Jean Shepard Dead at 82
Country Music Hall of Famer and Grand Ole Opry member Jean Shepard has died. The singer passed away on Sunday (Sept. 25) at the age of 82.
Born Ollie Imogene Shepard on Nov. 21, 1933, in Pauls Valley, Okla., Shepard was one of her sharecropper parents' 10 children. She and her family moved to Visalia, Calif. -- about 100 miles north of Bakersfield -- just before Shepard turned 11 years old. After spending her high school years playing as part of the Melody Ranch Girls and performing on KNGS radio station on Saturday mornings, Shepard got her big break when she performed with Hank Thompson in 1952; impressed, Thompson convinced Ken Nelson to sign Shepard to Capitol Records.
Shepard's first single, "Crying Steel Guitar Waltz," failed to chart following its release in 1952, but her second single, "A Dear John Letter" -- a duet with Ferlin Husky -- sold one million copies and spent six weeks at No. 1 on the country charts and topped the pop charts as well. Throughout her career, Shepard released 24 studio albums and more than 70 singles.
On Nov. 21, 1955, at the age of 22, Shepard joined the Grand Ole Opry; at the time of her death, she was the Opry's longest-running member. In 2011, she was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and in 2014, she released an autobiography, Down Through the Years.
Shepard was married to Hawkshaw Hawkins from November of 1960 until Hawkins' death in the plane crash on March 5, 1963, that also killed Patsy Cline and Cowboy Copas. At the time, Shepard was eight months pregnant with her and Hawkins' second child, Harold Franklin Hawkins II; their first son, Don Robin, was born in 1961. Shepard was married to Benny Birchfield, whom she wed in 1968 and with whom she has a son, Corey, born in 1969, when she passed away.
The Tennessean reports that in addition to Birchfield and her three sons, Shepard also leaves behind several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Her funeral arrangements have yet to be announced.
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