- [S75] Atchley Funeral Home Records, Volume II, 1955-1973, Larry D. Fox, (Smoky Mountain Historical Society), 15 Oct 1957.
Rev. George Wesley Kirby, Jr. obituary
- [S106] The Mountain Press, 11 Apr 2011.
Upland Chronicles:‘Beecher’ made name in music
by CARROLL McMAHAN
A clean-cut Beecher Kirby at the age of 25.
Roy Acuff and Beecher Kirby performing on the Grand Ole Opry stage.
Beecher Kirby with two of his favorite instruments.
Beecher Ray Kirby, a Sevier County native known to generations of Grand Ole Opry audiences as Bashful Brother Oswald who popularized the use of the resonator guitar and Dobro, was born Dec. 26, 1911 in Walden’s Creek community.
His father, George Wesley Kirby, played the fiddle and banjo. As a child, Beecher Kirby learned to play the guitar and banjo and sang gospel music. By his teens, he was playing for local square dances.
Kirby’s first job was at Johnny Mac’s Sawmill, where he made $1 per day for a 12-hour day, six days a week.
Following in the path of many young men from the Appalachian region, he left home in 1929 and hitchhiked to Flint, Mich., and found a job working on the Buick assembly line.
Soon after, Kirby lost his job in the economic downturn of the Great Depression.
As a result, Kirby returned to his roots of playing music. He played at informal square dances and parties held in the homes of fellow transplanted Southerners.
It was at one such party that Kirby met a Hawaiian guitarist named Rudy Wakiki. He was mesmerized by playing style of the Hawaiian and immediately began trying to play like Wakiki.
With the music of Hawaii gaining in popularity, Kirby bought his first resonator guitar, an early National model, and started playing in bars and cafes. He visited the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933, playing in clubs and gaining a following. Some of the clubs he played were owned by Al Capone.
Kirby, still searching for steady work, moved to Knoxville in 1934. Broke, his brother Buddy sent him the money to come home. Kirby got a job at Kern’s Bakery and pitched on the company’s team. However, he wanted to go back up north and play music.
He became a little more satisfied when he heard Roy Acuff on the “Mid-Day-Merry-Go-Round” radio program on WNOX and was invited to occasionally accompany Acuff.
Returning from one of the shows, he stopped in a restaurant where Lola Letner was a waitress. All three of the girls working there were sisters, and Kirby thought all three were attractive. He asked Lola for a date. After a brief courtship, they were married April 4, 1936. They had a son, Billy Ray, and daughter, Linda.
Taking the stage name Pete Kirby, he played the resonator guitar with Roy Acuff’s Crazy Tennesseans, which was later to become the Smoky Mountain Boys. Acuff joined the Opry in 1938, and asked Kirby to join his band on New Year’s Day, 1939.
It was with Smoky Mountain Boys band that Kirby became introduced as Bashful Brother Oswald, posing as the brother of banjoist Rachel Veach, so it would appear to the audiences that the unmarried Veach was being chaperoned by a family member.
To fit his new persona, Kirby wore a floppy, wide-brimmed orange hat, tattered bib overalls, oversized work shoes and adopted a braying laugh. He used his trademark line “And that’s the truth if I ever told it” to end his outrageous tales.
Featured on nationwide broadcasts, Oswald created a sensation playing his resonator guitar on songs such as “Old Age Pension Check.” Oswald and the Acuff band were featured in a Hollywood film for Republic Pictures, which gave the instrument greater exposure.
In addition, Oswald was a vocalist. His tenor voice can be heard on several of Acuff’s hit songs, such as “Precious Jewel” and “Wreck on the Highway.” Oswald began his career as a solo musician in the 1960s.
In 1962, he released an album titled Brother Oswald on the Saturday Records label. He joined Rounder Records label in the 1970s, releasing nearly a half-dozen albums until his last recording, “Carry Me Back,” in 1999.
His session work included working with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on “Will the Circle be Unbroken,” an album that paid tribute to the old-time, traditional country musicians of Nashville, and also featured Acuff, Mother Maybelle Carter and Earl Scruggs, among others. Oswald was also present for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s follow-up album, “Will the Circle be Unbroken: Volume Two” in 1989, singing back-up vocals on the title track.
Oswald was the sole member of the 1939 Smoky Mountain Boys that still accompanied Acuff at the time of Acuff’s death in 1992. With former Smoky Mountain bandmate Charlie Collins, Oswald formed the musical comedy duo “Os and Charlie,” which was a fixture at Opryland and on the Grand Ole Opry.
In 1981 Lola, his faithful wife of 45 years, passed away. Two years later, he married Eunetta Orene Adams, a divorcée with three grown children. He was 69 and she was 56. They were married on the stage of the old Ryman Auditorium. Roy Acuff served as best man.
Oswald participated in 1994’s “The Great Dobro Sessions” album.
Gibson Guitar Corp., owner of the Dobro brand, created a “Brother Oswald” signature series Dobro in 1995. The model has since been retired.
Beecher Ray Kirby performed on the Grand Ole Opry for 63 years. However, he was not inducted as a member until 1995. He died at 90 on Oct. 17, 2002, at his home in Madison.
Bashful Brother Oswald’s legacy will live on in his recordings and the funny stories he told. One such story: The night he had been drinking and got on the bus to go home. He would explain that he sat down in a seat next to a lady and when he looked at her said, “You’re the ugliest woman I’ve ever seen.” She retorted back, “Well, you’re the drunkest man I’ve ever seen.” Oswald would then smile and say, “Yes, but in the morning, I’ll be sober, but there’ll be no change in you.”
— Carroll McMahan is the special projects facilitator for the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce. The Upland Chronicles series celebrates the heritage and past of Sevier County. If you have suggestions for future topics, would like to submit a column or have comments; please contact Carroll McMahan at 453-6411 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org; or Ron Rader at 604-9161 or email to email@example.com.
- [S28] Newspaper Article, The Orlando Sentinel (FL), 18 Oct 2002.
BEECHER RAY KIRBY , 90, dobro player, comedian: Kirby , an innovator of the dobro guitar and country comedian on the Grand Ole Opry who performed as Bashful Brother Oswald, died Thursday in Nashville after a lengthy illness. Kirby was a member of the Smoky Mountain Boys, the backing group for Country Music Hall of Fame member Roy Acuff, from 1939 until Acuff's death in 1992. He became a regular cast member of the Grand Ole Opry as a solo act in 1995. Kirby 's dobro guitar playing was influenced by Rudy Waikiki, a musician he met in Flint, Mich. He used the Hawaii-tinged style on Acuff records including "The Wreck on the Highway" and "The Precious Jewel."
Acuff gave Kirby the "Brother" nickname after singer Rachel Veach was hired. Veach was single, and the band pretended Kirby was her brother to offset any scandal of an unmarried woman traveling with the band.
Kirby began to develop the Bashful Brother Oswald character. He wore overalls, a big hat and oversized shoes, and exaggerated his laughter. The character was a fan favorite during Acuff performances.
- [S87] Death Certificate.
Name Date of Death / Age County of Death County / State of Residence Marital Status Gender Race File #
KIRBY BEECHER R 10-17-2002 / 90 DAVIDSON DAVIDSON / TN MARRIED M WHITE 46024
- [S1] U. S. Social Security Death Index, 411-07-9572.
Issued in Tennessee, residing in Madison, Davidson County, Tennessee