Grand Ole Opry member Jan Howard plans to spend Veterans Day 2011 as she has for years—by attending Nashville’s Veterans Day Parade, always held at 11:00 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month. Publicly and privately, she’ll remember and honor the heroism of those on active military duty, those who’ve served our country and those who died in our country’s service.
Since the loss of her son Jimmy in Vietnam and the military service of her son Carter there, Jan has devoted a tremendous amount of time supporting the Armed Forces, Veterans Administration, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Vietnam Veterans.
Through a grassroots campaign that included press conferences, donation letter campaigns, and radio station telethons, Jan helped raise funds for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial completed in 1982.
“What really touched my heart was when people would call in and pledge their Social Security and disability checks,” Jan notes. “Hard working people everywhere gave what they could, and they all contributed to the building of the Wall.”
Through the years Jan has frequently visited VA hospitals and Veterans homes, and she’s attended countless military-related events and functions. Often she performs, as she did for the Sharing and Caring Annual Boat Ride for Hospitalized Veterans, held onboard the Gateway Clipper in Pittsburgh. In September Jan attended a celebration onboard the General Jackson honoring the fiftieth anniversary of the activation of the Fifth Special Forces Group.
Recently Jan traveled to the Tennessee State Veteran’s Home in Murfreesboro, Tenn., where she spent the day singing and visiting with veterans. “As always,” states Jan, “I was extremely honored to be in the presence of those real heroes, and have the opportunity to thank them for their service.”
Downplaying her involvement, Jan explains, “I never want to be in the forefront of anything like this, but it’s worth it to bring attention to those who gave so much. If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t have the life we enjoy as Americans. You don’t have to do anything grandiose to be kind, you just have to be grateful.”
Jan’s contributions to Veterans’ causes have resulted in accolades like the Tennessee Adjutant General’s 1992 Distinguished Patriot Medal, the highest honor a civilian can receive. Jan also received the Veterans of Foreign Wars’ Gold Medal of Merit Award at the VFW annual conference in Washington, DC, for exceptional service rendered to country, community and mankind.
Jan Howard has had a multifaceted career in county music. Since joining the Grand Ole Opry on March 27, 1971 at the Ryman Auditorium, Jan has sang in over 2,000 Opry shows. She’s performed in every state in the U.S., plus 21 foreign countries.
Jan’s Grammy-nominated hit “Evil On Your Mind” is ranked in Heartaches By The Number: Country Music’s 500 Greatest Singles published by the Country Music Foundation Press. Ironically, Jan was the first person to sing “Heartaches By The Number” when she recorded it as a demo.
The first to also sing classics such as “I Fall To Pieces” and “She’s Got You,” Jan recorded demos for artists like Kitty Wells, Patsy Cline, Ray Price, and Buck Owens.
Jan’s background vocals are part of many artists’ recordings, including Johnny Cash’s “Ring Of Fire” and “Daddy Sang Bass,” on which she sang the “Mama sang tenor” part.
Jan achieved a successful solo career, picking up Female Artist Awards from both Billboard and Cashbox. As a recording artist, Jan placed 30 singles and 10 albums on the Billboard country charts.
Early in her career, Jan recorded duets in California with Wynn Stewart. Later she recorded and toured with Bill Anderson, and appeared regularly on his television show. Their hit “For Loving You” stayed at No. 1 on Billboard for four consecutive weeks.
Jan has been a frequent participant in charity golf tournaments in Nashville and across the country. This October marked her 14th consecutive year at Red Steagall’s Bluebonnet Youth Ranch Celebrity Golf Tournament in Texas.
In 1972, the Jan Howard Expressway was dedicated in Jan’s hometown of West Plains, MO. She has also been inducted into the Missouri Country Music Hall of Fame.
Jan released a candid, compelling and best-selling autobiography in 1987 titled “Sunshine and Shadow.” The book details both the highs and lows in Jan’s life, the latter including the suicide of her youngest son David.
Jan’s songs have been recorded by numerous artists, and among her BMI Songwriting Awards are Kitty Wells’ hit, “It’s All Over But The Crying,” and “Love Is A Sometimes Thing,” a hit for Bill Anderson. With Bill she co-wrote and received BMI Awards for Connie Smith’s hit “I Never Once Stopped Loving You” and “Dis-Satisfied” (also co-written with son Carter), a Top 5 hit for Bill and Jan.
As a songwriter, Jan’s proudest composition is the Grammy-nominated “My Son,” a moving recitation that began as a letter to her son Jimmy in Vietnam. Carter, Jan’s middle son who was home on leave before he too was to go to Vietnam, heard the words and said, “That needs to be put to music”.
Two weeks after the record’s release, Jimmy’s tank struck a land mine on the battlefields and he lost his life. Years later, Jan learned through a letter from a fellow soldier that Jimmy had received a tape of his mother’s song – and had proudly played it for his unit on the day he died.
Photos & Story: Ron Harman