Special thanks to ThisDayinMusic.com.
On this date in 1964, Jim Reeves climbed behind the controls of a single-engine airplane accompanied by his manager and pianist, Dean Manuel, and took off from a Batesville, Arkansas runway, headed for Nashville. The past year had been a busy one for Gentleman Jim, with tours in England, Ireland, Continental Europe and South Africa. He continued to maintain his longtime pace of three to four albums a year and had just cut what would become, after his death, some of his most beloved recordings, as he covered Hank Cochran’s “Make the World Go Away” and Don Gibson’s “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” The 40-year-old Reeves had just made preparations to finalize a real estate deal back in Tennessee, and so he boarded his Beechcraft Debonair on top of the world.
As he neared Nashville, Reeves encountered a heavy thunderstorm. Session pianist Bill Pursell told Country Weekly Magazine about the storm from his vantage point on the ground: “I looked directly at a black cloud, and I remember thinking to myself, ‘I wouldn’t fly through that cloud if you paid me.’”
Reeves, though, was as confident a pilot as he was a stage performer. He ignored advice from the Nashville control tower and proceeded into the clouds. Buffeted about, Reeves lost control and flew straight into the ground. The plane was obliterated — the engine itself was buried underground from the impact. Reeves and Manuel were, of course, killed in the crash.
Hundreds turned out to hunt for their bodies, including Pursell, Eddy Arnold, Floyd Cramer, Marty Robbins and the Browns. Manuel’s body was still in the plane, but Reeves was thrown clear. Arnold was on the scene when he was found.
News of Reeves’ death spread quickly and he was mourned worldwide. In Nashville, stars filled a chapel alongside fans and friends to pay their respects. Reeves was buried in his hometown in Panola County, Texas, where his grave is still treated as a shrine.