Jesse McReynolds, surely among the most consequential mandolinists, singers, and songwriters in the history of bluegrass music, died earlier this afternoon at his home in Nashville with his wife by his side. He had been in hospice care this past two weeks, and slipped away from natural causes at age 94.
Jim & Jesse, his partnership with his brother, the late Jim McReynolds, left the bluegrass world with a wealth of classic songs and recordings. They came from a musical family in Virginia, very near where the Stanley Brothers were raised. Their grandfather, Charlie McReynolds, was recorded as part of the RCA Bristol Sessions in 1927.
Jesse sang the lead part and Jim the tenor, in what would become one of the most popular and influential brother duets of the 20th century. They cut dozens of records, starting in 1952 with Capitol Records. At that time, there wasn’t much distinction between what we now call bluegrass and country music, as far as radio was concerned, and their first single when they switched to Columbia Records, The Flame of Love backed with Gosh I Miss You All The Time, spent weeks on the charts back in 1960. Many other such hits were to follow.
Familiar classics from Jim & Jesse, many written by Jesse, include Cotton Mill Man, Diesel On My Tail, Are You Missing Me, I Wish You Knew, Sweet Little Miss Blue Eyes, She Left Me Standing On The Mountain, Old Slew Foot, I’ll Love Nobody But You, Please Be My Love, and many others.
As a mandolinist, Jesse represented the first deviation from the style pioneered by Bill Monroe in the 1940s, itself a radical approach. While he could play easily in the Monroe style, he developed his own technique based on how the five string banjo stated the melody of a song within a roll pattern. The McReynolds style, often called crosspicking, involved using left hand positions and open strings in such a way that he could pick the strings of the mandolin across three sets of strings, with the tune always in the forefront. It did sound remarkably like banjo picking, and it set him apart quickly from the others.
A number of mandolin instrumentals that are still played at jams were written by Jesse, among them Dixie Hoedown and Stony Creek.
Jim & Jesse joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1964 after appearing several times for Martha White Flour, who also sponsored them on radio. They hosted a very popular program from Live Oak, FL, the Suwannee River Jamboree, throughout the ’50s and ’60s, which was syndicated to other US markets on radio and television.
They continued to record and perform together until Jim’s passing in 2002, at which point Jesse continued on as Jesse McReynolds & The Virginia Boys. Until the pandemic shutdowns in 2020, he kept a band together and made regular appearances on the Opry. In those later years he found a new audience by recording a tribute to Robert Hunter and The Grateful Dead.
Completely aside from his long and distinguished musical career, Jesse McReynolds will be remembered for his warm and welcoming personality, and his dependable kindness and generosity to others.
At this early time, no arrangements have been announced by the family.
This is a momentous loss for the bluegrass community. There is no way to overstate the importance and influence of Jesse McReynolds in the development of bluegrass music. A giant is gone.
R.I.P., Jesse McReynolds.
UPDATE 6/25: The McReynolds family has asked that we include the following:
Jesse was preceded in death by his parents, Claude Matthew McReynolds and Savannah Prudence Robinette McReynolds; loving wife of 41 years, Darlene McReynolds; son, Keith McReynolds, brother, Jim McReynolds, sisters, Stella McReynolds and Virginia Greear, and great grandson, Andrew Keith McReynolds. He is survived by his loving wife of 27 years, Joy Tipton McReynolds; daughter, Gwen McReynolds; sons, Michael K. McReynolds and Randy Q. McReynolds; eight grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
Funeral service will be held at 11:00 a.m. Wednesday, June 28, from the chapel of Alexander Funeral Home & Cremation Center with Brother James Bell and Randy McReynolds officiating. Entombment will follow at Sumner Memorial Gardens Mausoleum. Visitation will be Monday, June 26, from 4:00-8:00 p.m., Tuesday, June 27, from 2:00-8:00 p.m., and Wednesday, June 28, from 9:00 a.m. until the service begins.
In lieu of flowers, the family has asked for contributions to be made to:
Opry Trust Fund
One Gaylord Drive
Nashville, TN 37214
Dogingham Palace Rescue
5912 Colchester Drive
Hermitage, TN 37076
Alexander Funeral Home & Cremation Center is in charge of arrangements. Online condolences may be submitted online. (615-512-0011).