Renowned dobro player Bashful Brother Oswald died yesterday (Oct. 17) in Nashville after a lengthy illness. He was 90. Although only a member of the Grand Ole Opry since 1995, Oswald played on the Opry stage for more than half a century as a member of Roy Acuff’s Smoky Mountain Boys. In addition to the dobro, the artist also played guitar, banjo, and jug, sang tenor, and performed comedy.
“I don’t think anyone has the style, the touch, and control of a dobro instrument like Oswald,” the late Acuff once said. “I don’t think anyone has ever come close to him in his type of playing. Os is the best.”
Born Beecher Ray Kirby near Sevierville, Tenn., Oswald began playing with Acuff in the mid-1930s. He developed a cartoonish character with overalls and a floppy hat after the bandleader dubbed him “Brother Oswald,” feigning relation to singer Rachel Veach so that audiences would accept the unmarried female performer.
He launched a solo career with the 1962 Starday album “Bashful Brother Oswald.” As well as performing on his own releases and playing with Acuff’s band into the 1980s, Oswald also performed on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s landmark 1972 album “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” which was recently re-released in a 30th anniversary edition via Capitol.
He is survived by his wife of 19 years, Eunita, his son Billy Ray Kirby and daughter, the late Linda Demonbreun. Visitation will be held today and tomorrow at the Forest Lawn Funeral Home in Goodlettsville, Tenn., with funeral services scheduled there tomorrow at 2 p.m. ET.