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Louise Scruggs, famed banjoist's wife, manager

NASHVILLE -- Louise Scruggs, who as wife and manager of banjo player Earl Scruggs helped expand the audience for bluegrass and country music, died Thursday, her family said. She was 78 and had been treated for respiratory disease.

The couple married in 1948, two years after they met while he was performing at the Grand Ole Opry with bluegrass legend Bill Monroe and she was a member of the audience.

Her husband left Monroe to form Flatt & Scruggs with guitarist and singer Lester Flatt, and Louise Scruggs took over their business dealings in 1955. Mike Buck, a curator at the Country Music Hall of Fame, said she was the first professional manager in country music.

''She truly is one of the legendary icons behind the scenes of country music," country star Dwight Yoakam said. ''She didn't take the curtain calls, but a lot of us would never have heard Flatt & Scruggs if it hadn't been for Louise Scruggs."

Earl Scruggs's three-finger banjo picking style invigorated country music, a term he and his wife preferred over bluegrass. But Louise Scruggs saw opportunities to expand her husband's audience beyond country, first with the folk movement of the 1950s and later with rock fans.

Louise Scruggs almost rejected the chance for Flatt & Scruggs to record one of its best-known songs, ''The Ballad of Jed Clampett," the theme for ''The Beverly Hillbillies." Jerry Scoggins did the singing.

She objected to the term ''hillbilly" and feared that the television series, which ran from 1962 to 1971, would stereotype rural Southerners. She changed her mind after producers sent her a pilot episode.

Flatt & Scruggs' stardom was boosted further when their ''Foggy Mountain Breakdown" was used on the soundtrack of the 1967 film ''Bonnie and Clyde."

''She advanced me and advanced our music," her husband told The Tennessean newspaper last year. ''I didn't get where I went just on talent."

Louise Scruggs grew up in rural Wilson County east of Nashville. As a child, she was given a typewriter, and she said it helped fuel her resolve to leave the country for a city job.

The typewriter was among items displayed in a Country Music Hall of Fame tribute to the couple last year.

''Someone asked me the other day if I was writing press releases back then," she said at the opening of the display. ''I wasn't one to go to tea parties and all of that. I started doing it, and the further I went, the more I wanted to see what I could do with it."

Besides her husband, survivors include sons Gary and Randy. Funeral arrangements were pending.

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