen to the Grand Ole Opry radio broadcast on Saturday nights, and Jim Ed started trying to sing like Roy Acuff, Bill Monroe and Hank Snow. Jim and his older sister, Maxine began singing together on the local radio station in Pine Bluff.

Jim Ed entered a talent contest in 1952 at station KLRA in Little Rock, coming in second to a harmonica player. He was then invited to appear on the station’s “Barnyard Frolic” show. He and Maxine signed with Abbott Records, recording under the name Jim Edward Brown and Maxine Brown. They wrote and recorded “Looking Back to See,”  that made the country Top 10.The two performed on the radio show “Louisiana Hayride”  and for two weeks they toured with Elvis Presley, at the top of the bill.

Bonnie joined the act in 1955, singing on the Top 10 hit “Here Today and Gone Tomorrow”

With the runaway success of “The Three Bells,” and the growing popularity of folk music, RCA packaged the Browns as a clean-cut country-folk act. After recording the solid crossover hits “Scarlet Ribbons (for Her Hair)”,”The Old Lamplighter” and “Send Me the Pillow That You Dream On” they were invited to join the Grand Ole Opry in 1963.

Earlier this year, Mr. Brown released an album, “In Style Again” for Plowboy Records, singing with his sisters, Ms. Cornelius, Vince Gill, and Sharon and Cheryl White.

Up and coming Canadian country singer Naomi Bristow shared this about her experience with Jim Ed Brown. 'Back int he summer of 2010 Jim Ed graciously joined me in singing the duet "Lookin' Back to See" on my album "Lookin' Back". He walked into the recording studio and he as larger than life. My body trembled with delight and my heart pounded with nervous energy. He came bearing gifts for me, a collection of his albums, an autographed picture and his life story book that Maxine, his sister, had written. His quiet, soft and friendly voice calmed me down and soon we became oddly connected. I will never forget that day, his kindness etched in my heart forever. We met many times after that and each time, especially at the Opry, he would take my hand and lead me around backstage introducing me to all the stars. Although to me he was the brightest star! Today as they hold the funeral for my sweet friend and mentor, through my tears I will have many reasons to smile and remind myself of how grateful and blessed I am to have known this special man. Until we meet again Jim Ed."

A week before Mr. Brown died, Opry officials and the singer Bill Anderson took the Country Music Hall of Fame medallion to his hospital room and placed it around his neck.

“He was tearing up and so was I and so was everybody in the room,” Mr. Anderson told The Tennessean newspaper. He said: ‘I had about convinced myself that even if I don’t make the Hall of Fame, I’ve had a pretty good run. But to wear this medallion and know that I made it to the Hall of Fame makes it perfect.’ ”
R.I.P. Jim Ed Brown, I hope you get to meet my Nana and she tells you how much your song meant to her.