In Memoriam: Jan Howard (1929-2020)

Grand Ole Opry legend Jan Howard has passed away at the age of 91.

Rolling Stone reports:

Jan Howard, a 49-year member of the Grand Ole Opry and a chart-topping country singer, died Saturday in Gallatin, Tennessee, according to a statement from the Opry. She was 91.

Her first hit, penned by her husband and Fuzzy Owen, was “The One You Slip Around With,” a Top 20 single in 1960. The Howards relocated to Nashville, where she began appearing on the Opry. Howard would sing on demos of songs written by her husband, including “I Fall to Pieces,” a major success for Patsy Cline. After a brief recording career with Capitol Records, she was signed to the Decca label, landing a Top Five single with “Evil on Your Mind.” Howard would also team with Opry star Bill Anderson on a number of duets, including her sole Number One, “For Loving You.”

Howard was inducted into the Opry on March 27, 1971, and would continue to have hits through the Seventies. She served as one of the Opry’s key performers and ambassadors throughout the remainder of her life. Her autobiography, Sunshine & Shadow: My Story, published in 1987, detailed a turbulent, often tragic life that Howard herself would describe as “a great soap opera.” Authors Robert K. Oermann and Mary Bufwack praised Howard’s “blunt, no-nonsense manner and stylish, no frills look” in their book Finding Her Voice.

“Jan Howard was a force of nature in country music, at the Opry, and in life,” said Grand Ole Opry Vice President and Executive Producer Dan Rogers. “We were all so lucky so many nights to hear her voice on stage and to catch up with her backstage. We’re all better for having had her in our lives.”

Jan Howard was a significant figure in country music history, both as a singer and a songwriter.  When Country Universe ranked the 100 Greatest Women in 2018, Howard placed at #65:

Jan Howard’s biography could have been its own country song, and even was at times, but her talent has always been coupled with grit.

Howard’s recording career was uneventful until 1966, when she scored her biggest solo hit, “Evil On Your Mind,” and followed it up with the second and last solo top ten of her career, “Bad Seed.” The latter song was written by Bill Anderson, and most of the hits she would have in the following years would be duets with him. Together, they scored four top five hits in five years, including the four-week #1 “For Loving You” in 1967 and “Dis-Satisfied” in 1971, which the two co-wrote with Howard’s son, Carter.

It was for her son Jimmy that Howard wrote her most personal song, “My Son.” She wrote it in 1968 after she dreamed he’d died in battle in Vietnam. She had such difficulty recording it that the producers stitched together the song from multiple takes. She was hesitant to put it out as a single, but she realized that other parents with children overseas could make it their own. Tragically, her son was killed in battle only two weeks after the single was released.

In 1971, Howard became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. While her solo career had cooled by then, she was still having hits with Bill Anderson, and she’d also penned singles for Kitty Wells (“It’s all Over But the Crying”), Connie Smith (“I Never Once Stopped Loving You”) and Anderson himself (“Love is a Sometimes Thing.”)

The Opry milestone was followed by another tragedy, when her youngest son David committed suicide. She was devastated, and was helped greatly by Johnny Cash & June Carter, who coaxed her back on to the stage by inviting her on their tour. She would later tour with Tammy Wynette as well, but her home base was always the Opry.

In 1979, after she found herself on the verge of suicide, she sat down and began writing a song called “My Story.” It would later grow into her autobiography, Sunshine and Shadow, which helped her come to terms with both the challenges and the blessings in her past. Howard remarried in 1990, and has remained an active and vibrant member of the Opry cast.  Most recently, she collaborated with Jessi Colter and fellow Opry legend Jeannie Seely on “We’re Still Hangin’ in There, Ain’t We, Jessi,” a track from Seely’s 2017 studio album.

Howard was a member of the Grand Ole Opry for 49 years and it’s unthinkable to imagine that institution without her presence.  We wish her family and friends peace at this difficult time.

2 Comments

  1. Jan Howard was a vastly underappreciated artist, who has been largely forgotten to most. I saw her at the Opry on several occasions, and as part of the Johnny Cash show at Sea World when she was filling in for June Carter Cash. She was a fine songwriter and a dynamic singer, who is mostly remembered today for her hits with Bill Anderson as his duet partner and as one of the Grand Ladies of the Opry.

    Unfortunately, Jan has been badly neglected during the CD era as there are no really good collections of her material, although her duets with Bill Anderson are available on some of Bill’s CDs as are her superior efforts with Wynn Stewart on his CDs.

    I don’t think that Decca/MCA ever put much promotional effort behind her as there were a number of her songs that should have been big hits.

    She often appear on Country Family Reunion shows and seems to have been a really nice person – She will be missed

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