Jesse McReynolds was a singer and mandolin player who was one half of the long-running bluegrass duo, Jim and Jesse, and the oldest cast member of the Grand Ole Opry.
Jesse McReynolds’s legacy
Born in Coeburn, Virginia, McReynolds and his brother, Jim, grew up immersed in the music of the region. Their grandfather, Charlie McReynolds, even appeared on some recording sessions in the 1920s. When the brothers started playing music together and released their first album in 1951, it began one of the longest-running collaborations in music, with Jesse McReynolds’ “crosspicking” style on the mandolin proving to be a big influence on the entire bluegrass genre.
The pair recorded under many names, but they were best known as Jim and Jesse. They released a steady stream of records and became a popular live act, earning them an invitation to the Grand Ole Opry in 1964. Throughout the 1950s and ‘60s, they also hosted a popular live music radio show, “Suwannee River Jamboree.” The pair played together until Jim’s death of cancer in 2002.
After his brother’s death, Jesse kept playing under the name Jesse McReynolds & The Virginia Boys, performing upwards of 60 to 70 shows a year. He continued as a regular with the Grand Old Opry, too, becoming its oldest cast member in 2020. Jim and Jesse were inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Honor in 1993, earned a National Heritage Fellowship Award in 1997, and Jesse won Best Instrumental Recording of the Year from the International Bluegrass Music Association in 2005.
Tributes to Jesse McReynolds
Full obituary: Bluegrass Today