T he country music world lost two great artists in recent weeks with the deaths of Mel McDaniel and Ferlin Husky.
McDaniel, a Grand Ole Opry member since 1986, died of cancer on March 31 at age 68.
When WGUS-AM radio station began the A Day in the Country music festival in May 1986, McDaniel was the very first headliner closing out that show.
His hit singles included Stand Up, Baby's Got Her Blue Jeans On, Louisiana Saturday Night and Old Man River (I've Come To Talk To You Again) .
The Oklahoma native also co-wrote with Bob Morrison their tribute to the Grand Ole Opry, The Grandest Lady of Them All , which became a hit single for Conway Twitty.
When the Opry celebrated its 60th anniversary in 1985, all of the Opry artists sang that song on a nationally-televised broadcast.
"You've got to admire those early entertainers who made the Opry what it is today," McDaniel told this columnist prior to his first Augusta appearance. "They spent long years on the road in damn old cars that would get them hardly anywhere.
"Becoming a member of the Opry is a responsibility I accept whole heartedly," he added. "I feel you've got to put something back in this business. You just can't take and take and take."
McDaniel was known for his enthusiastic style of performing, especially in singing Stand Up with its lines, "Stand up! Have you ever been there? Stand up! Identify. Stand up! Tell us all about it. Stand up! Testify!"
He loved his fans and told me, "You can be feeling pretty rough, but, when you get on a stage and see the appreciation of an audience, it overrides all other feelings. They feed the hungry in my soul."
FERLIN HUSKY died March 17 at age 85 after years of cardiac problems.
He first joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1954 when it was being broadcast over the NBC network, but he had to leave the cast when he took a job as Arthur Godfrey's summer replacement on the competing CBS network.
Husky was hired back on the Opry after the summer show ended but was let go in 1964 with several other artists who couldn't perform the Opry's then-required 26 shows a year.
The Missouri native was inducted into the Country Music Association's Hall of Fame last year.
Husky especially was known for two giant-selling country singles: (Since You've) Gone in 1957 and Wings of a Dove in 1960. Both became crossover Top 20 pop hits as well as No. 1 country hits.
He talked to The Tennessean newspaper in 2009 about recording Gone and said, "We had the Jordanaires on there as the (backing) vocal group, and Grady Martin on vibes, and a ton of people in the studio. The producer, Ken Nelson, got upset. He said, 'If one more person comes through those doors, the session is off.' And then here comes Miss Millie Kirkham (Elvis Presley's frequent backup vocalist) to sing the soprano vocal part."
As I mentioned in a recent column, Husky also starred in several big-screen movies including Forty Acre Feud in 1965, The Las Vegas Hillbillys in 1966 with a cast that included Mamie Van Doren and Jayne Mansfield and also Hillbillys in a Haunted House in 1967 with a cast that included film legends John Carradine (Keith Carradine's father), Lon Chaney Jr. and Basil Rathbone.
Also in Forty Acre Feud was Claude Casey, who starred in western movies and who founded WJES-AM and WKSX-FM radio stations in Johnston, S.C.
In addition to his music, Husky was known for a country comedy character he created that he called Simon Crum.
FESTIVALS TIME: Lots of fun country, blues and bluegrass festivals are around the corner in May including A Day in the Country, Aiken Bluegrass Festival, Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival and Papa Joe's Banjo-B-Que Festival.