After the deaths of Buddy Holly (1959) and Patsy Cline (1963) in aviation accidents, another musical icon lost his life in the same manner in July 1964, when a light aircraft piloted by Jim Reeves crashed in the state of Tennessee. He was just 40.
Country superstar Jim Reeves died in a plane crash at the age of 39. Returning from a business trip to Arkansas, Reeves was at the controls of a single-engined plane and in the company of his road manager Dean Manuel.
Failing to land at Nashville as scheduled, a large-scale scale search began, with contemporaries of Reeves including Chet Atkins, Eddy Arnold and Ernest Tubb joining volunteers and the emergency services. The wreck of the plane was then found near the town of Brentwood and news spread that the body of Reeves had been found.
Born in Texas during August 1923, James Travis Reeves initially saw his path to stardom as a baseball player, until a career-ending injury forced him to look elsewhere. Finding work as a radio announcer/ DJ, Jim also sang with country star Moon Mullican’s band and by late 1952 had relocated to a radio station in Shreveport, Louisiana – where his announcing role including MC’ing the popular Louisiana Hayride show.
The non-appearance of headliner Hank Williams one night in 1953 caused Jim to deputise for him at short notice and improbably he stole the show and ignited his own musical career. Winning a recording deal with Abbott Records and switching from announcer to lead artist on the Hayride, Reeves found himself top of the country singles chart with “Mexican Joe” and follow-up, “Bimbo.”
By 1955, the man who had been nicknamed Gentleman Jim since his childhood had become part of the Nashville country music establishment: endorsed by the likes of Chet Atkins and Ernest Tubb and invited to join the Grand Ole Opry.
Back at the top of the charts in 1957 with “Four Walls”, further top sellers would follow with releases such as “Welcome to My World”, “He’ll Have To Go” and some frankly nauseous festive long-players.
Touring in Europe and South Africa broadened his appeal, while Jim began to nudge towards the mainstream and away from country and had just completed filming a movie at the time of his death.
Following his passing, the legend of Gentleman Jim became firmly established and his inevitable admission to the Country Music Hall of Fame followed in 1967.
Meanwhile, a steady supply of unreleased repertoire was eked out over the following decades to maintain his chart presence and in some cases push his popularity to new heights- notably a posthumous number one in Great Britain with “Distant Drums” in 1966.
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And here’s some footage of JR in action: