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Who Billie Jo Spears
When December 14, 2011
Where Vidor, TX
What Vidor country singer Billie Jo Spears remembered as feisty star
 

Ask anyone what they called Billie Jo Spears, a country singer and Vidor resident, and they'll tell you "BJ."

Spears, who started singing and recording music at the age of 13 and hit No. 1 on U.S. and international charts with her song, "Blanket on the Ground" in 1975, died in her home in Vidor Wednesday at the age of 73.

"Hardly anyone called her Billie Jo," said Debbie Smith, Billie Jo's sister-in-law. "BJ was really cute for someone like her."

Smith said that Spears' first name was Billie Jean but she decided to change it herself when she went into the music business.

Described as "feisty" and as someone who would never back down from a fight, Spears is remembered by her friends and family in Southeast Texas as more than a country music star.

According to her oldest brother, Edward, Spears was "a heck-of-a-great fisherman" and even tried golf once or twice. She graduated from French High School in Beaumont in 1955 and often came back to Southeast Texas for charity fundraisers for the Beaumont State Center for Human Development.

To the rest of the world, Spears was a pioneer for the working girl with many of her tunes and was a fixture in the Nashville and Branson, Miss., for many years.

According to Enterprise archives, Spears worked as a carhop at a local drive-in for four years while singing with various music groups at Neva's, a club that was located north of Beaumont.

Songwriter Jack Rhodes heard a song that Spears had recorded when she was a teenager and "talked her into a trip to Nashville" where she signed with United Artists, the article states.

It wasn't until 1968 that Spears had her first hit with "He's Got More Love in His Little Finger." The next few years, she had many other popular singles, including "Mr. Walker, It's All Over," and "Marty Gray."

In 1970, Spears was featured in a top slot at the YMBL South Texas State Fair.

After her career settled down in the United States, the United Kingdom welcomed her music with open arms. Smith said that she would go on tour nearly every year in the UK and had some dates scheduled for 2012.

"She sang anthems for women about women asserting themselves," Smith said.

After checking many country music websites Wednesday, Smith found that most of them focused on only one part or song from her career. But Smith knew that her music was much more than a one-hit-wonder.

"She was always up and fighting and she never gave into anything," Smith said. "I really liked her - she was a nice person."

Spears was diagnosed with lung cancer recently, Smith said, in a phone interview. Rather than live in a hospice, Spears chose to stay at her home in Vidor, she said.

Even if Spears had not been her sister-in-law, Smith said she would have loved her music.

"I love the song, 'Blanket on the Ground.' I go and watch her old videos on the Internet," she said.

"She was a wonderful person and we're all going to miss her," Smith said.

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Contact Julie Garcia
The Beaumont Enterprise