Country singer Jan Howard, the Grand Ole Opry's senior member, dies at 91


NASHVILLE – Country singer and songwriter Jan Howard, a beloved member of the Grand Ole Opry for nearly 50 years, died Saturday at age 91.

A news release issued by the Opry says Howard "passed away peacefully" in Gallatin, Tennessee.

Howard officially joined the Opry in 1971, and was the oldest living member of the country music institution. 

In a statement, Opry vice president and executive producer Dan Rogers called Howard "a force of nature in country music, at the Opry, and in life."

"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.” 


The news broke while the latest Opry show – featuring Vince Gill, Amy Grant and their daughters – was being broadcast live. 

Onstage at the Grand Ole Opry House, Gill 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."

Howard's music career began in the late '50s, singing demo recordings for songs written by her then-husband, songwriting great Harlan Howard. That included the original demo for Patsy Cline's "I Fall to Pieces."

 In 1960, she had a hit of her own: "The One You Slip Around With." Her biggest solo success came with 1966's "Evil On Your Mind," and the follow-up "Bad Seed."

She'd reach the top of the charts through her collaborations with Bill Anderson in the late '60s and early '70s, including "For Loving You," a No. 1 hit in 1967.

Howard was also an accomplished songwriter, penning hits for Kitty Wells and Connie Smith. But her most powerful composition was also a highly personal one: 1968's “My Son," which was written for her own son, killed in action in Vietnam that same year.

Howard's work with the armed forces and veteran organizations earned her several honors, including the Tennessee Adjutant General’s Distinguished Patriot Medal, and the Medal of Merit from the Commander in Chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.



“So sorry to lose my friend and Opry sister Jan Howard. She was one of the first friends I met on my first trip to Nashville in 1963. We shared many great times and got through some rough ones. And right up to the end she flashed that million dollar smile. I’m sad she’s gone but I’m glad she didn’t linger and suffer. The first memory that came to my mind today was one time she called and when I asked her what she’d been doing, she said well I just got through riding an elephant! Jan always said 'Life is not a rhearsal, this is it, make the most of it.' She made me promise her that I would put her cell phone in her casket just in case! Her sense of humor was like no other. She’s already missed.”
–Jeannie Seely

Jan was sweet as honey and tough as nails. When I was at Vanderbilt in 1976, she invited me to stay with her during final exams so I could be close to campus. She helped me study and she woke me up every morning and made breakfast for me. She was always incredibly generous and kind to me. I hadn't seen her in decades, but I got a message last December that she wanted to see me. I went to visit her and she told me stories about the past, about my dad, and about her life. I'm so grateful we had that last conversation and I'm so grateful I could call her a friend.
–Rosanne Cash
"Knowing Jan Howard's music was a blessing but knowing her was a a double dose of blessing.  When she walked into a room or on a stage, she always brought a warm smile and cherry note.  I will miss her talent and her funny stories. One of the real grand ladies of the Grand Ole Opry."
–Charlie Monk

“Jan was the most honest and strongest person that I’ve ever met. She lived life to the fullest. I was blessed to call her a very good friend for the past 23 years.  She lived and loved Country Music.”
–Bobby Tomberlin

“The Exile family is saddened at the passing of a great lady, a legend, and our friend, Jan Howard. Go rest high dear friend.”
–Exile (Sonny LeMaire, JP Pennington, Marlon Hargis, Les Taylor and Steve Goetzman)

“We are sad to say so long to Jan Howard. She was a friend of our family for many years and she will be missed. A sweet, strong woman that I am so very glad to have known. Thank you for the memories Jan!”
–Julie Fudge and the Patsy Cline family

"Jan Howard was not only loved for the great artist and years of music she shared with the world, but the fact that she was “REAL”. It broke our hearts to hear the story of her son that died in Vietnam after watching the Ken Burns Country Music Documentary, but makes us happy to know that they’re rejoicing together in Heaven today. You will be greatly missed, Jan.”
–Darin and Brooke Aldridge

“Very sad news today. Singer-songwriter Jan Howard, one of the "Grand Ladies of the Grand Ole Opry,” has passed away. She had everything to be admired in a woman... strength, beauty, smarts, talent and heart. She will be missed.”
–Dallas Wayne

“Jan Howard was a bestselling singer, Grand Ole Opry star, songwriter, author, but also a successful human being and a beloved friend to many.”
–Bobby Braddock

“Jan Howard was always a great friend to us Rio guys. Everytime we saw her at the Opry we were always met with smile and a BIG hug. We held a charity Golf Tournament for 10 yrs and Jan was always one of the first celebrities to participate. We will truly miss her friendship and sweet soul.” 
–Diamond Rio

“With the passing of our wonderful friend Jan Howard, we have lost one of the very few remaining links connecting the roots of early California country music to the Nashville songwriting gold rush era of the early 1960s. I never had a conversation with Jan that I did not learn things that were important to me. I loved her and I will always treasure her friendship.”
–Buddy Cannon

“Jan’s wonderful contributions to country music not only included her music, but also her best-selling autobiography “Sunshine and Shadow.” There’s no more shadow in Jan’s life now. She’s walking in total sunshine, and I’m sure she’s hugging her two sons and her country music friends. It’s hard losing a special friend, but if you miss them it means you were lucky you had that special person in your life. And Jan was certainly a special person. She left this world peacefully, without suffering or pain, and without contracting this terrible virus, so that is comforting. And I know she was ready to go home. A sunset on Earth is a sunrise in Heaven.”
–Ron Harman

“Jan Howard left us with a legacy of music. Songs that she sang, songs that she wrote, and a voice that we'll never forget. Rest in peace 'Lula Grace.'  I will miss you and love you always." 
–Shannon McCombs - Radio & Television Host


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