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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Country music legend Charlie Louvin has died. He and his brother Ira found success in the 1950s and '60s as the Louvin Brothers. And they were a huge influence on musicians well beyond country music.

NPR's Joel Rose has this appreciation.

JOEL ROSE: Before their close harmonies influenced The Everly Brothers, The Birds or anyone else, The Louvin Brothers were a gospel act.

(Soundbite of song, "The Family Who Prays")

THE LOUVIN BROTHERS (Musicians): (Singing) The family who prays will never be parted. Their circle in heaven unbroken shall stand.

ROSE: Charlie Louvin told WHYY's FRESH AIR in 2003 that the brothers' vocal style came easily.

(Soundbite of archived interview)

Mr. CHARLIE LOUVIN (Country Music Singer): Us being raised together, if it was obvious that the song was going to get too high for me to sing in a certain place, my brother just automatically take that high lead, and I would do the low harmony. We didn't have to step on each other's foot or wink or bump shoulders to do this. It was just something that you knew was going to happen.

ROSE: Charlie and Ira Loudermilk were born in Alabama.

Country music historian Nolan Porterfield says they drew on the music of their church and on an earlier generation of duet singing.

Mr. NOLAN PORTERFIELD (Country Music Historian): They took from here and there and yon and came up with this just beautiful vocal sound, this harmony. In my estimation, it's never been equaled.

ROSE: While The Louvin Brothers never gave up gospel music, they found their greatest success when they crossed over into mainstream country in 1955.

(Soundbite of song, "When I Stop Dreaming")

THE LOUVIN BROTHERS: (Singing) When I stop dreaming, that's when I'll stop loving you.

ROSE: But gradually, Ira Louvin's drinking and temper drove the brothers apart. They broke up in 1963. And two years later, Ira was killed in a car crash.

Charlie Louvin had some hits on his own, but in the late 1960s, Gram Parsons introduced The Louvin Brothers' music to The Birds and a new generation of fans.

Mr. MARTY STUART (Country Music Singer): He was like one of those Old Testament figures to me. Their songs just almost felt like as if they came out of the hymnbooks, even the country ones.

ROSE: Country singer Marty Stuart played mandolin on Louvin's 2007 comeback album.

Mr. STUART: Just singing alongside him, I went, boy, it is deep in there. He has nuances and he understands the lyrics, and he understands where to put the emotion on top of the lyrics, so he was a master.

ROSE: Even into his 80s, Charlie Louvin kept performing for younger audiences in rock clubs and at the Bonnaroo Music Festival. But for all the shows he played without Ira by his side, Charlie Louvin said he always expected his brother to join him on the choruses.

Mr. LOUVIN: When it comes time for the harmonies to come in, I will move to my left because my brother and I always just use one microphone. And so you had to share the mic. And I - even today, I will move over to the left to give the harmony room. And I know in my mind that there's no harmony standing on my right, but it's just old habits are hard to break.

(Soundbite of song, "Ira")

Mr. LOUVIN: (Singing) Ira, I still hear you off in the distance, your sweet harmony.

ROSE: Charlie Louvin died this morning of complications from pancreatic cancer. He was 83 years old.

Joel Rose, NPR News, New York.

(Soundbite of song, "Ira")

Mr. LOUVIN: (Singing) There will never be another, because you can't beat family. I know you're up there singing with the angels.

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