FRANKLIN, Ohio — Ray “Chubby” Howard, of Franklin, who was nationally known as a steel guitar player and radio broadcaster, died Dec. 23. He was 95. His love of music started in the 1930s when his father purchased him a Sears, Roebuck and Co. white Silvertone steel guitar for $65.
“When I got it back (to Kentucky), we just barely got electricity,” he said in a 2015 newspaper article. “And I plugged that thing in and it made all kinds of noise.”
The family moved from Kentucky to Franklin, where Howard attended high school. He served in the U.S. Navy during WWII.
He launched the first U.S. steel guitar club in the 1950s, appearing on country music television programs throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s, and making seven USO tours throughout Japan, Korea, Newfoundland, Greenland, and Alaska that included entertainment icons Roy Acuff and Bob Hope.
Throughout the 1970s, he toured the nation with Steve Lake and The Swingmasters backing up artists such as Connie Smith, The Statler Brothers, Crystal Gayle, Loretta Lynn, Lorne Greene, and members of the "Hee Haw" cast and "Lawrence Welk Show."
He toured the U.S. and Europe in 1983-84 with Grand Ole Opry star Boxcar Willie, making 26 Opry appearances.
Then in 1989, he was a member of the house band at Renfro Valley (Ky.), the longest-running radio show in the country, enjoying a 10-year run. He then became a beloved weekend personality on the Real Roots Radio network out of Xenia.
He was inducted into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in 2015 during the 44th International Steel Guitar Convention in St. Louis, the Franklin High School Hall of Fame in 2016, and the Ohio Country Music Hall of Fame in 2019.
He is survived by sons, Brian Howard and Anthony (Claudia) Howard of Franklin; a daughter-in-law, Kimberly Howard of Franklin; sister, Mary Rose (Dale) Zink of Franklin; five grandchildren; and numerous great-grandchildren, nieces, and nephews.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Clemia Mae Howard and John Henry Howard; wife, Dorothy Howard; son, John Earl Howard; and sister, Mayme DiMuzio.
Visitation will be 5-8 p.m. Monday at the Anderson Funeral Home, 1357 E. Second St., Franklin. Funeral services will take place at 2 p.m. Tuesday at the funeral home with burial to follow in Woodhill Cemetery.