Reeves, James Travis (1923–1964)

By: Bill C. Malone

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: September 27, 2015

James Travis (Jim) Reeves, country and popular singer, was born in Galloway, Texas, on August 20, 1923. He was the son of Tom and Mary (Adams) Reeves. After graduation from Carthage High School in 1942, Reeves attended the University of Texas and played for the university baseball team. He pitched briefly for Marshall and Henderson in the Class C East Texas League but retired from baseball in 1946 after a leg injury. In 1947 he was an announcer and disc jockey at KGRI in Henderson and began singing locally under the name Sonny Day.

Reeves recorded first in 1949 for Macy's, a small Houston company, but had no real success until 1952, when he signed a contract with Abbott Records. His second Abbott recording, "Mexican Joe," brought him national popularity and led him in 1953 to employment as an announcer for KWKH, Shreveport, and subsequent appearances on the Louisiana Hayride. After his second successful recording, "Bimbo," Reeves joined the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1955 and began recording for RCA Victor. His most successful recordings were "He'll Have to Go" and "Four Walls." “He’ll Have to Go” hit Number 1 on Billboard’s country charts in 1960 and also reached Number 2 on the Top 40 charts. His songs helped give country music international appeal, and Reeves garnered international acclaim.

Reeves and his pianist, Dean Manuel, were killed on July 31, 1964, when his private plane crashed near Nashville. He was buried in a two-acre memorial plot near Carthage, Texas, on the road to Shreveport. At the time of his death Reeves owned KGRI in Henderson and three music-publishing companies. He had made three European tours and two trips to South Africa, where he starred in a film, Kimberley Jim, which was released the year after his death. He was survived by his wife, Mary, whom he had married in 1946. They had no children. His recording of "Distant Drums," a song written by Cindy Walker, was released posthumously and in 1966 topped the British charts and the U.S. country charts. Reeves became the first American to have a song ("Distant Drums") awarded Song of the Year in the United Kingdom.

In 1967 Reeves was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. He was inducted in the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame, located in Carthage, in 1998, and in 1999 his song "He'll Have to Go" (1959) won a Grammy Hall of Fame Award. In 2004 the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame dedicated a Jim Reeves exhibit made possible from Reeves collector James Newberry. Newberry's extensive Jim Reeves collection was later acquired by the Mike Curb Family Foundation. A life-sized statue of Reeves was placed at his gravesite in Carthage. His compilation albums and boxed sets have continued to sell well and attract new listeners into the twenty-first century.

Linnell Gentry, A History and Encyclopedia of Country, Western, and Gospel Music (Nashville: McQuiddy Press, 1961). The Jim Reeves Way (, accessed November 15, 2011. Larry Jordan, Jim Reeves: His Untold Story (Page Turner International, LLC, 2011). Bill C. Malone, Country Music U.S.A. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1968). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

  • Music
  • Genres (Country)

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Bill C. Malone, “Reeves, James Travis,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 15, 2022,

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September 27, 2015

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