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Happy Birthday, Bonnie Brown

Watch Bonnie Brown and her siblings (including Jim Ed, pictured above) sing The Three Bells, one of their biggest hits.

Have you heard of Bonnie Brown?

Bonnie was one of the Browns, a polished, Grammy-nominated country music sibling trio whose smooth harmonies influenced generations of singers, including the Beatles, Lady A, and Little Big Town. Considered today as one of the most important vocal acts of the Nashville Sound era, the harmonies Bonnie and her siblings created were revolutionary.

Bonnie (left), Jim Ed, and Maxine Brown in the late 1950s.

Bonnie Brown’s story begins on July 31, 1938 when she was born in Sparkman, Arkansas. When Bonnie was in grade school, the family moved to Pine Bluff.

In 1955, at age 18, she joined her older siblings Maxine and Jim Ed Brown, who were already performing as a duo, to form the musical trio the Browns. Signed by RCA Victor in 1956, their first charting single, "Here Today and Gone Tomorrow" peaked at No. 7 in 1955, and in 1956, their recording of "I Take the Chance" hit No. 2 on the country charts.

The Browns had 21 chart topping country music hits between 1954 and 1968. They scored their biggest hit when their folk-pop single "The Three Bells" reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop and country charts. The single, which was produced by Chet Atkins, spent 10 weeks atop the country chart, four weeks on the pop charts, and even crossed over to the Hot R&B Sides chart, peaking at No. 10. Five decades after its release, “The Three Bells” experienced a minor resurgence when it was featured in two episodes of the final season of the HBO drama “The Sopranos.”

During the 1950s, the Browns were cast members on “The Louisiana Hayride” and “Ozark Jubilee,” and, for a time, toured with a close family friend named Elvis Presley. Bonnie and Elvis were romantically involved for a short time during their time on “The Louisiana Hayride,” and when Bonnie and her siblings came home to visit their parents in Pine Bluff, Elvis often tagged along. Bonnie’s parents owned the Trio Club, a popular Pine Bluff music venue in the 1950s and 1960s. In the years just before Elvis Presley hit the big time, he toured as the opening act for the Browns. The Brown family home in Pine Bluff was open to Elvis, who was known to come in through the garage when he was out after hours.

In 1965, the Browns joined the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville and disbanded in 1967 after Bonnie retired from the music business to focus on raising a family.

Unlike her siblings, Bonnie did not pursue a solo music career after the Browns dissolved, though the trio did reunite twice: in the 1980s, and in 2006 for a TV special Country Pop Legends.

In 1998, the trio were inducted into the Arkansas Entertainers’ Hall of Fame, which is located inside the Pine Bluff Convention Center. In 2015, they were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Bonnie Brown died in 2016 at age 76.

Sources: Delta Music and Film; Wikipedia

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