Bashful Brother Oswald: 1911 to 2002
Beecher Ray “Pete” Kirby, known to country music fans as Bashful Brother Oswald, died October 17. He was 90.
Oswald was largely responsible for popularizing use of the dobro in country and bluegrass music, though in his long tenure as a member of Roy Acuff’s Smoky Mountain Boys, he also played clawhammer banjo and guitar and sang tenor harmony vocals.
Born December 26, 1911 in Sevier County, Tennessee, Oswald turned to music at a young age, inspired in part by his father, who played fiddle and banjo. During a brief period working at factories in the midwest, he learned the Hawaiian-style guitar playing that had become popular in the early 1930s; this eventually led him to the dobro, which he started playing with Acuff on occasion in the late ’30s after he’d returned to the Knoxville area.
He played his first show at the Grand Ole Opry with Acuff on January 8, 1939, and they remained a fixture there for more than 50 years, until Acuff’s death in 1992 (though Oswald wasn’t officially made an Opry member himself until January 1995). In 1972, Oswald played on the landmark Will The Circle Be Unbroken album gathering various country greats with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band; he also released a handful of records under his own name, some of which remain in print on Rounder.