- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 30, 2006

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (AP) — Bonnie Owens, a singer who married and helped build the careers of country music legends Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, died April 24 at a hospice hospital after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease, a family spokesman said. She was 76.

Born Bonnie Campbell, she met Buck Owens in Mesa, Ariz., in the mid-1940s when she was a teenager and he had a local radio show. When Mr. Owens discovered that she could sing, he helped her get a job with him on another radio show in 1947.

They married a year later, had two sons and separated in the early 1950s. They remained friends, and she sometimes performed with Mr. Owens in the truck-stop town’s thriving juke joints.

While working as a waitress at a Bakersfield club, she sang with Fuzzy Owen and his band, the Sun Valley Playboys. It was Mr. Owens who suggested that she record a duet with a young Mr. Haggard, and their rendition of “Just Between the Two of Us” hit the top of the country charts in 1965 and won the best vocal group award from the Academy of Country Music.

She married Mr. Haggard that same year and toured with him and his band, the Strangers, for nearly a decade. They divorced in 1978 and she later married her third husband, Fred McMillan.

Despite recording six solo albums and two duet albums with Mr. Haggard, she remained modest about her musical contributions.

“I was a follower; Buck and Merle were leaders,” she said. “I did what was needed, and I did what I could.”

Her death comes a little more than a month after that of Mr. Owens, who died March 25 of heart failure, also at the age of 76.

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