Growing up in the small town of Dundee in Polk County, FL, Carmen Beecher figured out in her teen years that her future was going to involve art. Now 80 and retired, the Satellite Beach res- ident is being recognized for her artwork in a best-selling book about the origins of one stalwart country musician.
And she did it by bringing her life full circle.
One of Carmen’s longtime friends is Bobby Braddock, a legendary writer and producer of country songs who has been inducted into Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame for his work turning out #1 hit tunes over the past five decades; in fact, Braddock is the only country music writer to turn out #1 hits over each decade in the past 50 years.
You might have heard of some of Bobby Braddock’s songs, which include “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” and “People Are Crazy.” Braddock also was Blake Shelton’s original producer and mentor.
A few years back, Braddock decided to write a book about his career of country song writing and turned to his childhood friend Carmen for the illustrations.
Carmen quickly agreed and started work on pencil drawings for the book. They agreed on a 50-50 split of the profits. “It took a while to work out, but we finally got a system going,” said Carmen. Although she also works in oil painting, she and Braddock agreed to go with black and white pencil illustrations.
In collaboration for over a year, Carmen turned out 81 illustrations for the book, ‘Country Music’s Greatest Lines.’ One of her favorite drawings is her sketch of a former Army helicopter pilot and Rhodes Scholar turned Nashville janitor while waiting for his break…Kris Kristofferson. According to Carmen, the book “gives you an inside look at how the songs were written.”
Once the book was finished, they started looking for a publisher. “That was the hard part,” says Carmen. They finally signed with Arcadia Publishing and the book came out in July. It made a big splash in the country music world. “Amazon ran out right away,” Carmen beamed. It also had a big debut at Barnes and Noble.
The launch was followed by articles in Rolling Stone and Billboard magazines, earning rave reviews leading to a second printing. The pandemic made the book’s exposure difficult, but not impossible, she said.
“We’re doing all we can without book signings”.
Carmen has been an artist all of her life, going back to her teenage years in Central Florida. She spent much of her life as a military wife, traveling a lot.
Things settled down when she relocated to the Space Coast and was hired by Patrick Air Force Base in the graphics department, where she worked for 31 years. Eventually, she lost her job to the computer revolution, but she said she never stopped doing her art, even after retiring in 2003.
Almost immediately after she stopped working, she joined a group of seven other female artists in Melbourne, calling themselves “Pieces of 8.” Pre-pandemic, they met weekly at the Artists Guild in downtown Melbourne. These days, the group still meets once a week on Zoom and Carmen also attends artist’s retreats in North Carolina.
These days, Carmen still paints regularly and has taken over a spare bedroom and a sunroom near the pool in her home to make her art.
She has virtual galleries at Etsy and manages carmenbeecher.com, which showcases her art as well as blogs and other insights.
Fred Mays is a freelance writer and photographer who resides in Satellite Beach. He is a retired television journalist, and active on media issues with the Brevard Indian River Lagoon Coalition. His blog is www.floridaunplugged.net.