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Biography of Jim Reeves - A Country Music Legend

Updated on August 18, 2013
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Livingsta is a writer who writes about anything that fascinates, provokes or interests her, always putting forth her best effort and focus.

James Travis Reeves also known as Gentleman Jim was an American country and pop music singer and songwriter popular in the 1950s and 1960s. He was the biggest male star to emerge from the Nashville sound. His songs were big hits in the country and pop charts, until he died at the age of 40 in a private plane crash in 1964. He was also a member of the Country Music and Texas Country Music halls of fame.

His early life:

Jim Reeves was born in Galloway, Texas on the 20th of August 1923 and his father Tom Reeves died when he was just 10 months old. His mother Mary Adams Reeves was left with 9 children, all of whom she had to raise on the family farm. Jim was five when he was delighted when his brother brought home a gramophone and Jimmie Rodgers record, the ‘Blue Yodel No.5’. He was very impressed by his works. Jim's passions were for country music and baseball. At the age of nine, Jim was so desperate for a guitar that he traded stolen pears for an old guitar that he saw in his neighbor’s yard while other sources quote him as saying that he traded an old glove for his guitar. He was a wonderful music entertainer at school, and the kids that rode with him in the school bus enjoyed his guitar music in the bus at times when he brought the guitar to school for special programs. Since then he was practising and improving his talent as a singer. After a few years when he was well confident that he could do his best, he appeared on a radio show in Shreveport, Louisiana.

Jim was a good baseball player and had a wonderful athletic career at Carthage High School and and his skills won him an athletic scholarship into the University of Texas, where he enrolled to learn speech and drama. He also started to play semi professional leagues, till he signed up for the St Louis Cardinals farm team in 1944. He then continued to play baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals farm team for almost three years as a right handed pitcher, after which he retired due to an injury in his leg with the sciatic nerve.

His career:

Jim's fine speaking voice helped him secure a job as a DJ for KGRI at Henderson, where he sang live between songs. He also started singing in the Henderson area. Though he signed for a couple of Texas based labels, he failed to become popular. His first recordings were made in Houston in 1949, on the Macy label. In the late 1940 to early 1950s, he started making Mullican style recordings. His musical break came when singer Sleepy LaBeef was late for a performance, and Reeves was asked to fill in, but other sources, including Reeves himself name Hank Williams as the absentee. His first contract was signed in 1951 wit Abbott Records. In 1953 he joined the Louisiana Hayride which was the turning point in his life towards success.

His initial success:

Jim Reeves received gold discs for 'Mexican Joe' and 'Bimbo'. He started becoming very popular as far as Norway and South Africa. In 1955, Reeves was signed into a 10-year contract by Stephen Sholes, who produced some of Reeves' first recordings at RCA. Jim’s singing style was loud for his first few recordings. But later he started to soften his volume, using a lower pitch and singing with lips very close to the microphone. RCA was not happy about this initially up until 1957. Jim then had to take the help of his producer Chet Atkins, to use this style. "Four Walls" took top position on the country charts, and also went to number eleven on the popular charts. It became an enormous US success in 1957. In 1957 Jim had the rare opportunity of doing a European tour which was a request by the US army to meet the demand for country music across Europe. Though it was not so successful as expected, he felt happy to see that his name had become a household word in America when he came back. In 1963 Jim went to South Africa to star in his one and only film Kimberly Jim.

Reeves' songs were remarkable for their simple elegance along with his rich light baritone voice. The songs Adios Amigo, Welcome To My World, and Am I Losing You were on top charts, and his Christmas songs have been all time favorites which include Silver Bells, Blue Christmas and An Old Christmas Card.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The crash siteThe funeral processionPeople trying to make a positive identificationReeves' Mother at the graveside
The crash site
The crash site
The funeral procession
The funeral procession
People trying to make a positive identification
People trying to make a positive identification
Reeves' Mother at the graveside
Reeves' Mother at the graveside

His death:

Jim Reeves was at the height of his career when his private plane crashed outside of Nashville on July 31, 1964. Jim was returning back to Nashville from Arkansas after negotiating for a property deal. Pilot Jim Reeves and his pianist and manager, Dean Manuel, died when their single engine plane encountered a violent thunderstorm while crossing remote hills and as a result of that Reeves suffered spatial disorientation. It was later found that he was flying the plane upside down and assumed he was increasing altitude to clear the storm when around 5:00 pm when it was approaching to land the plane faded from radar screens and radio contact was lost. The wreckage was found 2 days later, where they found the plane's engine and nose buried from the impact. 12 planes and two helicopters along with another 400 people, including fellow country singers, were involved in the search.

Jim's memorial services were held in Nashville and was buried in a specially landscaped area three miles east of Carthage on U.S. 79. Thousands turned out to pay their last respects at his funeral on August 4. The memorial statue is 12 feet tall. It depicts Jim standing with a guitar, and that statue has an amazing sculpture.  It is also one of the most popular tourist attraction in the county.Though Jim Reeves had died, his sales increased following his death.

Jim and Mary
Jim and Mary

His Posthumous releases:

Reeves was elected posthumously to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1967. there is an inscription on a bronze plaque, that reads

"The velvet style of Gentleman Jim Reeves was an international influence. His rich voice brought millions of new fans to country music from every corner of the world. Although the crash of his private airplane in 1964 took his life-posterity will keep his name alive-because they will remember him as one of country music's most important performers."

In 1998, he was inducted into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame in Carthage, Texas, where the Jim Reeves Memorial is located. The inscription on the memorial reads,

"If I, a lowly singer, dry one tear, or soothe one humble human heart in pain, then my homely verse to God is dear, and not one stanza has been sung in vain."

After his death, his widow, Mary, started to promote his albums. She combined his previous releases with unreleased tracks and produced new albums. From the year 1970 till 1984, there was at least on Jim Reeves single, that hit the charts. She also opened and run a museum in Nashville, which she run from early 1980s till 1996. Jim's record, 'Distant Drums' became the number one on the British singles chart in 1996, which was then named song of the year in UK. Also a CD compilation which has a collection of his best songs, reached its peak of number 7 in the UK album chart in late June 2009.

 Listed below is a few collection of his memories, which includes his favourite poem, Jim's favourite joke as said by Leo Jackson and a letter written to his nephew John Rex Reeves.

Jim's favourite poem

This poem was Jim's favorite, which he always hung on the wall in his office. This poem can also be seen in many of Jim Reeves' books.

Jim's favourite joke

 Leo Jackson who was the one and only lead guitarist  of Jim Reeves' Blue Boys band. Once during his chat with Jim's nephew, he told him that Jim was always interested in telling jokes on his shows. This particular joke was his favourite, which he kept repeating often in many shows

Jim's letter to his nephew in 1961

Jim Reeves was loved by his fans throughout the world. Besides this he was also very much loved by his family. John Rex, his nephew was very close to Jim. John grew up from his childhood hunting, fishing and playing baseball and golf together with Jim. John Rex still remembers playing golf with Jim just two weeks before he died.


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    • bloggermelive profile image


      2 years ago from East Yorkshire, UK

      My hubby is the Jim Reeves fan. For me, it's Kris Kristofferson all the way! I am very pleased that you mentioned South Africa, most articles skip it, but it was really important. Mr Reeves was very popular in SA, & even sang in Afrikaans. Lovely, poignant article. So many lost to aircraft accidents,

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 

      3 years ago from Washington State, USA

      The name Jim Reeves instantly takes me back to my childhood. My mother loved his voice, and placed his record albums almost every day (when we weren't listening to Sons of the Pioneers). He had an amazingly soothing, beautiful voice. So sad that he was taken from us much too soon. Thank you for a wonderful story.

    • livingsta profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from United Kingdom

      Hi Au Fait, yes it is a shame! Thank you for reading and for the vote and share! Have a great week ahead.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 

      7 years ago from North Texas

      Jim Reeves was one of my favorite country music singers. A shame his life was cut short. Voted up and will share.

    • livingsta profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from United Kingdom

      Thank you Xstatic for sharing your memories and stopping by :-)

      Thank you for the appreciation, I am glad you liked it!

    • livingsta profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from United Kingdom

      Aww, I am pleased you enjoyed this hub Pamela :-) Thank you so much for the votes and share!

    • livingsta profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from United Kingdom

      Thank you for stopping by Dilipchandra :-)

    • livingsta profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from United Kingdom

      Thank you Daisy, I am glad it was useful :)

    • xstatic profile image

      Jim Higgins 

      7 years ago from Eugene, Oregon

      I well remember Bimbo and Mexican Joe on the jukeboxes of West Texas cafes I frequented with my dad in the 50s, and later that sad song Four Walls. This was a nice tribute and remembrance of the singer.

    • Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

      Pamela Dapples 

      7 years ago from Just Arizona Now

      Everytime I hear one of his songs, it takes me back to childhood days with his records playing on the record player. Beautiful hub, livingsta. So much information in here. You're quite the sleuth. Voting up, beautiful and sharing.

    • dilipchandra12 profile image

      Dilip Chandra 

      7 years ago from India

      Something new, first time listening about James Travis Reeves. Good hub

    • Daisy Mariposa profile image

      Daisy Mariposa 

      7 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)


      Thanks for publishing this well-researched, well-written article. I learned a lot about Jim Reeves from reading your Hub.

    • livingsta profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from United Kingdom

      Hi Trish, I am glad it was helpful !

      Thank you for reading and dropping a few words !

    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 

      9 years ago from The English Midlands

      Hi :)

      I learned a lot from this hub.

      Jim Reeves had a lovely voice and he was my grandfather's favourite!

    • livingsta profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from United Kingdom

      Thank you Bill !

    • Billrrrr profile image

      Bill Russo 

      9 years ago from Cape Cod

      Thanks for this very fine hub.

      I had the pleasure of meeting and knowing the Great Sleepy LaBeef in the 1990s and he was then, and is now, a workhorse. I doubt that 'The Human Juke-Box' ever missed a performance. Sleepy's still crankin' em out in his 70s.

      Poor Hank Williams, troubled by horrible pain, turned to booze and pills and probably missed many performances before his untimely death.

    • livingsta profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from United Kingdom

      Thanks a lot for your words Duchess...

    • profile image

      Duchess OBlunt 

      10 years ago

      Very nicely done livingsta. The letter was a great touch.

    • livingsta profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago from United Kingdom

      Yes it is very true Feline Prophet.. thanks for passing by and dropping these words.

    • profile image

      Feline Prophet 

      11 years ago

      His voice is timeless...even now it has the power to enthrall. Thanks for a really informative hub livingsta.

    • livingsta profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago from United Kingdom

      Thanks a lot for your comments Ralwus. It's through my mum I got to know of him even when I was a little girl and loved his voice. Mum is his great fan. I think Del performed songs sung by Jim Reeves. But I am not aware of Jim Reeves' son by the name of Del :(

    • livingsta profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago from United Kingdom

      Hi Cashmere, thank you so much for the comments, and I know he is still afavourite for many. His works and voice are amazing.....

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      I am so surprised you are such a fan of his. He was a wonderful singer and I think he had a son, Del, who also sang. Nice tribute and cool that you have a copy of a letter of his.

    • cashmere profile image


      11 years ago from India

      I love his music, my son's favourite song is Bimbo. I am partial to Mexican Joe.

    • livingsta profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago from United Kingdom

      Thanks a lot Suziecat, i just now published the hub and received a response. Very motivating. Thank you so much

    • suziecat7 profile image


      11 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Nice biography and interesting Hub - thanks.


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