NPR's Joel Rose reported on Charlie Louvin's passing for All Things Considered. You can hear the radio piece above.
Courtesy of the artist
Charlie Louvin. Courtesy of the artist
The singer, who was born Charlie Elzer Loudermilk and became well known as one-half of the country and western duo The Louvin Brothers, died Wednesday morning. Louvin, who had continued to perform even as he battled pancreatic cancer, died at home in Wartrace, Tenn. He was 83 years old.
Charlie Louvin was born in Henager, Ala. and began his singing career with his brother Ira. The two sang close harmony, mixing their distinct tenors, and wrote songs together. They became gospel stars with the 1952 song "The Family Who Prays." They wanted to reach a wider, more mainstream audience. In 2003, Charlie Louvin told NPR that he and Ira came up with a song that could reach beyond gospel.
"We chose a song we wrote in the late '40s, 'When I Stop Dreaming,' which would not antagonize anyone, whether they were religious or whether they worked for the devil, you know. And we felt that it wouldn't make our gospel music people mad. And so we tried it and it worked. Thank God, it worked," Louvin said.
The Louvin Brothers landed a spot on the Grand Ol' Opry in 1955 and from then through the early '60s, they had a string of hits that balanced sacred and secular themes, including "I Don't Believe You've Met My Baby" and "The Christian Life." But Ira Louvin apparently wasn't able to live the kind of life that he preached in his songs. He was given to fits of rage in concerts and his drinking caused the brothers to break up in the summer of 1963. They pursued solo careers, though Charlie hoped they'd get back together. Two years later, Ira Louvin was killed in a car accident.
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The Louvin Brothers' tight, stark harmonies inspired everybody from the Everly Brothers to Emmylou Harris to the Byrds.
Charlie Louvin went on to have chart hits with his own songs, including "See The Big Man Cry." He continued to perform and — when he was in his late seventies, enjoyed a remarkable comeback. He released an album that featured such guests as George Jones and Jeff Tweedy. He opened for Cake and Cheap Trick and celebrated his 80th birthday by playing Bonnaroo.
Louvin was diagnosed with cancer this summer and underwent surgery to treat it, but a post by his son, Sonny Louvin, indicated that the surgery was not a success, and that alternative treatments would be sought.
In November he released a new album, The Battle Rages On and played shows in New Orleans, St. Louis, Kansas City and Oklahoma City. He had planned to play two shows in Nashville next month.