100 Greatest Men: #75. Jim Ed Brown

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

It seems only appropriate that a man whose career was launched by a three act song would himself enjoy a career with three spectacular acts.

Jim Ed Brown, born in 1934, was raised in Arkansas.  Like many aspiring country artists of his day, he first sang professionally with his family.   Alongside sisters Maxine and Bonnie, they began performing in the early fifties in various combinations.

Jim and Maxine first signed a contract as a duo, and they gained prominence through Ernest Tubb’s radio show, which played their song, “Looking Back to See.”   When Bonnie joined them, they became known as The Browns.   Soon, the trio were cast members on the Louisiana Hayride, and they appeared regularly on the television show Ozark Jubilee.

Jim had to leave the group after being drafted in 1957, but soon after he returned, the Browns had their biggest hit: “The Three Bells.”  The classic three act song topped the country and the pop charts, and the Browns carried the prominence of that hit and others into Grand Ole Opry membership in 1963.

By the mid-sixties, Jim Ed Brown was recording solo material simultaneously to the Browns’ work as a group.  When the trio officially disbanded in 1967, Jim launched a successful solo career.  From the late sixties through the first half of the seventies, he racked up hits like “Pop a Top” and “Southern Loving.”

Just as his career was cooling down, Brown had a surprising third act.  Pairing with Helen Cornelius in 1976, the duo launched a string of classic singles, including the #1 smash “I Don’t Want to Have to Marry You.”   The pair scored twelve hits over the course of the next five year, with all but one reaching the top twenty. In 1977, the CMA named them the Vocal Duo of the Year, the only industry award that Brown earned during his three decade run of hits.

After the hits ended with Cornelius, Brown went back to his television and radio roots.  He hosted the TNN talent show You Can Be a Star in the eighties.  and a nationally syndicated radio host today.   He also performs regularly on the Opry as one of its veteran members.  Next year, he will celebrate his fiftieth anniversary as a cast member.

Essential Singles:

  • Looking Back to See (with Maxine Brown), 1954
  • I Take the Chance (The Browns), 1956
  • The Three Bells (The Browns), 1959
  • Pop a Top, 1967
  • Morning, 1970
  • I Don’t Want to Have to Marry You (with Helen Cornelius), 1976
  • Lying in Love with You (with Helen Cornelius), 1979

Essential Albums:

  • Alone With You, 1966
  • Gems by Jim, 1967
  • It’s that Time of Night, 1974
  • I Don’t Want to Have to Marry You (with Helen Cornelius), 1976
  • Defying Gravity, 2009

Next: #74. Sons of the Pioneers

Previous: #76. Keith Urban

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List


  1. I first discovered Jim Ed Brown from hearing him on the Grand Ole Opry, and I actually saw him live at the Opry fairly recently. I took an instant liking to “The Three Bells” when I first heard it, but I didn’t know at first what the title of the song was, so I found myself subconciously thinking of it as ‘The Bom Bom Bom Song’…

    Anway, great write-up. Makes me want to go and listen to some more of his music.

  2. I remember hearing the “The Three Bells” on the radio as a kid since it was a crossover hit. I saw Jim Ed at the Opry this past October 14th, my first time going to an Opry show. He hosted the first segment, opening with “Pop a Top”. He sings better than quite a few artists half his age.

  3. I’d have him around #60 as we was a little more important than #75. His willingness to be flexible meant that he had hits with a great variety of material, all of which he sang well.

  4. On my list, Jim Ed is #1!!! :)

    I’ve personally known Jim Ed since 1986. He’s a true gentleman and I’m proud to know him. I see him several times a year as well as listening to him on the Opry. He still sounds GREAT!

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