The Married Singing Duo That Helped Themselves — And Dolly Parton

Husband and wife singing teams are nothing new, even in country music, but usually it’s a situation where the duo just gets together occasionally for special performances or recordings. Not many couples have found that only by teaming up were they able to reach stardom — but that’s the case with Carl and Pearl Butler.

Part of the Eastern Tennessee musical heritage that includes Dolly Parton, Carl Butler grew up in the Knoxville area with the bluegrass music of the area in his veins. But as he began his career he was inspired by Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell, and he soon found himself moving to more of a honky-tonk style.

Starting with radio in the early 1950’s, he slowly built up his experience but found that stardom eluded him. However, he met singer/songwriter Pearl Dee Jones, and it turned out to be the best day of his life. The couple married, and although he continued to pursue a solo career for the next few years and had some modest success, he still struggled to hit the big time.

In the early 1960’s, the couple began singing regularly together (although Carl was normally the lead), joined the Grand Ole Opry, and soon found big success with their single, “Don’t Let Me Cross Over,” which hit number one on the country music charts. It was just the first of a string of several hits that included “Too Late to Try Again,” “I’m Hanging Up the Phone,” and “Loving Arms.”

At the height of their stardom the couple also worked with a very young Dolly Parton, and although she later reached stardom via Porter Wagoner’s show, there’s no doubt that the Butlers were two of her biggest early supporters.

The Butlers continued recording into the 1980’s but eventually retired. Pearl died in 1988 and Carl in 1992, but they are remembered as one of the most successful husband and wife teams in country music.


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