|Merle Haggard, Ralph Stanley, Jean Shepard, and Melvin Goins were just some of the many legends that passed in 2016.|
In the year 2016, music lost some major patriarchs and pioneers in the country music genre. Several of those that had passed away performed up until the Lord called them up to play in the Angel Band. Here are some of the most notable passings of 2016 in country music:
If there was one performer that led the ways of the working man, it would be Merle Haggard. He would see time in prison, but later took to the stage to perform at the same place he was a prisoner before. He was a fighter in standing up for what he believed in. He also helped with the innovations of the Bakersfield sound alongside Buck Owens and many more. Merle Haggard passed away on his birthday, April 6th, after battling double pneumonia. He was well loved among the country music community, being a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. One of the songs that Merle Haggard said was his favorite was “Sing Me Back Home” and continues to be the song that many remember him by.
Dr. Ralph Stanley
If there was a true pioneer into the Appalachian Bluegrass Folk sound, it would be Dr. Ralph Stanley. He received the “doctor” title after receiving an honorary doctorate from Lincoln Memorial University. Ralph’s haunting voice performing songs such as “O Death,” “Pretty Polly,” and “Angel Band,” were among fan favorites. He would receive a Grammy award for his performance of “O Death,” which was used in the movie “O Brother Where Art Thou?” Ralph Stanley would perform, even after retiring, up until his death on June 23rd after a bout of skin cancer. Performing at his funeral included Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs, and Patty Loveless with “Go Rest High On That Mountain.” Read our tribute to Ralph Stanley by clicking here.
Having performed on the Grand Ole Opry for 60 years in 2015, Jean Shepard hung up the reins and retired from music. She was best known for her strong vocals in “Second Fiddle to an Old Guitar.” Jean was one to stand up for country music by responding to Blake Shelton’s remarks on country music. Sadly, she passed away on September 25th at the age of 82 years.
Kentucky Music Hall of Fame member, Melvin Goins, passed away on July 29th while on the road touring in Canada. The bluegrass and country music legend formed a duo with his brother, Ray Goins. The duo would perform on the radio, as well as at numerous bluegrass festivals alongside Ralph Stanley. Since 1969, the Goins Brothers Band recorded over 30 albums and had a hit tv show on WKYH out of Hazard, Kentucky, as well as their radio shows on WSIP in Paintsville and WSKV in Stanton. In 2009, Melvin Goins was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Association Hall of Fame as a member of the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers. In April 2011, The Goins Brothers were inducted into the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame. In 2013, The Goins Brothers were inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame. On US-23 in eastern Kentucky, deemed the Country Music Highway, you can see the sign in Catlettsburg that proudly states it is the home of Melvin Goins. Read our tribute to Melvin Goins by clicking here.
Joseph Cecil “Red” Simpson was well known for his truck driving theme songs, as well as his Bakersfield sound along with Merle Haggard. He released hit songs such as “Truck Driver’s Heaven,” “Highway Patrol,” “I’m A Truck,” “Truck Driver Man and Wife,” before appearing for the last time on the charts with “The Flying Saucer Man and the Truck Driver.” Merle Haggard recorded “Lucky Old Colorado” that Red had written. Red passed away due to a heart attack on January 8th.
Bonnie Brown performed alongside her brother, Jim Ed, and sister, Maxine, to form The Browns. Their song, “The Tree Bells” was the number one single on the pop charts for 4 weeks and for ten weeks, on the country charts. They were members of the Grand Ole Opry from 1965 until 1967, when Bonnie decided to retire from music. In 2015, they were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Bonnie passed away due to lung cancer on September 28th, shortly prior to her 78th birthday.
Another fellow Grand Ole Opry member who later retired, Holly Dunn, was known for her song, “Daddy’s Hands” that pulled the heartstrings of many. She also climbed to the charts with “Are You Ever Gonna Love Me” and “You Really Had Me Going.” After she retired from music, she moved back to New Mexico where she continued her passion for painting. She passed away on November 14th after battling ovarian cancer.
Joey Feek was half of the duo, Joey+Rory, that won the hearts of many through their tv shows, music, and blog written by Rory Feek. The duo performed on the CMT’s television show, “Can You Duet,” before setting out on their own with duet projects. Joey+Rory released 8 albums, as well as multiple dvd specials, including one with the Gaither Family. Joey took time away from music due to her pregnancy and soon after the cancer diagnosis. One of the last performances the duo performed was at Renfro Valley Entertainment Center in Kentucky. Sadly, Joey passed away on March 4th due to cervical cancer.
Mark Gray was a former member of the band Exile and co-writer of the hits “Take Me Down,” “The Closer You Get,” and “It Ain’t Easy Being Easy.” He had a successful solo career with three albums and eight Top 40 country hit songs, one of which was a duet with Tammy Wynette called “Sometimes When We Touch.” Mark passed away on December 2nd.
Guy Clark was a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and writer of “L. A. Freeway,” “Desperadoes Waiting for a Train,” “Heartbroke,” and “Rita Ballou.” Many in country music, including Ricky Skaggs, Steve Wariner, and Rodney Crowell would cut his songs. Kentucky native, Darrell Scott, co-wrote “Out in the Parking Lot” with Guy Clark, which was later cut by Brad Paisley and Alan Jackson. Guy won the 2014 Grammy Award for Best Folk Album: My Favorite Picture of You. He passed away on May 17 in Nashville due to lymphoma.
Canadian native and Hee Haw star, Gordie Tapp passed away on December 18th at the age of 94. He was originally a jazz dj at CHML radio station before switching to do work on “Main Street Jamboree.” He later was casted as a member of “Hee Haw,” in which he also helped write scripts and songs for. He would play the part of the husband opposite of Roni Stoneman, as well as perform in the “Where Oh Where Are You Tonight” singalong skit throughout the years. In 1990, he was inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame.
Freddy Powers was a co-producer of Willie Nelson’s Somewhere Over the Rainbow album and co-writer of the Merle Haggard hits “Natural High,” “Let’s Chase Each Around the Room” and “Looking for a Place to Fall Apart,” as well as George Jones’ “I Always Get Lucky With You.” Freddie passed away on June 21st at the age of 84.
Several songwriters passed away in 2016 that left their mark in country music in the songs that they wrote. Curly Putman wrote “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” “Green, Green Gras of Home,” and “D-I-V-O-R-C-E.” He died of congestive heart failure on October 30th. Steve Young wrote “Seven Bridges Road” as well as Waylon Jennings “Lonesome, On’ry, and Mean.” Steve passed away on March 17th. “Young Love” songwriter, Sonny James, passed away on February 22nd due to natural causes. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2006. John D. Loudermilk, 82, was a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame whose hits included “Abilene,” “Waterloo,” “Indian Reservation” and “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye.” John passed away on September 21 in Christiana, Tennessee. Ned Miller, recording artist and writer of “From a Jack to a King,” “Dark Moon,” “Behind the Tear” and “Do What You Do Do Well,” passed away at the age of 90 on March 18 in Medford, Oregon. Chips Moman was a co-writer of Waylon Jennings’ hit songs “Luckenbach, Texas” and “The Wurlitzer Prize.” He also wrote the Grammy-winning “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song.” Chips passed away on June 13th in LaGrange, Georgia. Kim Williams, was a songwriter whose hit compositions included “Three Wooden Crosses,” “If the Devil Danced in Empty Pockets,’ “Ain’t Going Down (Til the Sun Comes Up)” and “It’s Midnight Cinderella.” Kim passed away on February 11th in Florida. Mentor Williams, was writer of the crossover hit, “Drift Away,” as well as “When We Make Love,” “She’s Gonna Win Your Heart” and “A Few Ole Country Boys.” Mentor passed away on November 16 at the age of 70.
Jessica Bray is the owner and founder of Kentucky Country Music website. The Berea College graduate has been a music journalist and historian for over 20 years. She enjoys providing concert photography, reviews, historical articles, red carpet event coverage, and exclusive interviews of your favorite musicians. Jessica is proud to be a Kentucky Colonel and alumni of the FFA and 4-H Clubs. In 2018, she was named one of Laurel County’s Ten Under 40 Award Recipients. In 2019, she was a member of the Inaugural class of BRIGHT Kentucky as part of Leadership Kentucky. She has been featured on the Kentucky Music Preview podcast, Overtones radio show, WFKY Nashville News Roundup, KET, and more. Beyond music, she enjoys traveling, helping her community, collecting gnomes, and Volkswagens.