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Once called a “national treasure” for his old time mountain music singing, song writing, story telling and playing, Clint Howard died at his home with his family at his side October 16, 2011. He was 80 years of age. Mr. Howard had learned how to sing from his mother when he was six years old, and over the course of his lifetime, he entertained tens of thousands of people. He performed at venues ranging from Carnegie Hall and the Newport Folk Festival (in the 1960s), to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and the World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tenn., in the 1980s. In the 1990s and into the 2000s, Mr. Howard played either alone or with Doc Watson and others at Merlefest in North Wilkesboro, N.C. He also performed at Studio One at ETSU’s public radio station WETS; the Down Home in Johnson City; Old Butler Days; and at the Cranberry Festival in Shady Valley, Tenn.
In addition, the Johnson County, Tennessee native played his guitar, sang his songs and shared his jokes and old time stories with residents at area nursing homes and assisted living facilities. And in 2004, he took time from tending to his cattle and land to teach old time mountain music to at-risk young people enrolled in the Optional High School in his home county. A CD titled “Passing It On” emerged from that experience.
Mr. Howard, whose work is credited with influencing such internationally renowned musicians as Bob Dylan and the Kruger Brothers from Switzerland, performed at Carnegie Hall with Fred Price, Clarence “Tom” Ashley and Doc Watson. He once appeared on the Pete Seeger Show with Price and Watson. For many years, he performed at community centers, retirement homes, churches, festivals, fiddler’s conventions, at colleges and universities and other venues with his late son Clarence Howard, his grandson Garet Howard and long-time friend Jack Proffitt. The group was known as the Clint Howard Band, and its musical legacy will live, some believe, forever.
The Kruger Brothers (Jens Kruger, Uwe Kruger, Joel Landsberg) loved dearly to visit Mr. Howard in his home on Antioch Road in Johnson County; they said their own music was rooted in his work. “Clint Howard has been known to us as one of the most respected and influential personalities in American musical history,” they wrote. “His groundbreaking recordings of classic American folk repertoire have been cornerstones for countless musicians and audiences throughout the world. It is our humble belief that Clint Howard deserves to be recognized as one of the nation’s greatest treasures.”
Mr. Howard always seemed to have a twinkle in his eye and loved to make people laugh. Before he and his band performed, it often fell to him to prime the audience with a funny tall tale or to reminisce about what life use to be like in the hills and hollers of Johnson County when he was a boy. He often shared that he learned from his beloved mother how to sing and vary his pitch and tone; this was a key to creating the power and range of his voice. “It didn’t make any difference what time of the night that was,” he once told an interviewer. “Me and her would just go to singing songs out of the song book or gospel songs, or just whatever. Me and her’d sing sometimes till one or two o’clock in the morning.” One of his most popular ballads, “Light in the Window,” came directly from that mother/son bond, and may have been his favorite of the dozens that he and others have created.
“His natural way with songs and stories is more of a born gift than an acquired skill,” said Robert Cogwell, director of the Tennessee Arts Commission Folklife Program.
Mr. Howard was a welder at the shipyard in Newport News, Va., and also at Maymead, where he retired in 1990. He also worked as a school bus driver.
He cherished his family and his community and always took care of his cows. He fiercely took objection to anyone who criticized Johnson County in even the slightest way. He loved its rugged mountainous terrain, its people and its bedrock values of the Ten Commandments, loyalty to the U.S. military and to the American flag.
He thought he was truly blessed to have been born and raised and to have lived nearly all his life in The Third community of Johnson County.
In his cowboy boots, jeans and a John Deer cap tilted slightly on his head, and with his wife Betty nearly always next to him, he was frequently seen around Mountain City behind the wheel of a pickup truck. He kept a close eye on his beef cattle, tending to them day and night, and helping deliver many a newborn calf in some of Johnson County’s most ferocious blizzards.
A member and choir leader of Antioch Baptist Church and a staunch Republican, Mr. Howard served several terms as a Johnson County commissioner. More recently, and up until his death, he was a Johnson County highway commissioner.
He was preceded in death by his parents, George and Lizzie Howard; by his brother Clyde Howard and by his sister Ida Greer. Also preceding Mr. Howard in death were his son Clarence Howard, son-in-law Sam Robinson and grandson Mitchell Howard.
Survivors are his wife Betty Snyder Howard; daughter Patsy Robinson Timbs and husband Larry; son Ray Howard; daughter-in-law Glenda Howard; grandsons Garet Howard, Brad Howard and Clint Robinson and wife Shannon; granddaughters Sandra Howard McCloud and husband Larry, Rachel Robinson Shearin and husband John, Ashley Howard and Hana Howard. Also surviving are great grandchildren: Travis, Hank and Portia Howard; Will and Leah McCloud; Blake and Weston Robinson; Taylor, Hannah, Samantha and Jessie Shearin.
Funeral services were conducted at 8:00 p.m. Tuesday, October 18, 2011 from the Charles B. Hux Memorial Chapel of Hux-Lipford Funeral Home with Pastor Ray Vaught and Pastor Steven Spencer officiating. The family received friends from 6:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m. prior to the funeral service. Active pallbearers will be grandsons. Honorary pallbearers will be Tri State staff and employees and Johnson County Highway Road Department Committee. Graveside service and interment will be held in Reece Cemetery at 11:00 a.m. Wednesday, October 19, 2011.
Online condolences may be sent to the family through our website at
Hux-Lipford Funeral Home is serving the Howard family.