Country Music's Oldest Living Links and Legends
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Violet Hensley / Loretta Lynn / Willie Nelson / Jesse McReynolds

With the recent death of some of country music's oldest living legends and links to their past, such as: Don Maddox by Maddox Brothers and Rose aged 98 and over Sue Thompson At 96, it seems like the right time to wonder who is one of the oldest country music legends still alive? Here is a (hopefully) largely complete list. If you see any omissions, please understand that omniscience is impossible for anyone and feel free to fill us in using the comments section below. And P.S., the age was reduced to 88 so the list wouldn't go on forever.

Violet Hensley – age 105

Violet Hensley, known by many names including Whittling Fiddler and Stradivarius of the Ozarks, Grand Ole Opry cast member, actress, violinist and known as the Living Treasure, is perhaps the oldest living link to the country's past -Music. Born on October 21, 1916 to George Washington Brumley and Nora Springer Brumley, she would be 105 years old.

She learned violin making from her father, who made his first violin with hand tools in 1888. Violet Hensley was married at the age of 18 with nine children, but always found the time to pursue her passion for violin making. A violin made by Violet Hensley is considered a treasure and a masterpiece. It wasn't until later in life that she became known as a performer, releasing three albums, Old Time Fiddle Tunes (1974), The Whittling Fiddler and Family (1983) and Family Treasures (2004).

Violet Hensley has also appeared in The Beverly Hillbillies (1969), The Art Linkletter Show (1970), Captain Kangaroo (1977), and Live with Regis and Kathy Lee (1992). She has been featured in National Geographic and other magazines and made her Grand Ole Opry debut on August 6, 2016, at the tender age of 99.

Merv Shiner – age 100

Merv was born on February 20, 1921 and is one of the last Singin & # 39; Cowboys. Unlike many of his contemporaries who rose to fame in California during the movie era, the Bethlehem, Pennsylvania native found better luck in the east. From his mother he learned to sing and perform at a young age. In 1942 he moved to Los Angeles and worked in a defense factory while trying to make it as a solo artist. When that didn't work, he returned to Pennsylvania and appeared on the radio in Allentown and on television in New York City. At that time he got a record deal with Decca Records.

The signature song throughout Merv Shiner's 35-year career was the semi-nursery rhyme, "Peter Cottontail," which became a hit in 1950. The song's success enabled Shiner to make his Grand Ole Opry debut on April 8, 1950, the day before Easter and the perfect day to perform "Peter Cottontail". Who did Merv Shiner play this song with? None other than Hank Williams. This makes Merv one of the last living artists to stand on stage with Hank Williams.

Merv Shiner now lives in Tampa, Florida.

Rose Lee Maphis – Age 98

Half of the country music couple so revered in the business called themselves "Mr. and Mrs. Country Music “, Rose Lee Maphis is a living treasure trove of country music. Born Rose Lee Schetrompf on December 29, 1922 in Baltimore, Maryland, she appeared on the radio in Hagerstown, Maryland at the age of 15 and was a member of the girls' group Saddle Sweethearts.

Joe Maphis was a hip country guitarist known for his fingerpicked tunes, and the two met at The Old Dominion Barn Dance in Virginia after Joe served in World War II. Joe and Rose Lee would start performing together but not officially marry and form a proper duo until the two moved to California around 1951.

After years of performing on barn dance programs, the duo were shocked by the electric country sound forged in Bakersfield and co-wrote what is now the country standard, "Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (And Loud, Loud Music)" from what she saw in California's honky tonks. The song has been covered by numerous country artists and is a signature of the Bakersfield sound.

Joe Maphis died on June 27, 1986, but Rose Lee Maphis is still with us.

C. W. McCall – age 92

As one of the great overlords of country trucker songs, C.W. McCall as a classic country car because he really isn't compared to any other. He just got off to a late start in the country. Although he is best known for his 1976 country trucker mega song, "Convoy," which ranked number 1 and inspired a film with Kris Kristofferson, his contributions to country go a little deeper.

CW McCall released six albums during its heyday and had a total of seven top 25 singles, including a # 2 for "Roses For Mama" in 1978. It's just that "Convoy" got so ubiquitous, it became his signature and it got planned as a "one-hit wonder".

Born William Dale Fries Jr. on November 15, 1928, he was advertising creative director for years and his country trucker personality emerged from a campaign for the Metz Baking Company. The commercials featured a driver named C. W. McCall, and the rest was history. An interesting footnote, after McCall had largely retired from country music, he was elected mayor of Ouray, Colorado, in 1986 and served for six years.

Jesse McReynolds – Age 92

Few people are left who can trace their roots back to the early days of bluegrass, but Jesse McReynolds is one of them, and he still performs like he's not a day past 70. Born July 9, 1929 and Revered for his signature crosspicking style of mandolin playing, the Coeburn, Virginia native began performing with his brother Jim around 1947.

Sometimes referred to as The McReynolds Brothers, sometimes Jim and Jesse, sometimes The Virginia Boys or The Virginia Trio, they were an enterprising and important part of bluegrass in the 50s that never stopped. Jesse McReynolds became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1964 along with his brother Jim, who died of cancer in 2002. Even until the COVID-19 shutdown, Jesse was performing 60-70 times a year and performing regularly in the Opry. He is currently the oldest member of the institution and one of the most loyal.

Loretta Lynn – Age 89

Of course, one cannot talk about country music's oldest and most beloved living performers without mentioning the Queen, Coal Miner's Daughter, Loretta Lynn, who was born in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky on April 14, 1932 . Unlike most of the other names on the list, Loretta Lynn had a late entry into music compared to others. She became a close friend of Patsy Cline early in her career, which makes her a direct link to the Golden Era of Country, but Loretta's career didn't start until 1960 and she didn't have her first # 1 hit until 1967. Loretta Lynn had four children and raised the youngest to eight before seriously embarking on her country music career.

Strong femininity and overcoming adversity is what Loretta Lynn's career was about, much like many of the country's early women. It was a man's world, but Loretta Lynn had success with songs that dealt directly with femininity. And Loretta Lynn is still going strong, releasing her latest album Still Woman Enough on March 19, 2021.

It's amazing that we can live in the era of Loretta Lynn. Future generations will look back on us and be amazed that Loretta was still alive when we were, just as Loretta was still with Patsy Cline and Hank Williams were the greatest things in country music.

Bobby Osborne – Age 89

Imagine country music, bluegrass, and life in Tennessee and beyond without the iconic song "Rocky Top". The Osborne Brothers were the first to recognize the importance of this iconic composition by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant and make it known to the world. And along with all of their other contributions, it made Bobby Osborne and Brother Sonny bluegrass legends.

Like his brother Sonny, Bobby Osborne was born in Roark, Kentucky. The mandolin player was born on December 7, 1931 and founded The Osborne Brothers with his siblings. The Osborne Brothers were invited to join the Grand Ole Opry in 1964, and right after Jesse McReynolds, Bobby Osborne is the second oldest member of the Grand Ole Opry.

Along with the release of "Rocky Top" on Christmas Day 1967, the Osborne Brothers and Bobby Solo have had an extensive recording career. Sonny is six years younger than Booby, born on October 29, 1937.

Willie Nelson – Age 88

Born on April 29, 1933 in Abbott, Texas, compiling a list of the oldest living country legends is kind of insane, and Willie Nelson is a sizable number among them. But no name could be bigger or more important.

Aside from all the obvious things that make Willie Nelson the most famous living link to country music past alongside Loretta – including his songwriting for artists like Patsy Cline and Faron Young in hits of the early '60s – Willie starred as a young man in Bob Wills & # 39; Texas Playboys and performed in bars and honky tonks at the age of 13. He later also played bass for Ray Price with the Cherokee Cowboys.

At the original Dripping Springs Reunion, and later at Willie's annual July 4th Picnics, Willie invited past greats including Roy Acuff, Earl Scruggs, Buck Owens, Bill Monroe, Hank Snow, and other country music legends. Willie may not be the oldest link to the past, but he remains the patriarch of the genre as a whole.

Billie Jean Horton – Age 88

Though not a well-known performer herself, Billie Jean Horton, born June 6, 1933, is one of the few remaining country music personalities who not only followed the music, but lived it and helped keep it alive for future generations to obtain.

From Bossier City, Louisiana, Billie Jean Hank Williams was introduced to another famous country singer, Faron Young, who was dating Billie Jean at the time. She was only 19 years old, and in October 1952, Billie Jean and Hank Williams were married in a private ceremony in Louisiana. They later repeated their vows in front of large audiences at two concerts on the stage of the Municipal Auditorium in New Orleans.

Three short months later, Hank Williams was dead. He died on New Year's Day 1953. Later in 1953, Billie Jean Williams married country star Johnny Horton, who died in a 1960 car accident, making Billie Jean a famous country widow for the second time . For a short time, Billie Jean also had a relationship with Johnny Cash while he was still married to his first wife Vivian Liberto. The famous country musician had a career of her own for a while and achieved a top 40 country record with "Ocean of Tears" in 1961, collecting songs by Johnny Horton after his death and putting them together for new releases.

Stonewall Jackson – Age 88

Yes, Stonewall Jackson is still alive. Born on November 6, 1932 in Tabor City, North Carolina, he was one of the greatest stars of country music of the 50s and 60s, despite being one of the performers whose music and legacy are regularly lost in battle.

Stonewall Jackson has the honor of becoming one of the first Grand Ole Opry stars to be invited as a member prior to earning a recording deal. When he began performing regularly at the Opry and touring around with his mentor Ernest Tubb, he eventually landed a deal with Columbia Records and released twenty top 20 singles over the next few years, including number 1 for "Waterloo" in 1959, and "BJ and the DJ." in 1964.

Stonewall is also honored to confront the Opry in 2006 when he sued the institution on $ 20 million for age discrimination. Jackson became a rallying cry for many artists and fans who felt the Opry would leave them in old age, and embracing, rather than ousting, aging artists helped change the Opry's culture. The lawsuit was eventually settled for an undisclosed amount and made great strides for senior country artists. Health has largely kept Stonewall out of the public eye for the past several years. And yes, Stonewall Jackson is his real name, not a stage name.

Other important living links to country music past

Bill Pittman – Age 101 – Bill Pittman, born February 12, 1920, is a guitarist and session musician best known for his work in rock & # 39; n & # 39; roll, but has occasionally contributed to country, including He played for The Byrds, The Everly Brothers, the Roger Miller Show and the Glen Campbell Show.

Bill Hayes – age 96 – Bill was born on June 5, 1925 and is best known as a longtime actor on the daily soap opera Days of Our Lives. But it's related to country music. He is one of numerous artists who had a big hit in 1955 at the height of the Davy Crockett phase with a version of "The Ballad of Davy Crockett".

Ray "Chubby" Howard – Age 95 – Steel guitarist, born in Gooserock, Kentucky in 1926, began playing electric steel guitar, which his father bought from the Sears catalog for $ 65 when he was 10 years old. He played with Buck Owens & # 39; first band, the Bar-K-Gang, Boxcar Willie, Shot Jackson, Little Jimmy Dickens and toured behind Connie Smith for seven years.

Bobby Bare – Age 86 – Bobby Bare, born April 7, 1935, feels almost like the baby of the group. But with the deaths of Billy Joe Shaver and others, he is one of the last of the original outlaws left along with Willie Nelson, and it would be wrong not to mention him here at least.

Kris Kristofferson – Age 85 Born June 22, 1936 in Brownsville, TX, the Rogues Scholar, helicopter pilot, Army Ranger and officer, and later songwriter, actor, performer, and highwayman, isn't as old as others on the list, but he's just as savvy.


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