The Browns – “The Three Bells”


Introduction to the Browns

The Browns were a country and folk music vocal group consisting of siblings Jim Ed, Bonnie and Maxine. Their most famous single was “The Three Bells” in 1959. Hailing from Arkansas, all of the siblings sang individually until Maxine and Ed performed as a duo, and then later joined by Maxine, their youngest sister and just fresh from high school graduation. Their self-penned songs “Looking Back To See” and “Here Today and Gone Tomorrow” became Top 10 country hits, as the trio were now guesting on radio shows such as Louisiana Hayride. In 1959, The Browns achieved their biggest hit, “The Three Bells”, which topped the Hot 100 chart. About a year later, they scored another Top 10 hit, “The Old Lamplighter.” With their growing following in the global circuit, they toured Europe; they became members of the Grand Ole Opry in 1963. When the siblings began to pursue solo careers, The Browns began to disintegrate, eventually disbanding in the late 1960s.

From a duo to a trio

The Browns were an American country/folk vocal group, formed in Sparkman, Arkansas in the early 1950s. The threesome actually composed of siblings — James Edward (“Jim Ed”) his older sister Maxine and younger sister Bonnie Brown. Each of them used to pursue their solo career by singing in another Arkansas town of Pine Bluff.

It was in 1954 where the real formation of the Browns began as a singing group. It was there where Jim Ed and Maxine teamed as a duo and signed their first recording contract together. They recorded a song they themselves wrote titled “Looking Back to See.” The duo then released the song simply under the name of “Jim Edward and Maxine Brown.” It provided them with their first charting hit, at #8 on the country singles chart in 1954.

In 1955, their youngest sibling Bonnie, just fresh from high school graduation, joined Jim Ed and Maxine. Together they toured and performed in Shreveport, Louisiana and Springfield, Missouri, appearing mostly on radio programs. The threesome released another single “Here Today and Gone Tomorrow,” as Jim Edward, Maxine and Bonnie Brown. In 1956 the trio was signed to RCA Records.

Still, under their own names, the siblings scored more country hits: “I Take the Chance,” (at #2), “Just as Long as You Love Me” (at #11), “Money” (at #15), and “I Heard the Bluebirds” (at #4).

“The Three Bells” — The Browns’ biggest hit

In 1959, now as simply The Browns, they scored their biggest national hit with the folk-pop offering “The Three Bells.” The song was actually based on the 1945 French song “Les trois cloches” written by Jean Villard Gilles and Marc Herrand. The English-language rendition, first recorded by Melody Maids in the late 1940s, was written by Bert Reisfeld. The Browns’ version, meanwhile, went to #1 on both pop and country singles charts in 1959. It also peaked at #10 R&B and #6 on the British singles chat that same year.

Other hits

The Browns followed this up with “Scarlet Ribbons (for Her Hair)” that same year. It reached #13 pop (#7 country) that same year. In early 1960 they scored their last Top 10 pop hit with their cover of Sammy Kaye’s Orchestra’s 1946 hit “The Old Lamplighter” (at #5 pop, #20 country, #17 R&B). In the following years until their disbandment in 1967 or 1968 they managed to score charting singles, albeit minor ones on both pop and country charts (“Teen Ex,” “Lonely Little Robin,” “The Whiffenpoof Song,” “Blue Christmas,” “Ground Hog,” and many others).

The lives of the Browns’ siblings after the peak years

The Browns rarely reappeared together after their breakup; their last known appearance was on the PBS special Country Legends where they sang their old hits. All of the siblings are still alive today as of this writing — Jim being an active member of the Grand Old Opry, in 2005 Maxine coming out with her autobiography Looking Back to See, and Bonnie still living in Arkansas.

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