Betty Cody, a legend in country music who was a member of the
Maine Country Music Hall of Fame, died this week at the age of 92.
Cody, who signed a record contract with RCA and recorded more than 20 songs
during her career, died Tuesday night at her home in Lewiston.
“There is no question about it, Betty was the most recognizable female singer to ever
come out of the state of Maine,” said Slim Andrews, chairman of the board of directors
for the Maine Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum.
She was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1979. She is the sixth member to have
died in the past three weeks.
She was born on Aug. 17, 1921, as Rita Cote in Sherbrooke, Quebec. She was the sixth
of 11 children in her family, which moved to Auburn when she was 9 months old.
She learned to sing, mostly in French, from the nuns at her Catholic school and continued to sing
in French until she was 14.
In 1940, she married Harold Breau, a musician who performed under the stage name
Hal Lone Pine. She started performing with him and using her stage name: Betty Cody.
The couple raised fours sons, including Lenny Breau and Denny Breau, both of whom went on to have
successful music careers.
In the early 1950s, Cody’s singing career peaked after RCA Records signed her to a contract.
“Tom Tom Yodel” became a hit in 1952.
Other successful recordings followed, including “Please Throw Away the Glass”
and “I Found Out More Than You’ll Ever Know.”
Lenny Breau died in 1984 at the age of 43. He was living in California and his body was
found in a swimming pool. The coroner ruled that he was strangled. His murder remains unsolved.
“Lenny was one of the best jazz guitarists in the world,” his brother said in
an interview Wednesday. “He was amazing.”
Denny Breau, who is now 62 and lives in Lewiston, started playing guitar when
he was 9. He said, “Mom was a big influence on me, especially on being a showman
and a professional.”
Breau, who still works as a full-time musician, said his mother “rubbed shoulders with
Kitty Wells and toured with Chet Atkins,” the famous guitarist and
vocalist who is credited with developing the Nashville sound.
Ultimately, Breau said, his mother chose her family over her career, turning down
an offer from Col. Tom Parker, Elvis Presley’s manager, to perform in Nashville.
The deal would have required her to spend six months away from her children. Cody decided to
retire from the music industry and moved back to Maine, where she took a
job in a shoe shop in Lewiston, Breau said. She and her husband eventually got divorced.
“Colonel Parker offered to make her a star,” Breau said, “but she gave up a very lucrative
opportunity to raise her family.”
Breau said his mother had a tremendous impact on country music in Maine. “She was the
queen, for sure.”
Andrews, who was inducted into the Maine Country Music Hall of Fame in 2002, said the last three
weeks have been a sad time for Hall of Fame members and their families.
He sent out a newsletter Wednesday notifying members of the recent deaths.
Norm DeCouteau and Emile “Whistling Bill” Bedard died on June 14; Ira “Yodelin’ Ike”
Salley died on June 25; Herbert “Deak” Hamilton died on June 26, at the age of 103; and “Coastline
Charlie” Gilliam died on Saturday, according to the newsletter.
“In the history of the Maine Country Music Hall of Fame, there has never been so many of
our members pass away in such a short period of time, so our hearts are a bit sadder
than usual,” Andrews told members.
Breau said the funeral arrangements for his mother are still being finalized. He was with his
mother in the final hours of her life.
He said, “She was the light of our life.”
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