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The Browns

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The Browns
Bonnie and Jim Ed (top) with Maxine in the late 1950s
Bonnie and Jim Ed (top) with Maxine in the late 1950s
Background information
OriginSparkman, Arkansas, United States
Genrescountry, folk, gospel, traditional pop
Years active1954–1968
LabelsRCA Victor
Past membersJim Ed Brown
Maxine Brown
Bonnie Brown

The Browns were an American country and folk music vocal trio best known for their 1959 Grammy-nominated hit, "The Three Bells". The group, composed of Jim Ed Brown and his sisters Maxine and Bonnie, had a close, smooth harmony characteristic of the Nashville sound, though their music also combined elements of folk and pop. They disbanded in 1967 and were elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in March 2015.



James Edward, older sister Maxine, and younger sister Bonnie Brown sang individually in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, until 1954, when Maxine and Jim Ed signed a record contract as a singing duo. They earned national recognition and a guest spot on Ernest Tubb's radio show for their self-penned song "Looking Back to See",[1] which hit the top ten and stayed on the charts through the summer of 1954.[2] The song would be a hit again nearly 20 years later for Buck Owens and Susan Raye in 1972.

They were joined in 1955 by then-recent high school graduate, 18-year-old Bonnie, and began performing on Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport, Louisiana.[1] By the end of 1955, the trio was appearing on KWTO in Springfield, Missouri, and had another top ten hit with "Here Today and Gone Tomorrow",[1] which got a boost by their appearances on ABC-TV's Ozark Jubilee, which Maxine Brown called "our real breakthrough."[3] Jim Ed and Maxine had first appeared on the show as a duo in 1955. Producer Si Siman signed them with RCA Victor in 1956, and soon they had two major hits, "I Take the Chance" (a cover of a Louvin Brothers composition that showed the Browns' close harmony) and "I Heard the Bluebirds Sing".[1] When Jim Ed was drafted in 1957, the group continued to record while he was on leave, and sister Norma filled in for him on tours,[2] as did Billy Walker.[4]

In 1959, The Browns scored their biggest hit when their folk-pop single "The Three Bells"[5] reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop and country charts.[1] The song also peaked at No. 10 on Billboard's Rhythm and Blues listing. Based on a song called "Les trois cloches", it was originally a hit in France for Édith Piaf. It was merely a coincidence that the hit rendition by the Browns chronicles the life of a character named "Jimmy Brown".[1] The recording sold over one million copies,[6] "The Three Bells" by the Browns was nominated for both Record of the Year and the Best Group or Vocal Performance in the Grammy award categories in 1959. Their version of "Blue Christmas" reached No. 97 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in December 1960.[7]

The Browns appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and American Bandstand, and followed up with "Scarlet Ribbons (For Her Hair)" and "The Old Lamplighter", recordings that also did well on both the pop and country charts.[1] With an international following, they toured Europe extensively and saw further moderate success on the country music charts.[1] In 1963, they joined the Grand Ole Opry.[8]

Jim Ed began recording as a solo artist for RCA Victor in 1965,[1] and these efforts quickly began overshadowing the trio's recordings. Maxine sang lead vocal on the group's final singles released in 1968, "Big Daddy" and "I Will Bring You Water," with Jim Ed only supplying background vocals. The trio officially disbanded that year and Maxine signed with Chart Records in 1969, resulting in a small hit with "Sugar Cane County".[1]

In the 1980s, The Browns began performing occasionally in concert for the first time in nearly 20 years. In 2006, the trio performed "The Old Lamplighter" and "The Three Bells" for the PBS special, Country Pop Legends.

On June 11, 2015, Jim Ed Brown died from lung cancer at age 81.[9] On July 16, 2016, Bonnie Brown also died from lung cancer at the age of 77.[10] Maxine Brown died on January 21, 2019, at the age of 87 from complications of heart and kidney disease.[11]

The Browns were honored with the "Lifetime Achievement Award" during the inaugural Arkansas Country Music Awards on June 3, 2018, alongside fellow Arkansas natives Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell, Ed Bruce, and Wayne Raney. The event was held at the Center for Performing Arts at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.[12]




Year Album US Country Label
1957 Jim Edward, Maxine, and Bonnie Brown RCA Victor
1959 Sweet Sounds by the Browns
1960 Town & Country
The Browns Sing Their Hits
1961 Our Favorite Folk Songs
The Little Brown Church Hymnal
1963 Grand Ole Opry Favorites
1964 This Young Land
Three Shades of Brown
1965 I Heard the Bluebirds Sing
When Love Is Gone 18
1966 Alone with You
Our Kind of Country 25
The Best of The Browns
1967 The Old Country Church
Browns Sing the Big Ones from Country
1968 A Harvest of Country Songs RCA Camden
1984 Rockin' Rollin' Browns Bear Family
1985 20 of the Best RCA Victor
1986 Jim Ed Brown & The Browns MCA
1986 Looking Back to See Bear Family
1993 The Three Bells
1996 Family Bible Rock Bottom
2008 The Complete Hits Collector's Choice


Year Single (A-side, B-side)
Both sides from same album except where indicated
Chart Positions Album
US Country US CB Country CB Pop
1954 "Looking Back To See"
b/w "Rio De Janeiro" (Non-album track)
8 Jim Edward, Maxine, and Bonnie Brown
"Why Am I Falling"
b/w "Itsy Witsy Bitsy Me"
Non-album tracks
1955 "Draggin' Main Street"
b/w "Your Love Is Wild As The West Wind" (Non-album track)
Jim Edward, Maxine, and Bonnie Brown
"Do Memories Haunt You"
b/w "Jungle Magic"
Non-album tracks
"Here Today and Gone Tomorrow"
b/w "You Thought I Thought"
1956 "I Take The Chance"
b/w "Goo Goo Dada" (Non-album track)
2 Three Shades Of Brown
"Just As Long As You Love Me"
b/w "Don't Tell Me Your Troubles"
11 Non-album tracks
"A Man With A Plan"
b/w "Just-A-Lot-Of Sweet Talk"
1957 "Money"
b/w "It Takes A Long Long Train With A Red Caboose"
"Getting Used To Being Lonely"
b/w "I'm In Heaven"
"I Heard The Bluebirds Sing"
b/w "The Last Thing I Want" (Non-album track)
4 20 Jim Edward, Maxine, and Bonnie Brown
"True Love Goes For Beyond"
b/w "The Man In The Moon"
Non-album tracks
1958 "Crazy Dreams"
b/w "Ain't No Way In The World"
"Would You Care"
b/w "The Trot"
13 14
1959 "Beyond The Shadow"
b/w "This Time I Would Know" (from I Heard The Bluebirds Sing)
11 14
"The Three Bells"
b/w "Heaven Fell Last Night" (Non-album track)
1 1 1 1 Sweet Sounds By The Browns
"Scarlet Ribbons (For Her Hair)"
b/w "Blue Bells Ring" (Non-album track)
7 13 5 17 Town & Country
1960 "The Old Lamplighter" / 20 5 12 8
"Teen-Ex" 47 114 Non-album track
"Lonely Little Robin" / 105 39 78 The Browns Sing Their Hits
"Margo (The Ninth of May)" 35 89
"Whiffenpoof Song" / 112 tag
"Brighten the Corner Where You Are" 114
"Send Me the Pillow You Dream On"
b/w "You're So Much A Part Of Me" (Non-album track)
23 56 21 50 I Heard The Bluebirds Sing
"Blue Christmas"
b/w "Greenwillow Christmas"
97 Non-album tracks
1961 "Ground Hog" / 97 Our Favorite Folk Songs
"Angel's Dolly" 41 Non-album track
"My Baby's Gone"
b/w "Whispering Wine" (Non-album track)
I Heard The Bluebirds Sing
"Alpha And Omega"
b/w "Foolish Pride"
1962 "Buttons And Bows"
b/w "Remember Me"
"The Old Master Painter"
b/w "It's Just A Little Heartache"
118 Non-album tracks
1963 "The Twelfth Rose"
b/w "Watching My World Fall Apart"
1964 "Oh No!"
b/w "Dear Teresa"
42 49 I Heard The Bluebirds Sing
"Then I'll Stop Loving You"
b/w "I Know My Place" (Non-album track)
12 20 The Best Of The Browns
"Everybody's Darlin', Plus Mine"
b/w "The Outskirts Of Town"
40 135 16 Non-album tracks
1965 "I Feel Like Crying"
b/w "No Sad Songs For Me"
"You Can't Grow Peaches From A Cherry Tree"A
b/w "A Little Too Much To Dream" (Non-album track)
120 21 134 The Best Of The Browns
1966 "Meadowgreen"
b/w "One Take Away One"
46 30 Non-album tracks
"I'd Just Be Fool Enough"
b/w "Springtime"
16 29 Our Kind Of Country
"Coming Back To You"
b/w "Gigawackem" (from Our Kind Of Country)
19 17 Non-album tracks
1967 "I Hear It Now"
b/w "He Will Set Your Fields On Fire" (from The Old Country Church)
54 55
1968 "Big Daddy" / 52 55
"I Will Bring You Water" 64
  • AAlso peaked at #35 on Adult Contemporary charts.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Colin Larkin, ed. (1993). The Guinness Who's Who of Fifties Music (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 54. ISBN 0-85112-732-0.
  2. ^ a b Brennan, Sandra & Manheim, James. "The Browns Biography". Country Music Television, Inc. Archived from the original on June 4, 2004. Retrieved 2009-03-24.
  3. ^ Brown, Maxine (2005). Looking Back to See: A Country Music Memoir. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press. ISBN 1-55728-790-2., p. 111
  4. ^ Brown, Maxine (2005). Looking Back to See: A Country Music Memoir. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press. ISBN 1-55728-790-2., p. 116
  5. ^ "Show 11 - Tennessee Firebird. [Part 3], Big Rock Candy Mountain. [Part 1] - All TracksDigital Library". Archived from the original on 2017-07-09. Retrieved 2017-10-30.
  6. ^ Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 111. ISBN 0-214-20512-6.
  7. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Christmas in the Charts (1920-2004). Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. p. 25. ISBN 0-89820-161-6.
  8. ^ "Opry Timeline - 1960s". Retrieved July 6, 2012.
  9. ^ Thanki, Juli; Watts, Cindy (June 12, 2015). "Country singer Jim Ed Brown dies at 81". The Tennessean. Retrieved June 19, 2015.
  10. ^ "Country Music Hall of Famer Bonnie Brown dead at 77". Tennessean.com. 2015-07-16. Retrieved 2016-07-16.
  11. ^ Gill, Joey. "Country musician Maxine Brown of The Browns dies at 86". WSMV Nashville. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  12. ^ "UA Little Rock to host first Arkansas Country Music Awards". News. 2018-03-27. Retrieved 2020-07-23.