Leon Rausch, the longtime lead singer of Bob Wills' legendary Texas Playboys, died on Tuesday (May 14), severing one of country music's final living ties to its commercial origins. He was 91 years old.

Jason Roberts, the Texas Playboys' fiddler, remembered Rausch on Facebook: "Yes our hearts are broken, as will be the hearts of the thousands of music fans he touched and influenced over his amazing career when they hear this news. Our band would not exist without Leon carrying the Texas Playboys torch all these years and giving us the blessing to carry it on ...

"We will find peace and healing by playing and performing the music that Leon helped immortalize," Roberts continues. "When an entertainer of Leon’s stature and caliber pass away we are fortunate because they leave a body of work that we can enjoy for generations to come. A lot of us will be enjoying Leon’s body of work today and for years to come as we reflect on his life and legacy. Godspeed and well done sir."

Although Wills became a household name and later joined both the Country and Rock and Roll Halls of Fame, he was a fiddler and bandleader, not a singer. That gig went to brothers Tommy and Glynn Duncan before Rausch, a Louisiana Hayride veteran, took over in 1958. His partnership with Wills continued until his boss' 1975 passing.

Rausch remained an ambassador for Western swing music for years to come through his working relationships with Asleep at the Wheel, Ray Benson and other acts, and his mentorship of Amanda Shires. Per No Depression, the first time Shires sang with a version of the Texas Playboys, she was so nervous that she held Rausch's hand onstage. At age 15, Shires claimed Wills' old gig as the band's fiddler.

For more on Raush's lifelong love affair with country music and his professional dealings with Wills and other legends, check out John E. Perkins Jr.'s 1996 book Leon Rausch: The Voice of the Texas Playboys.

Rausch is survived by his wife Vonda. The couple had been married for 69 years.

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