Today, September 8th, 2017, would have been the 85th birthday of Patsy Cline—one of the most iconic, influential, and immediately recognizable voices in the history of country music. Her recordings of Hank Cochran’s “She’s Got You,” Harlan Howard’s “I Fall to Pieces,” and Willie Nelson’s “Crazy” mark some of the most legendary recordings ever made in country music. But that is where her career ended, tragically, in a 1963 plane crash near Camden, Tennessee that also killed country starts Cowboy Copas, and Hawkshaw Hawkins.
Yesterday, September 7th, was the birthday of Buddy Holly—another American music icon who lost his life in an aviation accident, along with Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper, in a crash now known now as “The Day The Music Died.” Country Outlaw legend Waylon Jennings was also supposed to be on that plane as one of the stand-in members of Buddy Holly’s Crickets at the time, but had given up his seat last minute to ride in an unheated tour bus. Buddy joshed with Waylon that he hoped the old bus he was traveling on would freeze up. Waylon joshed back with Buddy that he hoped the plane would crash.
The year after Patsy Cline died, another legendary voice of country music, Jim Reeves, also died tragically in an aviation accident. While Reeves was at the controls of a single-engine Beechcraft Debonair aircraft, he encountered a thunderstorm just over Brentwood, TN near Nashville, sending the small craft into a tailspin.
1990 saw seven members of Reba McEntire’s touring band, along with her road manager and two pilots, all die when their charter jet crashed on the side of Otay Mountain near San Diego. Poor visibility was blamed on the crash.
Lynyrd Skynyrd, Jim Croce, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and John Denver are some other names with ties to the country music world who lost their lives while flying via plane or helicopter to or from stages to perform for devoted fans who ultimately ended up heartsick when word came down about their favorite stars’ untimely deaths.
Nestled between heart-wrenching stories of hurricanes battering the Southern United States, and the sad news of the passing of Country Music Hall of Famer Don Williams, came the equally tragic news that Troy Gentry of the country music duo Montgomery Gentry died in a helicopter crash Friday (9-8) on the way to a show in New Jersey. The duo’s management said in a statement:
It is with great sadness that we confirm that Troy Gentry, half of the popular country duo Montgomery Gentry, was tragically killed in a helicopter crash which took place at approximately 1:00 pm today in Medford, New Jersey. The duo was scheduled to perform tonight at the Flying W Airport & Resort in Medford. Troy Gentry was 50 years old. Details on the crash are unknown. Troy Gentry’s family wishes to acknowledge all of the kind thoughts and prayers, and asks for privacy at this time.
Montgomery Gentry is no stranger to tragedy. In October of 2015, Eddie Montgomery’s son Hunter was taken off of life support after an overdose. The duo, which formed in 1999 after numerous incarnations of bands with Eddie Montgomery’s brother and solo artist, John Michael Montgomery, had some major hits in the early and mid 2000’s such as “If You Ever Stopped Loving Me” and “Something to be Proud Of.” But like so many performers who do not adhere to the here-and-now sound of mainstream country, they fell out of favor recently, with their last few singles failing to chart on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart.
But the duo remained a favorite among their loyal fans, and a solid touring draw known for their fun and up-tempo shows. The loss of Troy Gentry leaves country music fans raw on a day, and in a month, and during a year that feels fraught with tragedy and depressing news.
But it’s on these days—of which the historical timeline of country music has seen far too many of—that it puts into perspective that country music, despite all the bickering about definitions or influences, remains a family. From the traditional fans of Don Williams, to the more contemporary fans of Montgomery Gentry, the shared narrative is that the music touched our lives in a way that is universal, that means something to us deep inside, and it hurts when artists that at times feel like part of our families, that sing us through tough times and help us celebrate good ones, pass on, especially in a tragic accident, and especially when two pass on in the same day, and even seemingly in the same hour.
September 8th, 2017, just like other tragic days in country music, will go down in the history books. But the music still remains due to the contributions of Troy Gentry and Don Williams. And so even though our hearts are broken, the circle remains, in the sky.