“Maxine and my little brother Raymond used to save our money and order song books of Roy Acuff, Red Foley and Bill Monroe,” Jim Ed told interviewer Christian Scalise. “They were a quarter a piece, so we’d send in the money and they would send us the books. The family would sit around the fireplace in the wintertime because it was cold, and every time they sang a song we would all sing along with them.”
Inspired by what they heard, Jim Ed and his older sister, Maxine, would harmonize together. They began appearing on local radio while Jim Ed was still in high school.
By his second year in college, Jim Edward (as he was called) and Maxine were regulars on the Barnyard Frolic on Little Rock radio station KLRA. Their first hit, “Looking Back to See,” became a No. 8 country hit in 1954. The next year, younger sister Bonnie joined them and they became The Browns, scoring another Top 10 hit with “Here Today and Gone Tomorrow.” The group signed with RCA in 1956 and quickly notched two Top 5 hits, “I Take the Chance” and “I Heard the Bluebird Sing.”
After a two-year stint in the service, Jim Ed joined his sisters again, and in 1959 they hit with “The Three Bells,” topping the country chart for 10 weeks and the pop charts for four weeks. Follow-up singles “The Old Lamplighter” and “Scarlet Ribbons” were pop-country hits as well.
The Browns joined the Opry in 1963, but by the mid-’60s Bonnie and Maxine decided to retire. Jim Ed went solo and scored hits throughout the next two decades. His 1966 smash, “Pop a Top,” hit No. 3.
Beginning in 1975, Jim Ed co-hosted the syndicated weekly television series Nashville on the Road for six seasons. He also teamed with Helen Cornelius to become one of country music’s most successful duos. The pair topped the charts with “I Don’t Want to Have to Marry You” in 1976 and were named Country Music Association Vocal Duo of the Year in 1977.
In 1983, Jim Ed became host of You Can Be a Star, a country music talent search on The Nashville Network. In 1994, he and his wife Becky co-hosted TNN’s travel show Going Our Way.
In recent years, Jim Ed hosted the nationally syndicated Country Greats Radio Show and remained a smooth-voiced crowd pleaser. In 2015, it was announced that he and his sisters were to be inducted into the Country Music Hall Of Fame. From time to time Opry audiences witness a truly magical moment, when Bonnie and Maxine reunite with Jim Ed onstage and The Browns are once again together in the spotlight. He also released his first album in 35 years, In Style Again, in 2015.
Jim Ed passed away as a result of cancer in June 2015 in Franklin, Tennessee. A special ceremony was held in his hospital room where fellow Grand Ole Opry member Bill Anderson presented Jim Ed with his Hall of Fame medallion in advance of the official induction ceremony later this year.