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Published: 2011/01/26
by Randy Ray

Charlie Louvin: 1927-2011

Country Music Hall of Fame legend Charlie Louvin passed away at home in Wartrace, Tennessee, after a battle with pancreatic cancer. The icon was diagnosed with the disease last summer. Although surgery did not eliminate his cancer, he maintained a vigorous performance schedule until his passing. He is survived by his family, which includes his wife of 61 years, Betty, and three sons, Charlie Jr. (Sonny), Glenn and Kenneth.

Louvin was a member of the Louvin Brothers, one of country music’s most enduring duos for over four decades, which also featured his older brother, Ira on mandolin and high tenor harmonies. The groundbreaking duo anticipated the work of the Everly Brothers, the Byrds, Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, and, more recently, Elvis Costello, Uncle Tupelo and the Raconteurs, while creating work that was also charged with gospel themes and rooted in a place that appeared traditional, but could be quite bleak and dark.

The musician was a traditionalist in musical genre only as he also forged a rather successful solo trail with his inimitable style and sense of songcraft, and even appeared at 2007’s Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival as a solo act. But, his legacy will forever be linked with his time as a member of that duo, which took a sound forged in the Dust Bowl environment of the Depression, and created a new and timeless form of harmony singing and vocal dynamics, which clearly also anticipated some of the ethereal strands of the Beatles work, as well. Indeed, Charlie Louvin and his brother, Ike, appeared to have their feet firmly planted in the teeming soil of country and Americana, but they also played music that rang true for the Everyman in any geographic locale.

Louvin’s latest and last album, released this past fall, The Battles Rage On, focused on songs dating back to the American Civil War, with tales about the contributions of our war heroes, and the harsh toll those very battles take on the families back home as well as the soldiers abroad. It is a rich, poignant work, and serves as a powerful epitaph to a formidable career graced with harmonic innovation and rich timeless merit.

Charlie Elzer Loudermilk was born on July 7, 1927, and worked on the family farm in Section, Alabama. Charlie and Ira Loudermilk changed their names to Louvin as their career blossomed after an early debut in 1942 as the Radio Twins. Their career spanned 40 years, and Charlie would outlast his brother, with a solo career that was equally influential, but was known to state that he never got over singing without his brother.

A public funeral for Louvin will be held in Nashville, on Sunday, January 30.

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