Longtime teacher and Mountain Arts Center founder Billie Jean Osborne dies

kward1@herald-leader.comJune 1, 2014 

Billie Jean Osborne at the Mountain Arts Center on July 14, 1997.

KEVIN NANCE | STAFF — Herald-Leader file photo

Funeral services will be Tuesday for Billie Jean Osborne, a promoter and encourager of mountain-born musicians, at the Mountain Arts Center she founded in Prestonsburg.

Mrs. Osborne, 82, of Betsy Layne died Friday at Mountain Manor of Paintsville.

She had a long career as a music teacher in the Floyd County public schools, then in retirement formed the Kentucky Opry and founded the Mountain Arts Center.

Mrs. Osborne taught music and directed bands and choral groups at schools in Betsy Layne, Wheelwright and Wayland for 30 years, and during that time she began to lament that her students who wanted to pursue musical careers had to leave their homes to do it.

To raise money for the school music programs, Mrs. Osborne sponsored country concerts at the school field house, some of which were performed by Eastern Kentucky-bred performers such as Loretta Lynn.

"Why did all the talent have to leave here?" Mrs. Osborne said in a 1994 Herald-Leader article. "We had all these talented people, from Flatwoods to Elkhorn City, but there was no place to ever perform in Eastern Kentucky but a gymnasium. It was terrible."

She retired in 1985 and in 1990 formed the Kentucky Opry, an Eastern Kentucky performance group. She set up the Kentucky Opry's Junior Pros group to foster the talent of young musicians.

And Mrs. Osborne also began lobbying for funding for a performing arts center where aspiring Eastern Kentucky performers could pursue their careers on a stage near home.

Her dream was for the center to serve as a tourism draw for the region and as an educational center where local students could develop their talents.

The $7.2 million facility, with a 1,046-seat theater, classrooms and a recording studio, opened in 1996.

The following year, she told the Herald-Leader that working there was "the most rewarding thing."

"If I die today," she said, "I'll know I went down swinging for the talented kids in Eastern Kentucky."

In 1999, she received the Community Arts Award from the Governor's Awards in the Arts program.

Mrs. Osborne was a native of Pikeville and was the widow of Dean "Diz" Osborne. She is survived by three nieces and five nephews.

Services will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday at the Mountain Arts Center. Visitation will be 1 to 9 p.m. Monday at Hall Funeral Home in Martin.

Karla Ward: (859) 231-3314. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service