When Leona Johnson met a shy guitarist named Chester Atkins in Cincinnati she was a star. Leona and her identical twin Lois were on the air on WLW as "Fern and LaVern," the Johnson Twins.
Chet had been sharing a room at the YMCA with Jethro Burns of Homer and Jethro when Jethro began dating Lois. In May 1946 Jethro and "Gussie" married. Two months later Leona wed Chet. The twins gave up their careers to become Mrs. Jethro and Mrs. Guitar. They also quietly participated in two of the great love stories in country music.
Leona Johnson Atkins died October 21 in Nashville after a long illness.
After the marriage in 1946 Leona was the number one love of Chet Atkins' life (with number two being their daughter, Merle). Their marriage lasted through Chet's rise from backing musician to the A&R man at RCA (which some joked stood for "Record for Chet Atkins") and his Hall of Fame career as the most identifiable guitarist in country music since Merle Travis (Atkins' idol). Their storybook life together continued until Chet's passing in 2001, three days before what would have been their 55th wedding anniversary.
Leona's twin sister Lois Johnson Burns died in April 1989, two months after her husband of nearly 43 years lost his battle with cancer.
Leona Johnson Atkins was 85.