Bluegrass Legend & Oldest Living Opry Member Jesse McReynolds Dies

It’s the end of an era as one of the last living links to the very formative years of bluegrass has passed on to the sweet by and by. Jesse McReynolds was a bluegrass legend, an influential and innovative mandolin player, and the oldest living member of the Grand Old Opry. He died at his home on Friday afternoon, June 23rd, with his wife by his side after having entered hospice care two weeks ago. Jesse McReynolds was 94 years old.

Born July 9, 1929, McReynolds was revered for his signature crosspicking and split-string style of mandolin playing. The Coeburn, Virginia-native began performing with his brother Jim around 1947, and spent spent much of his career as a member of the brother duo in one capacity or another. The brothers came from a musical family. The duo’s grandfather Charlie McReynolds was part of the RCA Bristol Sessions, a.k.a the “Big Bang of Country Music” in 1927.

Sometimes called The McReynolds Brothers, sometimes called Jim and Jesse, sometimes called The Virginia Boys or The Virginia Trio, Jim and Jesse McReynolds were an enterprising and important part of bluegrass beginning in the 50’s, and they never stopped. Even when Jesse McReynolds went off to fight in the Korean War, he continued to play by forming a group with Charlie Louvin who was also serving in the conflict. They called themselves the “Dusty Road Boys.”

Upon return from the military, Jesse reunited with brother Jim, and the two performed together all the way until Jim’s death in 2001. The brothers became Grand Ole Opry members in 1964 at a time when the Father of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe, was especially hard on other bluegrass acts. But Jim and Jesse enjoyed a good relationship with Monroe for the most part, even though Jesse’s mandolin style was seen as a quite progressive compared to Monroe at the time.

In the duo, it was Jesse who commonly sang lead, with brother Jim singing the harmony. Jesse also wrote many of the duo’s songs, and songs that are considered bluegrass standards today. This includes songs such as “Cotton Mill Man,” “Diesel On My Tail,” “I Wish You Knew,” “Sweet Little Miss Blue Eyes,” “She Left Me Standing On The Mountain,” “Are You Missing Me,” “I’ll Love Nobody But You,” and more.

After the death of his brother, Jesse McReynolds continued to perform regularly, often under the name Jesse McReynolds & The Virginia Boys. Even up to the COVID-19 shutdowns, Jesse was performing 60-70 times a year, and was making regular appearances on the Grand Ole Opry. After the pandemic, McReynold’s public appearances began to die down.

Beyond bluegrass, Jesse McReynolds was one of the last living links to country music’s past. As the oldest Grand Ole Opry member, his loss is felt across the greater country music world.

No word as of yet of memorial services, but Jesse McReynolds is sure to be remembered fondly by the Opry family and beyond in the coming weeks.

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