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In Memoriam: Country Stars We Lost in 2014

A pop-country icon and the International Ambassador of Country Music were just a few of the legendary singers who died in 2014

George Hamilton IV

George Hamilton IV

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This year saw the loss of not just some of the greatest singers in country music, but also some of the most notable songwriters and torchbearers of the genre. The Grand Ole Opry lost a couple of its regular performers; Music Row said goodbye to some talented tunesmiths; and the world is now without an "Ambassador of Country Music." We look back at the iconic careers of some of the top country musicians who passed away in 2014.

Dawn Sears

NASHVILLE, TN - APRIL 17: Dawn Sears of The Timejumpers plays the Mental Health America of Middle Tennessee at the Ryman Auditorium on April 17, 2012 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Beth Gwinn/Getty Images)

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Dawn Sears

Dawn Sears, who in addition to singing with four-time Grammy-nominated Western Swing band the Time Jumpers, was a longtime member of Vince Gill's touring band, lost her two-year battle with lung cancer at just 53 years old. A Minnesota native who won her first talent contest at 14, Sears moved to Nashville in 1987 and released her debut album, What a Woman Wants to Hear, in 1991. The first artist signed to the relaunched Decca label in Nashville, she released one album, Nothin' but Good, in 1994. In addition to the Time Jumpers projects and several of Gill's albums, Sears sang harmony on tunes by Tracy Byrd, Ronnie Milsap, Jim Lauderdale, Patty Loveless and Merle Haggard, among others. Her husband, fiddle player Kenny Sears, is also a member of the Time Jumpers.

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Arthur Smith

Arthur Smith was one of the most revered country and bluegrass musicians of his time, but he found his biggest claim to fame in Hollywood. The South Carolina native wrote the unforgettable "Dueling Banjos," featured in a pivotal scene in the 1972 film Deliverance. Another instrumental, "Guitar Boogie" was a huge crossover hit in 1945 that has since been covered by everyone from Les Paul to Paul McCartney. His syndicated Arthur Smith Show featured guests ranging from Loretta Lynn to Richard Nixon, and ran for 32 years. In 1957, he opened the Southeast's first commercial recording studio in his adopted hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina, renting it out to the likes of Earl Scruggs, Lester Flatt, the Statler Brothers and James Brown, who recorded the classic "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" there. Smith died in April at age 93.

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Bob Montgomery

Texas-born performer, writer, producer and music publisher Bob Montgomery lost his battle with Parkinson's disease at age 77. Montgomery was paired with future rock icon Buddy Holly in a country and rockabilly duo, writing several songs recorded by Holly and his band, the Crickets, as well as tunes for Patsy Cline and Eddy Arnold, among others. One of his best-known compositions, "Misty Blue," was a pop, R&B and country hit recorded most famously by Dorothy Moore and Wilma Burgess. In 1968, Montgomery produced the hugely popular "Honey," by Bobby Goldsboro, and oversaw the country division of the United Artists label. His publishing company, House of Gold, was responsible for such massive hits as "Behind Closed Doors" by Charlie Rich and "Wind Beneath My Winds," a country hit for Gary Morris and a pop smash for Bette Midler.

Paul Craft

Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame

Paul Craft

Paul Craft, who wrote such country classics as "Dropkick Me Jesus," for Bobby Bare, "Hank Williams, You Wrote My Life," recorded by Moe Bandy, and the Mark Chesnutt hit "Brother Jukebox," died October 18th, shortly after celebrating his induction into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. Born in Memphis and raised in Arkansas, Craft scored his earliest hits for Skeeter Davis and Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs. Others who have recorded his songs include Ray Stevens, Gail Davies, Linda Ronstadt, Willie Nelson and dozens of bluegrass acts such as Claire Lynch, Larry Sparks and the Osborne Brothers. In the 1970s, Craft also recorded several albums of his own. An independent spirit, he rarely co-wrote and also self-published most of his songs. Craft was 76.

Jesse Winchester

UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1970: Photo of Jesse Winchester Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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Jesse Winchester

Since the early Seventies, Jesse Winchester quietly maintained a career as a graceful, introspective singer-songwriter whose tunes would be recorded by the likes of Jimmy Buffett, the Everly Brothers and James Taylor. Many of his best-known compositions ("Mississippi You're on My Mind," "The Brand New Tennessee Waltz," "Biloxi") were tales of aching homesickness from the Southern-born musician who, after dodging the Vietnam War draft in 1967, was exiled to Canada for a decade until he received amnesty and was allowed to return to home. His 1978 song “A Showman's Life” has been covered over the years by George Strait, Buddy Miller, Gary Allan and, most recently, by Chris Carmack (Will Lexington) on ABC's Nashville. Winchester's stunning, posthumous studio album, recorded in the year before he died, was released in September. Winchester was 69.

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