Doyle and Teddy Wilburn began their careers in country music at the tender ages of 7 and 6 respectively. The guys were both born during the Great Depression and times were tough. Their folks taught all five of their children to play instruments and how to sing. They were part of the Wilburn Family and their first gig was on a street corner in Thayer, Mo in 1937. The children performed on street corners, churches, anywhere Pop Wilburn could find. The group performed for coins tossed their way.
In 1940, Roy Acuff heard the family sing and got them an audition on the Grand Ole Opry. The family was a big hit and the Opry made them regulars there for about six months. The Opry started receiving pressure from Child Services and had to let them go due to child labor laws. This was an unfortunate turn of events in their career as Dr. Pepper was set to sponsor this popular Opry act. The Wilburn Family continued to performed as a unit until 1948 when sister Geraldine left the group to marry.
The four brothers, Lester, Leslie, Doyle, and Teddy moved with Mom and Pop Wilburn to Shreveport, LA and began performing on the newly formed Louisiana Hayride. The Wilburn Brothers also had a morning radio program in Shreveport and invited the then unknown Webb Pierce to visit as a guest artist.
The Wilburn Brothers made some valuable contacts as a result of the Louisiana Hayride but the Korean War was declared and their career was interrupted. Doyle received his draft notice in 1951 and Teddy's was soon to follow.
When the guys had completed their service to their country, they regrouped and decided it would be easier for a duet, rather than a quartet, to make it in country music. It was decided Teddy and Doyle would carry on as the Wilburn Brothers. It was always understood that once Teddy and Doyle got established, they would go into business with Lester and Leslie.
When Doyle got out of the Army, he went to work for Webb Pierce, fronting his show. Teddy would also join the show in January of 1954. Webb took the guys back to the Grand Ole Opry with him and also helped get them a record deal with Decca records. The Wilburns would later sign a lifetime contract with Decca. During this time, Teddy and Doyle were uncredited singers on Webb Pierce's biggest hit, "In the Jailhouse Now".
Late in 1955, the Wilburn Brothers joined the Faron Young Show. Faron was also an old friend from the Louisiana Hayride and had graduated high school with Teddy. Teddy and Doyle received valuable exposure during this time, traveling around with other big Opry acts and even touring with the young Elvis Presley. The Wilburn Brothers also appeared in a movie Faron Young made called "Hidden Guns."
The Wilburn Brothers decided in 1956 it was time to go out on their own. By this time, they had had several big hits.
1956 was a tough year for country music. Rockabilly was all the rage and country music was suffering badly. Teddy and Doyle were ready to quit and go home to AR but Ernest Tubb took them under his wing. He took them on tour with him, recorded a couple of top ten songs with them, and encouraged them to stay with the music. Teddy and Doyle never forgot those that helped them and throughout their career they offered their help and guidance to other artists just starting out.
In the late 1950's Teddy and Doyle started a music publishing company, Sure-Fire Music, with their steel guitar player, Don Helms. They ran this company from their home in Nashville until the company grew too big. They later moved the company to an office close to the National Life and Accident Building, where the WSM studios were located. They also brought brothers Lester and Leslie in to run the business while they were on tour. This company is now the longest-operating, independently-owned publishing house in Nashville. The Wilburn Brothers were astute business men and later opened Maple Publishing as well. They also had one of the top three talent agencies in Nashville in the 60s, the Wil-Helm Talent Agency.
In the early sixties, Loretta Lynn came to the Sure-Fire Music company looking for someone to direct her career. For ten years, Teddy and Doyle devoted almost all of their time and effort to grooming Loretta Lynn to be a superstar. Doyle was one of the few that recognized her raw talent. He even had to convince Teddy who thought she sounded too much like Kitty Wells. However, Teddy got on board and with the help of Doyle Wilburn; Loretta Lynn received a contract with Decca records. Teddy spent a lot of his time helping Loretta with her songwriting, personal appearance, and performing skills. Doyle worked relentlessly getting her booked on tours. Teddy and Doyle would often take her along if the booking agent refused to book her. They would give her part of their performing time and paid her out of their own pockets. When the Wilburn Brothers were given a weekly syndicated television show, they put Loretta Lynn on it. This exposure was invaluable to her career. While the Wilburn Brothers served as her managers, she was named Female Vocalist of the Year, Songwriter of the Year, had several top ten songs, as well, as a couple of number ones.
Other artists have credited the Wilburn Brothers with advancing their careers including: Patty Loveless, Mel McDaniel, Gene Watson, Johnny Russell, the Osborne Brothers and others. Teddy was known in Nashville as a "song doctor" but rarely took credit for his contributions if Sure-Fire Music had publishing rights on the song. In a town where many artists would change an article in a song and demand half songwriter credit, this was quite unusual.
During their 30 year career, the Wilburn Brothers charted 32 singles, 15 of these were top ten hits. They were name Country Duo of the Decade for the 1960s by Record World. "Trouble's Back in Town" was the song of the year in 1962. Their television show ran for 11 years and produced 354 half hour episodes. This show gave national exposure to many of the upcoming stars of the 60s and 70s including: George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Dottie West, Waylon Jennings, Barbara Mandrell, Mel McDaniel, Warner Mack, Johnny Paycheck, Crystal Gayle, Dolly Parton etc. They also had Hall of Fame members such as Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb, Hank Snow, Tex Ritter, Webb Pierce, etc on their show. Thanks to Willie Nelson, reruns of their television shows can be seen on RFD TV. Even today the Wilburn Brothers are helping to keep classic country music alive.
The Wilburn Brothers were fan favorites and two of the greatest entertainers of country music ever. They traveled to Europe, Australia, and the Caribbean promoting country music. They performed on several USO tours and gave much of their time to charitable causes.
The Wilburn Brothers career ended in 1982 when Doyle died unexpectedly from cancer. Teddy was heartbroken. He equated Doyle’s death with the end of a 45 year- old marriage. There were many adjustments to for Teddy to make. Teddy tried to go on as a solo artist but he said every time he hit the chorus of a song, he could hear Doyle’s voice. Teddy performed rarely after Doyle died and officially retired in 1998. Teddy died in November of 2003 after a long illness.
The Wilburn Brothers’ talent, wit, and kindness are greatly missed. This page is dedicated to keeping alive the memory of two of country music’s greatest ambassadors, Teddy and Doyle, the Wilburn Brothers.
Wilburn Brothers Museum
Hardy, Ar, the hometown of Teddy and Doyle, is planning a museum in their honor. They are presently seeking contributions of Wilburn Brothers' memorabilia and monetary donations.