Cassie Gaines was an American singer best known for her association with the southern rock band ‘Lynyrd Skynyrd’ as a backup singer. Before joining the band, she was an original cast member of a school play titled ‘Hairspray.’ Shortly after performing in the play, she was approached by singer JoJo Billingsley, who was sent by Ronnie Van Zant, the band head and lead vocalist of ‘Lynyrd Skynyrd’ and asked to join the band as a backing vocalist. At that time, Cassie was unaware of the band’s existence, so Billingsley gave her a copy of band’s first two albums in order to make her acquainted with their work. She joined the band and became one of the members of the ‘The Honkettes’ - a female gospel vocal trio of ‘Lynyrd Skynyrd’ in late 1975, along with the JoJo Billingsley and Leslie Hawkins. She had a successful career with the band, but unfortunately met a tragic end at the young age of 29. She died along with her younger brother and several band members in a plane crash on October 20, 1977. She and her brother are the subjects of the 2001 song ‘Cassie's Brother’ by an alt-country band ‘Drive-By Truckers’.
Cassie Gaines started her singing career in a school play named ‘Hairspray’. She was an original cast member of the play that became a Broadway musical a few years later.
Shortly after seeing her perform in the play, Ronnie Van Zant, the lead vocalist and head of the southern rock band ‘Lynyrd Skynyrd’, sent one of his female band members JoJo Billingsley to Cassie in order to offer her the position of the backup singer in the band. At the time, she had never heard of the band and was completely unaware of its growing popularity among fans. To make her acquainted with the band, Billingsley lent her copies of the band’s first two albums named ‘(Pronounced 'Lĕh-'nérd 'Skin-'nérd)’ and ‘Second Helping’. Cassie joined the band and teamed up with JoJo Billingsley and Leslie Hawkins to form ‘The Honkettes’ which was a female gospel vocal trio of ‘Lynyrd Skynyrd’ in late 1975.
She performed as a backup singer in famous songs like ‘That Smell’ and ‘One More Time’. Her last performance was with the band at the Greenville Memorial Auditorium in Greenville, South Carolina, in 1977.
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Family & Personal Life
Cassie Gaines was born on January 9, 1948, in Seneca, Missouri, USA, to Bud and LaRue Gaines. She was raised with her brothers Bob and Steve in Miami. She graduated from Miami High School in 1966.
During the time she was associated with ‘Lynyrd Skynyrd’, guitarist Ed King abruptly left the band and Cassie recommended her younger brother Steve Gaines, who was leading his own band named ‘Crawdad’ at that time, to replace Ed King. In June 1976, Steve joined the band as a guitarist/vocalist. Both the siblings were killed together in a plane crash in 1977 and were buried in Orange Park, Florida. Their mother died on February 15, 1979, in a car accident near the cemetery where her children were buried. She was also buried near them.
Cassie and Steve were inducted posthumously into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame, Oklahoma on September 8, 2018.
Plane Crash & Death
On October 20, 1977, after performing in Greenville, South Carolina, the band boarded a chartered ‘Convair CV-240’ to reach Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where they were scheduled to perform at LSU the following night. However, the plane ran out of fuel shortly before the end of the flight. The pilots attempted emergency landing but it crashed in the woods near Gillsburg, Mississippi. The accident killed three band members on impact, Ronnie Van Zant, Cassie and her brother Steve Gaines, assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick, as well as the pilot Walter McCreary and the co-pilot William Gray.
Initially, Cassie had been reluctant to board the plane and had purchased a commercial flight ticket but was convinced against her better judgment by her band members. Her reluctance was due to a small fire in one of the engines the previous day. Even though she survived the actual crash, she eventually bled to death before the rescue team reached her. According to the surviving keyboardist of the band, Billy Powell, Cassie Gains died in his arms; her throat had been cut from ear to ear. She and her brother Steve Gains were buried in Orange Park, Florida.