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Buddy Jewell (1961–)

Buddy Jewell is a country musician best known for having won the top prize in the first season of the reality television show Nashville Star, which landed him a recording contract with Columbia Records. His first major-label album, Buddy Jewell, reached gold-record status after being released in July 2003. Later projects have not been as successful as his debut, but he continues to make music and record in Nashville, Tennessee. In 2015, Jewell was inducted into the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame.

Buddy Jewell was born on April 2, 1961, in Lepanto (Poinsett County), the second of three children born to Leslie L. “Buddy” Jewell, a native of Louisiana, and Eva Lorene Harris, a native of Arkansas. For a time, the Jewell family resided in Dyess (Mississippi County). Jewell’s grandfather was one of the original settlers in Dyess. His uncle, Hubert Jewell, was friends with Johnny Cash, and the Harris side of the family was friends with Cash’s sister, Joanne.  In the 1960s, as a small child Buddy Jewell lived in the resettlement colony’s historic administration building, which had been converted into apartments.

Jewell attended high school in Osceola (Mississippi County), where he excelled at football and baseball but he was most interested in music. His uncles Clyde and Hubert taught him to play guitar after Jewell bought his first one from money he earned bagging groceries. The first song he learned was Johnny Cash’s “I Still Miss Someone.” He graduated from high school in Osceola and attended Arkansas State University (ASU) in Jonesboro (Craighead County). Jewell focused on media studies and met Waylon Jennings while working a concert. His sophomore year, he entered a campus-wide talent show, placing second, which piqued his interest in playing music professionally. Restless, Jewell left ASU his junior year and never graduated. He married soon after leaving college, but divorced in 1984 after two and a half years of marriage. After leaving college, Jewell moved to Little Rock (Pulaski County), where he worked at a heavy-equipment company while also playing in clubs. He moved again to Camden (Ouachita County), joining the band White Oak and touring with them from 1985 to 1989. Jewell met his second wife, Tené Marlar, at one of the band’s performances in Dallas in 1987.  They married and moved to Dallas in 1988. While there, Jewell worked in the Crazy Horse Saloon Show at Six Flags amusement park.. Jewell gained his first great success in Dallas by winning the Alabama June Jam Talent Search, a contest that enabled him to open for the band Alabama, his favorite group.

In the early 1990s, Jewell won the Male Vocalist Champion for three episodes on the popular variety show Ed McMahon’s Star Search, which was filmed in Orlando, Florida. In 1993, Jewell moved to Nashville, where he began working as a demo singer. His work involved making recordings of his voice on songs written by other writers, as well as artists like Randy Travis and Larry Stewart (of Restless Heart) (.

While he remained busy—recording as many as ten songs in a day and hundreds of songs a year—Jewell could not read music. He instead developed a “little system of dots and slashes and arrows to help me remember the melody and when to hold a note out.” Some of Jewell’s songs were recorded by George Strait, George Jones, Trace Adkins, and Lee Ann Womack. Jewell also released his own albums—including One in a Row in 2001 and Far Enough Away in 2002—in the hope of winning a contract at a major Nashville label. Although his music proved a full-time job, for several years, he was helped financially by his wife, who worked as a nail technician in area salons.

In 2003, Jewell got his big break when he won the competitive reality show Nashville Star on the USA network, which led to a recording deal with Columbia. His eponymous first major-label album sold a half-million copies and featured two Top 5 hit singles, “Help Pour out the Rain (Lacey’s Song)” about his daughter, Lacey, and “Sweet Southern Comfort.” The album also included a song about Dyess, his father’s hometown.

Buddy Jewell soared to number one on the U.S. country charts and number thirteen on the pop charts. Jewell’s overnight success was jarring. “I went from [being] somebody who was home all the time to somebody that was doing 120 shows or more a year,” he remembered. Jewell’s 2005 follow-up album, Times Like These, was far less successful, however, and Columbia Records dropped him that year. Since then, Jewell has recorded three albums on his own label Diamond Dust Records: Country Enough (2008), I Surrender All (2011), which was a collection of spiritual music, and his most recent project, Wanted: LIVE (2014).

Jewell is politically conservative and vocal about his beliefs, which has sometimes landed him in controversy. In 2008, his song “This Ain’t Mexico” angered some listeners who did not like its complaint about undocumented migrants. Jewell was unapologetic, saying, “There aren’t enough John Waynes in this country anymore. I felt it was appropriate for me to stand up and say what I felt.” Jewell continues to advocate for tighter border security.

Jewell is active in charities and veterans’ causes. In 2010, he traveled to Guatemala with Compassion International, a group that combats childhood poverty in third-world countries. That same year, as a part of Sergeant Major Kenneth O. Preston’s USO tour, he visited military installations in Kuwait and war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq to play for soldiers. He has also performed for the Safe Soldier charity, which provides care packages for those serving in the military.

Jewell lives near Nashville, where he continues touring, writing, and producing music projects for himself and others. He and his wife also run a gourmet donut shop, Peace, Love & Little Donuts. He is the father of three children.

For additional information:
Arnold, Tiffany. “‘Nashville Star’ Winner Buddy Jewell Will Perform in Hagerstown.” Herald Mail, March 23, 2011. http://articles.herald-mail.com/2011-03-23/lifestyle/29180473_1_nashville-star-winner-buddy-jewell-country-singer-plans (accessed December 4, 2014).

“Buddy Jewell Biography.” Great American Country. http://www.gactv.com/gac/ar_artists_a-z/article/0,,gac_26071_4888602,00.html (accessed December 4, 2014).

Crossan, Jeff. “Years of Singing Demos Helped Buddy Jewell Win Nashville Star and Achieve Hit Success.” Singer Universe. http://www.singeruniverse.com/jewell.htm (accessed December 4, 2014).

“The Honkytonk Hitman Sits Down with Buddy Jewell and Talks about Arkansas, Johnny Cash, Miranda Lambert, and Donuts.” Knockout Country with the Honkytonk Hitman Radio Show. http://directory.libsyn.com/episode/index/show/knockoutcountry/id/2979300 (accessed December 4, 2014).

Mecir, Petr. “Buddy Jewell: I’m Proud of Peter Dula and What He Accomplished.” CountryZone.net. http://countryzone.net/en/interviews/53-buddy-jewell-i-m-proud-of-peter-dula-and-what-he-accomplished (accessed December 4, 2014).

Colin Edward Woodward
UALR Center for Arkansas History and Culture

Last Updated 6/27/2016

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