Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

May 30, 2014

Mountain Arts Center, Ky. Opry founder dies at 82

BETSY LANE — Billie Jean Osborne, founder of eastern Kentucky’s Mountain Arts Center and creator of the Kentucky Opry, passed away Friday at the age of 82.

A retired schoolteacher, Billie Jean Blackburn Osborne, also known as “Miss Billie,”  was frustrated by the fact there was an abundance of talent in the region, with no place to perform or learn their craft. She proposed a performing arts center and found support within her community, leading to construction of a state-of-the-art performance hall with the Mountain Arts Center in 1996.

 MAC executive director Keith Caudill wrote, “When Miss Billie first began speaking about her dream of building a stage for the young people of Eastern Kentucky, few could have envisioned the overwhelming impact of opening this facility. Yet, she never doubted her vision. The Mountain Arts Center, which opened its doors almost two decades ago, is now a proud part of the fabric of the region, just as she predicted.”

Osborne taught music for many years at Betsy Layne High School in Floyd County. In 1990, she brought together a group of talented musicians and named them Kentucky Opry. For years Kentucky Opry performed whenever and wherever there was a need for a quality musical group, on the back of flatbed trucks in local shopping center parking lots and at the Jenny Wiley Theatre on days the theater didn’t have a show of their own scheduled.

“She always had a dream of having a place where students from all across this region could work, study music and perform to an audience in a quality theater atmosphere, and be at home. She barnstormed the offices of every government and business leader she could find, winning over skeptics with her take-no-prisoners styles. By inviting potential contributors to Kentucky Opry performances, she finally won them over,” Caudill said.

The center in Prestonsburg gave a home to the Kentucky Opry and other groups including the  Junior Pros, and has hosted hundreds of national-act concerts, The Kentucky Opry has an impressive list of professional musicians who have since moved on to other venues, and spawned talents such as Rebecca Lynn Howard and   keyboard prodigy Kory Caudill, who performed with the Kentucky Opry before the Mountain Arts Center was even built, along with names including Nick Jamerson and Kris Bentley, who grew up attending concerts and watching the opry before creating their own up-and-coming band, Sundy Best.

Caudill added he thought of Osborne during a recent dance recital with an overflowing crowd of dancers and parents.

“The theater, every rehearsal room and even the hallway was filled with activity, while our staff was scrambling to find additional space to host private music lessons. I thought to myself, ‘How Miss Billie would love this.’ I also pondered, ‘What did we do before the Mountain Arts Center was built?’ Though some might conclude the Mountain Arts Center is Miss Billie’s crowning achievement, I know her greatest legacy is the many students in whose hearts she placed a song. Even decades later, her former students still light up as they talk about Miss Billie’s influence on their lives.”

Funeral services for Billie Jean Osborne will be held Tuesday at the Mountain Arts Center. Obituary information is included in this edition of The Independent.

TIM PRESTON can be reached at tpreston@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2651.

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