Country Music Legend Jan Howard Has Passed Away

Country music legend and long-time Grand Ole Opry star Jan Howard has passed away at the age of 91. Howard died on Saturday, March 28th peacefully in her sleep in Gallatin, Tennessee near Nashville. A Grand Ole Opry member for nearly 50 years, news broke of her passing as the storied country music institution was broadcasting its 4,917th consecutive Saturday night episode despite the Coronavirus to an empty Opry House.

“We were all so lucky so many nights to hear her voice on stage and to catch up with her backstage. We’re all better for having had her in our lives,” said Opry Vice President and Executive Producer Dan Rogers while confirming the news. “A force of nature in country music, at the Opry, and in life.”

Vince Gill, who along with wife Amy Grant and daughters Jenny Gill and Corrina Grant Gill comprised the evening’s entertainment said that he and Howard “spent an awful lot of time over on that side of the stage, telling jokes and having a great friendship for over 30 years.”

Born Lula Grace Johnson in West Plains, Missouri on March 13th, 1929, Jan Howard was a child of the Depression who grew up listening to the Grand Ole Opry with her father. Howard lived a legendarily tragedy-filled life that fueled her music. She married her first husband even before finishing high school, worked many odd jobs, and lost two of her three sons—one to suicide, and another in the Vietnam War, which became the inspiration for her 1968 hit, “My Son.”

A firebrand and strong supporter of the military, her recount of when anti-war protesters came to her door, and she told them she 100% respected their right to protest, but if they ever came back, “I’ll blow your head off with a .357 Magnum,” is a legendary anecdote of country music history.

After many years of struggle in her early life, Jan Howard’s music career began after meeting aspiring country music songwriter Harlan Howard in 1957. The couple was soon married, and after discovering Jan could sing, Harlan began using her as a studio demo singer, including performing on the first recording of the Patsy Cline hit, “I Fall To Pieces.”

After her success behind-the-scenes in the studio, Jan Howard got her own shot as a performer, scoring her first hit with “The One You Slip Around With” in 1960. Her biggest solo success came in 1966 with the songs “Evil On Your Mind” and “Bad Seed,” which cemented her place in country music, and one as a strong-willed woman willing to speak her mind in song. Into the late 60’s and early 70’s, her collaborations with Bill Anderson became legendary, recording five Top 5 hits with him, including the song “For Loving You” that went #1 in 1967.

Howard worked as a songwriter as well, penning tunes for other country women such as Kitty Wells and Connie Smith. Even as her commercial career began to slow, Jan Howard remained a fixture in country music, and especially at the Grand Ole Opry. She also made numerous appearances in the recent documentary on country music by Ken Burns.

Jan Howard is survived by her remaining son, Carter A. Howard and his wife Pamela, two grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

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