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Helen Cornelius Interview



(CSC) 1. You’re back on the road again. Is it a full production tour, or do you prefer a simpler setup when performing.


(Helen Cornelius)

Actually, I have never been off of the road. I simply don't do as many dates now. I loved it when I traveled with my own band and bus. We had a great show put together and stayed extremely busy. However, it is also great to have time at home and be able to do more things with my friends and family. I work with various show compilations, so I get to work with a lot of my friends in the business and I enjoy that. I think we all appreciate each other more with a little age and wisdom. We try to always be there for each other. I hope the new young acts can enjoy each other in their respective careers as well.



(CSC) 2. Growing up on a farm in rural Missouri, what were some your favorite songs that you sang with your sisters?


(Helen Cornelius)

We sang songs that The Chordettes had out like “Mr. Sandman” and The Davis Sisters hit song “Are You Teasing Me,” we liked songs with lots of harmony such as “Tumbling Tumbleweeds.” We also did McGuire Sister songs like “Sincerely.” I always loved singing the Carl Smith song “Don't Let The Stars Get In Your Eyes.” “Dear Hearts and Gentle People” was a song that our farm bureau agent always requested at our country school PTA meetings. We had great times singing together.



(CSC) 3. What was the music business like when you first came to Nashville as a NEW artist?


(Helen Cornelius)

When I first came to Nashville as a new artist, the doors were open and it was so much easier to meet people and get your songs listened to. At that time, new young budding songwriters could get into a publishing company and have their songs critiqued. One could also sing for the producers and they actually listened. It is a much more closed business now. There are many more artists vying for those spots, and there are many more professional songwriters on the staffs of the various publishing companies, thus making it very difficult for someone new to find a place for their talent.



(CSC) 4. Jim Ed Brown is no stranger to you. You’ve had many great successes with him. How did you two first meet, and later become famous duet partners?


(Helen Cornelius)

Jim Ed and I actually met in Studio B at RCA Records where we recorded many of our hits that followed the initial, “I Don't Want To Have To Marry You.” He had been an RCA artist for years and I had just been signed to the label, both of us were produced by Bob Ferguson. Chet Atkins found the song “I Don't Want To Have To Marry You” and asked Bob to find someone he could record as a duet team. Jim Ed Brown immediately came to mind, as he has always sung with his sisters and blends well with female voices. Bob Ferguson played some of my demo tape recordings for Jim Ed, but he did not like my voice. Thank goodness Bob convinced him that we would blend, and that the song became a hit. It was the #1 song in the nation three months after we had met in the studio. That led to my first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry, recording our first album together, and then becoming a regular on the television show, “Nashville On The Road.” It was all just a whirlwind of activities from then on with all of the career demands.



(CSC) 5. Out of all the duets you’ve sung with Jim Ed, which ones really struck you?


(Helen Cornelius)

I think it might be the one that we are singing at that moment, as I love just singing with Jim Ed. We are very fortunate to have such a special blend. I do love singing "You Don't Bring Me Flowers,” and "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You" with him. I always loved singing "Saying Hello, Saying I Love You, Saying Goodbye." We don't do all of the hits anymore, as we run out of time, but it is always a pleasure when the folks in the audience sing along.



(CSC) 6. In October of 1980, you decided to assemble your own band and tour as a solo artist. What did you enjoy most about the freedom, and what did you learn from it?


(Helen Cornelius)

Well, when you branch out on your own, you always have the opportunity to spread your wings and grow, and I do believe I did just that. I loved putting together new shows that had so much variety with my band. We had fiddle, steel, banjo, sax, and of course, all of the standard instruments. They all did harmony with me and we also had some comical portions in the shows. I worked with so many different artists, but I truly enjoyed touring with Conway Twitty for a couple of years, and with the Statler Brothers for over two years. Of course, no one could ever sing our hit duets with me like Jim Ed, and he agrees that no one can sing the songs with him like I can. We sort of always know where the other one is going with the phrasing, etc. 



(CSC) 7. Besides singing, you’ve been featured on television and have performed in numerous theatrical productions including, “Annie Get Your Gun.” How is that different than performing music, and did you find it challenging?


(Helen Cornelius) 

Any new experience is definitely a challenge, but working hard to accomplish the various options given to you is a wonderful task to have, and what an opportunity to grow. I loved the challenge of acting in "Annie Get Your Gun.” I feel much wiser now about acting and just the entire scenario of musicals and plays, and I do believe I would play the role much better now. There are some good things that come with age!! In plays and LIVE theatre, you basically have to know everyone's lines, because you all fall into sync together. If they forget a line, everyone is standing there trying to remember the line they forgot so you can interject something to get everyone back on track. It’s also so very different in that respect because you must be in certain places on certain lines and there’s much to remember. 



(CSC) 8. What inspired you to open your own dinner theatre in Gatlinburg, TN? Did you perform there nightly, what other artists performed there?


(Helen Cornelius)

At that time, my ex-husband and I were trying to find something we could do together without all of the travel involved in a career. I did perform nightly for 6 years. I made such wonderful friends who came to the dinner theatre on their regular visits to the Smoky Mountains and I still maintain contact with a lot of them. It was so much fun getting to sing anything I wanted and with the versatile clientele, I sang country, pop, and great oldies. The venue was not large enough to book other acts in, but different artist friends would sing a song or two if they were in the area working. Jim Ed Brown, Jimmy Fortune, Johnny Russell, Jeannie Seely, and The Four Guys come to mind immediately.



(CSC) 9. Tell me about the “Grand Ladies of Country Music Show” that you were a part of. Who else was in it, and what was it like for you?


(Helen Cornelius) 

The Grand Ladies Show that I was a part of took place in Branson, Missouri. Jean Shepard came up with the “Grand Ladies” name and had previously done some shows with other ladies. In Branson, we had many ladies who rotated weeks during the season. Jean Shepard, Leona Williams and I did most of the weeks, but Norma Jean, Wanda Jackson, Mary Lou Turner, Jan Howard, Jeannie Seely and Margo Smith were also in the show. We did our individual segments of the two hour show, and then joined each other at the end for audience requests and questions. The show is still operating in another theatre in Branson this coming fall, but I chose to return to Nashville after the 2003 season to be close to my children and two grandbabies. Wise choice!! The grandbabies should always be a part of your life. Jean Shepard, Jeannie Seely, Jan Howard and I did do The Grand Ladies Show last year for two days at a casino in Minnesota, and anticipate doing more in the future! 



(CSC) 10. You frequent the Grand Ole Opry stage quite often. What is it about the Opry that captivates you?


(Helen Cornelius)

I love the entire ambience of the Grand Ole Opry. It is so rewarding to see your friends that perform on the Opry, the Opry band, the background singers, stagehands and the folks who make everything happen at the Opry. We are all like family and thoroughly enjoy being with each other. It is also great to witness some of the new young acts as they perform for the first time on the Opry and see many of them bud into major artists.



(CSC) 11. Speaking of the Grand Ole Opry, you and your dear friend Jeannie Seely teamed up for the musical comedy, “Could It Be Love.” What was that like for you working with her? Any highlights or comical moments you’d like to share with us?


(Helen Cornelius)

We laugh at our respective roles, Jeannie playing the trashy "Mabel" and me playing the sweet, Christian lady, "Eve.” She always says that she is playing herself, but that I have to act a little bit. (Laughs) We have performed that musical/comedy for the past three years every fall. I feel sure that we will do it again, as we love the play! Whenever Jeannie and I are doing something together and she says something that I may frown on, I say "MABEL" and she will retort, "Oh that wasn't that bad Eve!” We have great times together.



(CSC) 12. What advice would you give to someone who is trying to make it in the music business?


(Helen Cornelius)

I would first of all tell them to be original. So many of the new artists try to copy someone they admire. It is so wise to be unique and remember that there has already been a highly successful, Garth, Reba, Tammy, etc. It’s important to hone one's craft. Sing as much locally as possible to gain stage experience and presence.



(CSC) 13. Country Music has always been about REAL life and everyday people. Why do you think so many artists of other genres of music are deciding to make a career in country? (Such artists like Jewel, Jessica Simpson, etc.)


(Helen Cornelius)

I truly don't know what they are thinking, but I imagine some of them have seen their sales and airplay wane in the genre of music they have been doing, and hope for a continued career in country. Also, some of them have just always loved country music and want to sing it. Some will probably have success, and others will not. I welcome any new voice and great music, but I also hope they respect what country music is and keep it that way!



(CSC) 14. Who were some of your musical influences growing up? (Any genre)


(Helen Cornelius)

I actually liked pop music when I was young. My sister, Judy, loved the stone hard country and we always argued about what to sing. I told her that she sounded like she was singing through her nose and she told me that I sounded like a cow bawling. Funny!! She did grow to love all styles though, and I love the stone country as well as the easier sounds. I loved listening to Connie Francis, and I always loved the McGuire Sisters. 



(CSC) 15. I’d like you to tell me about your induction into the Missouri Country Music Hall of Fame. How has this honor affected you as an artist?


(Helen Cornelius)

It is always such an honor to be recognized by your own state and home area. Many great musicians and artists have called Missouri home, and I am proud to be one of them. As far as affecting me as an artist, I guess it has just made me proud.



(CSC) 16. Lastly, what would you like to share with your longtime fans, and what can listeners expect next from you?


(Helen Cornelius)

First and foremost, I want to thank everyone who has supported my music and trekked across the country to follow me in concerts. Without loyal fans, we would have no careers. They are the backbone of it all. How wonderful to have a gift from God that allows one to bring joy to others. I am very thankful for that gift and for their presence in my life. I also am so thankful for the endless prayers I received when I was diagnosed with breast cancer more than two years ago. I am fine now, but I cannot put into words the love and strength that I received from their prayers and concern. Regarding the future, I hope to continue singing and enjoying it. I plan on recording a CD of just myself and the piano later on this year. It is something that the fans have requested; I just need to find the time to do it. And then, I just love on my 4 year old grandson, Ross, and my nearly 2 year old granddaughter, Morgan. 


Make sure to check out her official website here;

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