Russell Lee Wilson, one half of the Wilson Brothers traditional bluegrass duo, passed away on February 4 at Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital, Somerset, KY, from complications related to pneumonia. He was 67 years old.
A resident of Science Hill, Kentucky, Russell Wilson was born on May 7, 1945, in Dayton, OH.
Wilson, noted for his high, lonesome tenor voice, and his brother Curnie were influenced by their mother’s mountain gospel singing. The duo went on to play some hard-core traditional bluegrass together for 24 years.
The Wilson Brothers (of Kentucky) were the first to be honored in Gallatin County with a music award for outstanding performance.
As did many bluegrass musicians, their first experience of singing in public came when singing in the local church.
They spread their wings when, in the early 1960’s, the young brothers were recruited by J. D. Jarvis, with whom they travelled for a time. While singing at a Lawrenceburg, IN, church they met Ralph Stanley, who invited them to appear at his bluegrass festival in McClure, Virginia.
Little did they know that Ralph Stanley would be responsible for the name they had been unable to decide for themselves. Stanley merely introduced them as The Wilson Brothers.
They recorded six albums; We’ll Work ’til Jesus Comes (Pine Tree, released in 1971), Sacred Songs in the Stanley Tradition (Old Homestead, 1974), Preach the Word (Old Homestead, 1977), My Ride is Coming (Old Homestead, 1979), Lonesome Old Home (Vetco (released in 1980), re-released as a CD on the Crosscut label, 1999) and Time to Pray (Vetco, (released in 1984), re-released as a CD on the Crosscut label, 2000).
In 2003 Russell Wilson released a solo album, Trooper Lee, on Crosscut (CR 1134).
Among the many songs written by Wilson are Rejoice With Mom and Dad, This Lost Sinner’s Prayer, What More Do You Need, Life’s Other Side (also recorded by Ralph Stanley) and The Stanley’s Will Sing Again.
The brothers also composed the music for Ed Hamilton’ s Lonesome Old Home lyrics; the recording by Longview led to it becoming the IBMA’s song of the year for 1998.
Due to poor health, The Wilson Brothers last public appearance was in 1984.
Since then Russell Wilson has been a long time member of the Cumberland Highlanders band, appearing on The Cumberland Highlanders nationally televised bluegrass show since 1998.
Wilson has sung both tenor and lead with Ralph Stanley; partnering Ralph Stanley to sing The Stanley’s Will Sing Again and Lost Sinner’s Prayer on the Cumberland Mountain Home CD (Black Mountain Records 9901).
The Wilson Brothers kept the tradition influenced by their mother’s mountain gospel singing, as well as Monroe-style bluegrass. Their singing is similar to the Stanley Brothers but retains a style all their own.
Funeral services are at 1:00 p.m. Friday, February 8 at Morris & Hislope Funeral Home in Science Hill. Visitation will be prior to the funeral service starting at 11:00 a.m. Bro. Charles Lucas will be officiating. Burial will follow in Science Hill Cemetery.