The Kennedy Center

George Jones


(Singer; born September 12, 1931, in Saratoga, Texas– died aged 81 April 26, 2013)

The best way to know country music is to listen to George Jones.

Blessed with a voice that sounds like no other and a style that is definitely his own, the man who helped make country music cool remains at 77, as of September 2008, one of the vital forces in American music. “There’s no mistaking his influence,” noted The Washington Post, about the man who had his first No. 1 hit in 1959, “his name synonymous with emotionally unvarnished and unguarded honky-tonk music, a rallying cry for singers half his age.”   Once famously singled out by Frank Sinatra as “the second best singer in America,” Jones is in fact “the personification of cool,” according to the Toronto Star.  Cool, yes, but always carefree and very personal: Jones means every note, every word he sings—the feelings are real, the music always true.  The Los Angeles Times summed up the Jones phenomenon this way in 2008: “He’s known as The Voice, and his songbook alone will bring tears to concertgoers’ eyes: Songs such as ‘He Stopped Loving her Today,’ ‘The Grand Tour,’ and ‘The Race Is On’ capture the stoic, survival-minded fatalism of that generation some call the greatest, now slipping away. Honor George Jones while he’s still with us.”

His career has been colorful. Nicknamed the Silver-Haired Possum, Jones has been noted not only for his solo hits but variously for his collaborations–with everyone from Melba Montgomery and the ‘60s country rocker Gene Pitney right through Merle Haggard, Ray Charles, Keith Richard, and the First Lady of Country Music, Jones’s former wife, Tammy Wynette. In tough times, and he has lived through a few, he got by with a little help from his friends Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings.  Jones has a legendary fondness for fast lawn mowers, and his ventures into the food business have given the world a variety of “George Jones Country-Style Breakfast Sausage” and “Country Style Hamburger Patties” as well as his own “Tennessee Sipping Water.” All this, and he headlines about 100 concerts a year.

George Glenn Jones was born and bred in Texas. He grew up listening to gospel music on Sundays and to good ol' country on the radio every day. He got his first guitar at the age of nine and was soon playing for change on the streets of Beaumont. By 16 he was singing on the radio, making music until he joined the U.S. Marines. After the Korean War, the young man’s career took off. He hit the charts in 1955 with “Why, Baby, Why,” and was named “Most Promising Country Vocalist” by Billboard in 1956, “Male Vocalist of the Year” in 1962 and 1963—the beginning of a long string of such accolades.  He joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1969, entered the Walkway of Stars at the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1970, and was singled out by Cash Box in 1972, 1973 and 1976 as half of a Top Duo for his recordings with Tammy Wynette. The devastatingly personal “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” a bit of truth in music that would become Jones’s signature song, was named Song of the Year by the Country Music Association in 1981 and 1982.  “He Stopped Loving Her Today” also earned the Possum his first Grammy Award, and it was later voted “All Time Country Song” in 1992.

He was just getting going. He has charted more singles than any artist in any musical format—166 and counting.  The list of his No. 1 Country Hits alone is staggering, including “White Lightning,” “Tender Years,” “She Still Thinks I Care,” “Walk Through This World With Me,” “We’re Gonna Hold On” with Tammy Wynette, who also joined him in the chart-toppers  “Golden Ring” and “Near You”; “The Grand Tour,” “Still Doin’ Time,” Yesterday’s Wine” with Merle Haggard, and “I always Get Lucky With You.” He hit close to home in his duet with Dolly Parton, “The Blues Man,” composed by Hank Williams, Jr., when he and the country music goddess sang of a singer who “started drinkin’, took some things that messed up his thinking, got cuffed on dirt roads, got sued over no shows.”  In his music, where it counts, George Jones shows.

The Country Music Hall of Fame inducted Jones in 1992. In 2002, he received the National Medal of Arts. His autobiography I Lived To Tell It All became a bestseller. George Jones’s duet with Barbara Mandrell, “(I Was Country) When Country Wasn’t Cool,” another No. 1 Country Hit, did nothing but tell the truth. He’s still cool.
George Jones