Beecher Ray Kirby, a Grand Ole Opry fixture known as Bashful Brother Oswald, died Thursday Oct. 17 at his home in Nashville, Tenn.; he had been ill for some time after a bout with cancer. He was 90.
Opry audiences enjoyed the gregarious performer’s raucous quips and impromptu dances onstage, clad in baggy bib overalls and wide-brimmed orange hat.
Kirby, a standout on Dobro, guitar and banjo in the late Roy Acuff’s Smoky Mountain Boys band, got his stage name from Acuff after straitlaced fans questioned the propriety of the band touring with a female guitarist-singer named Rachel Veach. Kirby was billed as her “bashful brother,” a moniker that quieted the criticism because it made her appear to be traveling with a family member.
Kirby, who became an Opry member in 1995, played with Acuff, the King of Country Music, from 1936 until Acuff’s death in 1992.
He was born in a log cabin in the Sevierville area, a part of Tennessee that produced Dolly Parton and other country music stars. Like many musicians of that era, he never took lessons, teaching himself to play by ear.
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He began his career as a regular performer in clubs. After a show during the 1933-34 Chicago World’s Fair, he moved to Knoxville, Tenn., where he linked up with Acuff.
His instrumental work and his supporting vocals in Acuff”s band are notable in the hits “The Precious Jewel” and “Wreck on the Highway.” One of his best-known instrumentals is “Steel Guitar Chimes,” based on an old Hawaiian folk song.