Singer Charlie Louvin Dies at 83
The Country Music Hall of Famer and half of the Louvin Brothers duo passed away Wednesday from complications of pancreatic cancer.
One of the true pioneers of Country Music, Charlie Louvin, died on Wednesday from complications related to pancreatic cancer. He had been a member of the Grand Ole Opry since 1955.
Best known as the surviving half of the harmony-oriented brother act, The Louvin Brothers, Charlie Elzer Loudermilk was born on July 7, 1927 in the Sand Mountain area of Alabama. With Charlie playing guitar and harmonizing alongside his older brother Ira, The Louvin Brothers sustained a remarkable impact on a wide range of musicians in country, gospel and rock music for decades.
As musicians, The Louvin Brothers were inspired by other kin groups like the Alabama-born Delmore Brothers, the Monroe Brothers (featuring Bill Monroe), and the Singing Carter Family. They were peers with Grand Ole Opry mainstays like Grandpa Jones and Merle Travis, and their early recordings featured versatile Nashville session guitarists like Chet Atkins and Hank Garland.
Performing unique traditional fare like the Appalachian murder ballad “Knoxville Girl” and “In the Pines” as well as mid-fifties hits like “When I Stop Dreaming” and “Cash On The Barrelhead” and 1961’s “The Great Atomic Power,” the Louvins’ unique artistry touched the likes of The Everly Brothers, Gram Parsons, The Byrds, Jeff Tweedy, Bright Eyes, Marty Stuart, George Jones, Emmylou Harris, Johnny Cash and Jack White.
Starting their career as The Radio Twins and The Sand Mountain Playboys, the two changed their stage name to The Louvin Brothers in 1947 because people were having a hard time with the last name Loudermilk (They were cousins of songwriter John D. Loudermilk). The Louvin Brothers played a tough Southern circuit of radio shows, churches and lodge halls throughout the late 1940s. The duo broke up periodically, first in the 1945 when Charlie joined the army. They started cutting gospel singles in 1949 but disbanded again briefly in 1951. They recorded for Decca and MGM, then Capitol Records, where they attained a minor hit single with “The Family That Prays.”
The Louvin Brothers shifted away from playing strictly religious music in an effort to become more commercial, but never renounced their gospel roots. They became members of The Grand Old Opry in 1955 where their fortune turned with the success of their first secular effort, “When I Stop Dreaming.” In the latter 1950s the Louvins stood out with inventive concept albums that were mostly foreign to country music at the time -- these recordings include Tragic Songs of Life released in 1956, and most notably, Satan Is Real, which came out in 1959.
Charlie legally changed his last name to Louvin in 1960 while the singing duo thrived, but Charlie’s brother Ira was a difficult individual with a serious drinking problem that worsened over time. Their professional differences came to a head in 1963 when their partnership dissolved again. This time the breakup was permanent, as Ira and his wife died in an auto wreck in 1965 coming home from a performance when a drunk driver struck their car.
As a solo act, Charlie never fully relinquished his attachment to his brother, always moving to the left side of the microphone like he did when he sang with Ira. The Louvin Brothers were inducted into the Country Hall Of Fame in 2001 and the tribute record Livin’ Lovin’, Losin’: Songs Of The Louvin Brothers won the GRAMMY award for best country album in 2004. Charlie Louvin had made a fair professional comeback since then, releasing several albums on the Tompkins Square label featuring a number of special guests paying tribute to the aging singer.
Charlie Louvin’s most recent album, The Battles Rage On -- made in honor of the men and women of the Armed Services --was released in 2010 on True North Records. He is survived by his wife of 61 years, Betty Harrison Louvin, three sons, Glenn, Kenneth and Charlie Jr., three sisters, Flora Lauderdale, Ailene Parker and Geraldine McDonald, and five grandchildren.