Today marks the one-year anniversary of the death of Country Music Hall of Fame member Ray Price. For his widow, Janie, it was as if the world had seemingly come to an end.
"It was actually four months before I could even leave my home," she says. "I just honestly stayed there and cried. I just couldn't move forward. I would wake up in the morning, open my eyes, and wonder why I was even awake. But, then on April 13 -- two days before Beauty Is…, his final album, was scheduled to be released, Steve Popovich called and asked if I would be a part of the promotion."
She says she was hesitant at first. However, the feeling didn't last long.
"I heard Ray Price's voice -- so crystal clear -- saying 'Get out of this bed and keep your promise to me.'" That was all it took. "I hopped out of bed, got dressed, got my hair and nails done, and was at Hastings in Tyler at a promotion for the album. It was such a successful day, and people would come up to me and were so nice. They brought so much memorabilia -- things that Ray had autographed for them. It literally blew me away, and it was within the first 30 minutes that I was there that I realized what he had said to me was true -- 'You're going to be the closest thing to me that people are going to have. You need to make yourself available to people, so they will be able to connect to me through you. Promise me you'll do that.' Of course, I had, but I really didn't understand the meaning of it until that event. I thank God that I had this project to work on, because if I had not had this, I don't know what would have happened to me. The story would probably have been very different," she admits.
Upon the release of Beauty Is…, critics marveled at the timeless quality of Price's voice -- which seemingly lost none of its' range from the past. "He would have been so thrilled with all the comments," said Price. "He always said, 'If I ever lose my vibrato, I'm going to quit the business.' He worked so hard on that. He had studied voice when he was a young man. He had taken opera lessons, and had studied the breathing techniques that all of the opera singers use. He was able to fill that diaphragm with so much air and hold it, and he never lost that."
One of the biggest supporters of the album -- as well as the Price family -- has been WSM radio mainstay Eddie Stubbs, of whom Price said, "I love him so much. He and Ray were so close. Eddie would call him every week without fail the last two years of his life. He told him that as long as I'm a disc jockey, I'm going to play a Ray Price song every time I'm on the air. I asked Eddie to be a part of Ray's memorial service, as well as his funeral."
In addition to the final album, Price's music gained new life this year with his inclusion in Bridges, the debut album from Mary Sarah, who performed "Heartaches by the Number" with the legend. Price remarked of the teenage newcomer, "What a sweetheart. She is a star-to-be. Ray recognized that and he told her that he was going to do everything he could to help her. She sings like an absolute angel. We've all become very good friends."
Janie Price confesses that acting as sort of a spokesperson for her late husband was new ground. "When he asked me to do this, he said, 'You're going to have to go out and do what I would have done.' I told him 'You know, I have never done anything out in the public.' I've always worked behind the scenes. I was his personal business manager, but I never stepped in front of the camera, or did interviews. He told me 'I have chosen the label, and Steve Popovich has put together the marketing team. All you have to do is go out and do what they tell you to. I did my part, now it's your turn, Girl, so run with it and get it right.'
Upon its release, the album hit the top-25 on the Billboard Country Albums chart -- his highest solo position there in well over three decades. "He would be blown away with what has happened," says Price. "He had asked his producer Fred Foster in the very beginning of the project 'Fred, do you think it's humanly possible that an older act like me could actually have a hit record?' He told him 'Ray, you know the business has changed. It is nothing like it was back in our heyday.' Then, he got real quiet and said 'You know though, if anyone can do it, Ray Price can.' Fred turned out to be right. I think he would be so proud of everything. This is Ray Price's last dream."