Country music bids farewell to Jim Ed Brown

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(Photo: Mark Humphrey, AP)

Brian Mansfield, USA TODAY

NASHVILLE — Country singer Jim Ed Brown’s friends and fellow entertainers remembered him Monday as a kind, friendly and helpful man who was always ready to visit and always the first to pick up a guitar.

Funeral services for Brown were held at the Ryman Auditorium, where the Country Music Hall of Famer often performed as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Brown died Thursday at age 81 after being diagnosed with lung cancer last year.

“Harmony is a thread through the entirety of his legacy,” Grand Ole Opry general manager Pete Fisher said of the singer, who had hits as a member of The Browns trio, the duo of Jim Ed Brown & Helen Cornelius and as a solo act. Fisher called Brown, who joined the Opry cast in 1963, “an irreplaceable member of our family who will be deeply, deeply missed.”

On a stage set with flowers, photos and a red stage jacket with black embroidery that Brown often wore, fellow Opry member Jeannie Seely read remembrances from Brown’s daughter, Kim. Brenda Lee, who hosted the press conference in March announcing the election of Brown and his sisters, Bonnie and Maxine, to the Country Music Hall of Fame, called him “a tall and elegantly soft-spoken Southern gentleman.” Lee spoke of touring with The Browns early in her career, calling them her “road family” who watched “over me like a big sister.”

Brown’s service featured several musical performances. The Oak Ridge Boys sang ana cappella rendition of Life’s Railway to Heaven, while Crystal Gayle performed her hitWhen I Dream, recalling that Brown also liked to perform the song during some of his concerts. During his performance of Amazing Grace, Craig Morgan turned his back to the funeral attendees so he could wipe away tears. Vince Gill sang one of his own songs, called Threaten Me With Heaven.

Lady Antebellum sang Never Alone, and the group’s Hillary Scott also sang Sweet Beulah Land with her parents, Lang Scott and Linda Davis. Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers, bluegrass singer Rhonda Vincent and gospel trio The Isaacs also performed.

Brown’s recording career spanned more than 55 years and included such hits as 1959’s The Three Bells and 1967’s solo smash Pop a Top. In January, Brown releasedIn Style Again, his first album in 35 years.