MECHANICSBURG – Frank “Hylo” Brown was a pioneer in bluegrass and country music.
This April 20 would have been his 100th birthday. He spent his final years living in Mechanicsburg and passed away in 2003.
A memorial concert is planned for April 23 starting at 4 p.m. at Mechanicsburg High School. Admission to the event is a suggested donation of $15 at the door. There is limited seating. For more information call 937-508-1080.
Brown was born in 1922 in River, Kentucky and by age 17 in 1939 he was performing on WCMI Radio, Ashland, Kentucky. He would soon start performing on WLOG Radio in Logan, West Virginia. His family would move to Springfield, Ohio and he would soon be performing on several stations in Ohio. One of those stations, WPFB in Middletown, was where many bluegrass legends would get their start and Brown was one of them.
It was there that one of the disc jockeys could not remember his name so he called him “Hi Lo” since Brown was able to sing both high land low parts in songs. The nickname stuck and became “Hylo.” He would meet Bradley Kincaid, a music producer in Springfield, and they made a recording in 1950. It was four years later a song that was meant to be for Kitty Wells titled “Lost to a Stranger” was sent to Brown instead. He was offered a recording deal with Capitol Records if he recorded it. He did and it became his first hit and went to number one, his only number one hit.
He would go on to record several albums and have songs on both country and bluegrass charts at the same time. He is thought to be the first artist to chart in two music styles at the same time. He also has had songs on folk (pop) and gospel charts.
In 1955 he would start performing at the Wheeling Jamboree on WWVA Radio in Wheeling, West Virginia. Today it is still the second oldest radio program still running behind the Grand Ole Opry. In 1957 he would join the popular group Flatt and Scruggs. He toured with them several years performing with the group and doing solo spots. Their sponsor was Martha White Flour. The group had so many requests nationally that Hylo would be asked to start a new group to take on some of the spots. They became The Buckskin Boys later renamed Hylo Brown and The Timberliners.
Hylo would continue to have success touring even in other countries throughout the 1960s and 70s. He recorded dozens of albums on major labels including Capitol and Starday. He made regular appearances on the historic Grand Ole Opry.
One of Hylo’s biggest claims to fame is writing the iconic “Grand Ole Opry Song.” This song would later become popular after both Jimmy Martin and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band would record it. It also made it on the “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” project, which to some is one of the greatest albums of all time with many legends taking part on it. Eastern Kentucky holds Hylo’s roots there in high honor.
He is part of the Country Music Highway that runs through the state where many performers came from. He is listed on a historical marker in Paintsville, Kentucky, along with Loretta Lynn, Crystal Gayle and more recently Chris Stapleton. The Country Music Highway Museum there also has a display on Hylo Brown.
After retirement Brown would perform occasionally but ended up returning to the Springfield area, moving to Mechanicsburg to be closer to his relatives. His son, Tim, had worked in the village for several years. Hylo’s niece Many Ward moved with him to be his caregiver.
When he turned 80 in 2002, a community birthday celebration took place at the school to honor him. There were messages sent from some of his fellow musician friends like Larry Sparks, Doyle Lawson and Ricky Skaggs.
Skaggs, who lived for a few years in West Jefferson and has family in the Mechanicsburg area, called Hylo a mentor of his and had also released “Lost to a Stranger.” Hylo was able to attend the birthday celebration even though he was sick. In January of 2003 he would lose his battle with cancer. He is buried at Rose Hill Cemetery in Springfield.
A month after his death he was honored by being named the 2003 Hall of Greats for The Society For The Preservation of Bluegrass Music in America. He is also in The Kentucky Hall of Fame and was a Kentucky Colonel. He also has items on display at the Bluegrass Hall of Fame in Kentucky.
The concert on April 23 will remember and honor him. Some of his family is expected to attend. Others who will take part in the concert will be Roni Stoneman, best known for her role on the long-time TV show “Hee Haw.”
Her most famous role was Ida Lee Nagger or the lady in the skits with the iron board. She also is one of the most talented female banjo players in music and also a comedian. Her family, The Stonemans, was one of the first groups in country music. Roni is the youngest of 23 children. Only 13 survived to adulthood. Today just Roni and her sister Donna survive. Their dad “Pop” Stoneman was named to The Country Music Hall of Fame for his contributions and is credited for having part in the discovery of Jimmie Rodgers and The Carter Family.
Roni, who will be 84 in a few weeks, still performs a few shows a year and will make a special appearance in Mechanicsburg to help honor Hylo – whom she says she personally knew.
Also taking part will be Dreyden Gordon, 17, of Kentucky, who has performed since a very young age and named a Kentucky Colonel at the age of just 12. He has been on national and internationally syndicated TV and radio shows and opened for many well known bluegrass artists.
Local legend Bill Purk who has performed several decades in music and an area teacher, will also perform April 23. Reed Jones is also set to perform. He is also local and is a member of the national act Audie Blaylock and Redline. And local bluegrass gospel group Crossing Over will be on the schedule. They are made up of Mechanicsburg/Cable area residents and former residents.
Info from Stan Oliver