Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Remembering Ira Louvin


After the break-up of the Louvin Brothers in 1963, older brother Ira returned to his native Alabama while Charlie stayed in Nashville, becoming a successful solo artist with a Grammy nomination. The Louvins' record label, Capitol, convinced Ira to record some songs. He recorded 15 tunes in March of 1965, some of which included backing vocals by his wife, Canadian singer/yodeller Anne Young. In anticipation of the upcoming album, Ira played a few dates but quickly realized that life on the road was resurrecting the demons that drove him and Charlie apart as a performing duo. Before departing for the shows, which he went to because he was contractually obligated to do so, Ira told his mother he would never perform after these shows, but would instead devote himself full-time to ministry. "I've run away from God too long," Ira said.

Louvin's statement might seem odd to many, considering all the Gospel songs he wrote in his life. His songs mixed praise ("Thank God for My Christian Home") and preaching ("Satan is Real"). By many accounts, Louvin felt called to be a preacher from a young age. However, as a Baptist, he was shut out of the pulpit because of strict prohibitations against divorce. (Ira was married four times, the first time at age 17.) Nonetheless, he felt he had to devote the rest of his life to the service of God.

The shows were at Genova's Chestnut Inn in Kansas City, Missouri. In his autobiography Whisperin' Bill, Bill Anderson described the Chestnut Inn as an interesting combination of music nightclub where country (and rock -- Chuck Berry played there) performers entertained the crowd, while strippers performed between sets.
Following the shows, Ira, wife Anne, and another couple who were friends of Ira's from the Fort Payne area left Kansas City to return to Alabama. They stopped at an all-night diner at about 3:00 a.m. on Father's Day, Sunday, June 20, 1965, for some food, then continued on their way.
Interstate 70 was under construction at the time, with traffic reduced to one lane in each direction. The car Louvin was a passenger in (his friend from Fort Payne, Billy Barksdale, was driving) was heading east on the dark road, reportedly at a high rate of speed. At approximately 4:40 a.m. a car driven by 53-year-old Tommy Franklin of St. Louis smashed head-on into the Louvin car. Numerous opened liquor bottles and cans were found in Franklin's truck, and the accident was ruled caused by drunk driving.

The results were horrific. Four of the six occupants -- Franklin and his passenger, and Barksdale and his wife -- were killed instantly from the impact. The Louvins, in the back seat, were severely injured. By the time police arrived at the lonely stretch of interstate, Louvin had bled to death. Anne was still alive, but by the time she was transported to a hospital then sent to another one because the first hospital lacked the facilities to treat her, she too had passed away. Ira was 41; Anne was 38.
Charlie Louvin was on tour, performing in West Virginia. His wife, Betty, was home in Nashville. She was contacted while in church and asked to notify her husband that her brother-in-law was dead. Charlie performed his show as scheduled in West Virginia, then went back to Nashville to plan his brother's funeral.
On Wednesday, June 23, 1965, Ira and Anne Louvin were laid to rest in a common grave in the Harpeth Hills Memory Garden cemetery in suburban Nashville. Bill Anderson, who wrote the last hit of the Louvin Brothers' career ("Must You Throw Dirt in My Face"), wrote the epitaph on Ira's marker:
His fame was not a vapor that vanished with the dawn, for he etched upon the hearts of all mankind words and melodies that will remain as eternal as the God with Whom he now rests.
He is not dead, he is just away.


Anonymous said...

A great tenor voclist and gifted songwriter. Love The Louvin Brother's music.

Anonymous said...

None Finer!

Anonymous said...

Even to this day I enjoy listening to the Louvin Brother's music. I like the high tenor voice of Ira Louvin. He, and his brother, Charlie, were really good with gospel music. The country music and gospel music world would be most richly blessed if people like Ira Louvin were still around performing. Del Hughes, KWCK 99.9 FM, Searcy, AR.

Anonymous said...

uI miss the Louvin Brothers'music so much, I have never heard a sweeter high tenor like that of Ira Louvin, I wish I had the power to bring him back to life !

tea mccormick said...

What a wonderful DUO Charlie and Ira louvin. How great to have their music. It is such great music, great singing. Ira seemed very troubled. This happens to many stars. Maybe that is why they write such songs and perform them so well because they are troubled. Charlie is wonderful and we are very lucky to have their music to listen to today. Nothing lasts forever so we will enjoy what we have. Tea McCormick

Stanley A George III said...

I grew up listening to the Louvin Brothers on a Christian radio station in the West Indies as a young boy in the 1960s. There was nothing better. I immediately took to them. Even as a young boy of 6 or 7 I recognized both voices as fantastic and Ira's voice as incredible. Back then and as I grew much older I thought gospel was all they sang because that is all I heard them sing. It was probably in the 1990s that I found out they did other genres. But no matter, they are still the best to me. Their close harmony box set was a must for me to get and I did so in 2000 or so. I still enjoy them. A few years ago my young son and I sang their gospel songs in our basement and we have done a few in church. I am now 56 years old and I still love the Louvins. I regularly listen to tapes in my car and cds at home. It is highly regrettable that Ira was taken so soon. I feel like the world has been deprived of an incredible talent for the past 45 years. Prayers and best wishes for Charlie with his health battle at this time.
Stanley A. George III
Brooklyn, NY
November 5, 2010

James D. Smith said...

My mother went to school with Ira and Charlie Louvin in Alabama, and we saw him and his wife not long befoe their death. They sat, visited, and play their music for us. It was a great visit and they were kind and gracious. Also, it is true that he intended to devote his life to the ministry.

jtd said...

I grew up listening to the Louvin Brothers music, not realizing that I would cling to it as an adult. My daddy was a huge fan. I still listen to them because I love the music, but also, it makes me feel a connection with daddy, who died in 2000

Anonymous said...

I love you and miss you Grandfather Louvin.
I know you're singing in heaven..
Love,your grandson

Richard Poore said...

Great high tenor singer. Like many other great singers he died too soon in his life.

Anonymous said...

Ira was a great musician and he had really found a great match in Flo (his last wife). They sing beautifully together on their songs (like Yodel Sweet Molly), and it was so upsetting to hear about their deaths because Ira was definitely trying to turn his life around just before he was killed. We lost a very gifted couple that horrible morning, RIP!