According to the press release from the Grand Ole Opry, Jean Shepard passed away this morning (Sep. 25) at age 82 after entering hospice care late last week. Jean became a member of the Opry on November 21, 1955 and last appeared on November 21, 2015 when she became the only female to reach 60 years of Opry membership. In 2011, she was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Jean is survived by husband Benny Birchfield and sons Don Robin Hawkins, Harold Franklin Hawkins II and Corey Birchfield. Funeral arrangements are incomplete at this time.
“The Opry family is truly saddened by the news of Jean’s passing,” shared Pete Fisher, Vice President, General Manager Grand Ole Opry. “Although we will miss Jean’s presence on the Opry stage, she has left us the wonderful gift of her music which will be remembered for generations to come.”
Jean was born Ollie Imogene Shepard in Oklahoma and raised one of ten children in Visalia, California. At age 14 she was spotted by country star Hank Thompson singing and playing bass in the all-girl band she’d formed called the Melody Ranch Girls. Thompson brought her to the attention of Capitol Records and soon the trailblazing Shepard was setting the precedent in country music for a young woman recording and touring on her own rather than as a member of a family act, a duo, or a band’s “girl singer.”
A stint on the Springfield, Missouri Ozark Jubilee was followed by Grand Ole Opry membership in 1955. Her hit duet “A Dear John Letter” with Ferlin Husky was the first post-World War II country record featuring a female vocalist to sell a million copies. Other now-classic releases included “Second Fiddle (To An Old Guitar),” “A Satisfied Mind,” and “Slippin’ Away.”
photo by Chris Hollo/Grand Ole Opry