Branson Musical Pioneer Bill Mabe Dies At 74

(CelebrityAccess MediaWire) — Bill Mabe, one of four brothers who founded Branson's long-running Baldknobbers Jamboree, died Thursday at his home after a short battle with cancer. He was 74.

According to the Springfield News Leader the Mabe brothers — Bill, Jim, Lyle and Bob — began performing an original show for visiting fishermen along the Lake Taneycomo waterfront in 1959. It became a hit, moving into a rented room in Branson's City Hall, and eventually into a larger theater along the strip on Missouri 76.

Forty-five years and tens of thousands of performances later, it is recognized as the first country music and comedy show in Branson. Mabe was one of a generation of entertainers who helped transform the sleepy fishing town into a center of live music.

"Any time one of the pioneers passes away you lose something," says Gary Ellison, a family spokesman and marketing manager for the Baldknobbers.

In Mabe, Branson lost a skilled musician with an exacting ear, Ellison says. He played dobro and sang harmony vocals until retiring from the stage about a decade ago.

That didn't keep Mabe out of the family business, however. He continued to produce the Jamboree show, and worked in that capacity until earlier this year. Ellison says Mabe had an uncanny ability to hear off-key notes during an ensemble performance.

"He had an incredible ear," Ellison says.

He was also keenly aware of what Branson audiences expected out of a Baldknobbers show, Ellison said. As producer, Mabe guided the creation of a new show each spring paying careful attention to staging, song order and other details. He knew what worked, Ellison says.

"That show had his fingerprints all over it, probably more so than anyone else," says Ellison, who has worked with the Mabe family since 1984.

"It hits us all," says Steve Presley, co-producer of Presleys' Country Jubilee, the Baldknobbers' friendly competitors for years.

Presley says the current crop of Branson performers owes a debt of gratitude to Mabe and his family.

"I hope they appreciate what Bill and his brothers did for Branson," he says.

The Baldknobbers Jamboree went on Thursday night despite the loss. No funeral arrangements have been announced.

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