The Louvin Brothers
Charlie Louvin: July 7, 1927 - Janurary 27, 2011
Ira Louvin: April 21, 1924 - June 20, 1965
Charlie and Ira Louvin rose out of the close-harmony brother acts of the 1930s to become one of the most influential duos in country music history.
Blending Ira’s pure high tenor with Charlie’s smooth melody tenor, the brothers learned their craft from the Monroe Brothers, the Delmore Brothers and other family duos of the previous generation. Preserving the old-time flavor of those traditional acts, the Louvins carried the duo-brother genre into the modern country music world of the 1950s. Together they added their distinctive touch to any type of material they recorded, from folk and gospel to hillbilly and pop. Songs created or popularized by the Louvins were revived in subsequent generations by Americana acts ranging from country superstar Emmylou Harris (“If I Could Only Win Your Love”) to roots rocker Billy Bob Thornton and the Boxmasters (“Knoxville Girl”).
Born and raised in the Appalachian mountain town of Section, Lonnie Ira Loudermilk began playing mandolin while his younger brother Charlie Elzer Loudermilk learned to play guitar. The harmonizing duo began performing on an early-morning show at a local radio station in Chattanooga, Tennessee. After Charlie returned from service in the U.S. Army, the brothers moved to radio stations in Knoxville, Tennessee, where they abandoned their given name for the stage name of “Louvin.” (Their cousin, John D. Loudermilk, retained the family name.)
In 1951, the Louvins signed with MGM Records in Nashville and recorded a dozen songs over the next year. Eventually they earned the attention of Acuff-Rose owner Fred Rose, who signed the duo to a publishing deal and helped them negotiate a recording contract with Capitol Records. The Louvins’ debut single for the label, “The Family Who Prays,” proved to be a moderate success before Charlie was recalled by the Army to serve in the Korean War.
After Charlie’s discharge, Capitol convinced the Grand Ole Opry to hire the duo. While they never abandoned gospel, the brothers began writing and performing secular material starting with the Top 10 hit “When I Stop Dreaming” (1955) and the No. 1 smash “I Don’t Believe You’ve Met My Baby” (1956). The Louvins also released the popular albums Tragic Songs of Life and Nearer My God to Thee. In 1957, they recorded the hits “Don’t Laugh” and “Plenty of Everything But You.” The single “My Baby’s Gone” reached the Top 10 in 1958. Their classic version of the traditional ballad “Knoxville Girl” climbed into the Top 20 the following year.
The Louvin Brothers continued to record in the early ’60s, turning out theme albums that included tributes to the Delmore Brothers and Roy Acuff as well as the gospel collection Satan is Real. The duo released three more singles – “I Love You Best of All” (which peaked at No. 12), “How’s the World Treating You” and “Must You Throw Dirt in My Face?” – before disbanding over a series of personal and professional disputes in 1963.
Charlie’s debut single as a solo act, “I Don’t Love You Anymore,” hit No. 4 in 1964. He would record 30 chart hits over the next decade. Shortly after the breakup, an alcohol-fueled argument between Ira and his third wife resulted in a shooting that nearly killed him. He continued to perform afterward, singing with his fourth wife, Anne Young. The husband and wife were performing a week of concerts in Kansas City, Missouri, when they were killed in a car crash in 1965. After Ira’s death, his solo single “Yodel, Sweet Molly” became a modest hit.
The reputation of the Louvin Brothers continued to grow in the decades following their breakup. The Everly Brothers were clearly influenced by the duo, while country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons drew heavily from the Louvins’ deep catalog of classic songs, recording “The Christian Life” with the Byrds and “Cash on the Barrelhead” as a solo artist.
The Louvin Brothers were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001.