She is a country music singer-songwriter and actress born Helen Lorene Johnson in Monroe City, Missouri, and growing up on a farm in Hannibal, Missouri.
She had her first performance when she was five years old and would often sing in a trio with her sisters and her brothers, who were musicians, providing the backing. She would eventually leave her sisters though and begin to tour with The Crossroads who were her backup band. In between all of this she also managed to find time to work as a secretary and get married.
Successfully entering many talent contests including being a three-time winner in 1970 of the Ted Mack Amateur Hour, this would be the beginning of her musical career. An avid songwriter she began to find recognition in Nashville from the mid-70s and her songs were recorded by some of the major artists of the day that included Jeannie C. Riley, The Oak Ridge Boys, Reba McEntire and Connie Smith.
Continuing with her singing she was approached by RCA and in 1975 was awarded a record contract with them, which would open countless doors, and a year later she teamed up with Jim Ed Brown . Each week she was seen on television on Nashville On The Road as part of the Jim Ed Brown Show and together they had many country music chart hits that included her first No.1 single “I Don’t Want To Have To Marry You” and others such as “Saying Hello, Saying I Love You, Saying Goodbye”, “I’ll Never Be Free” and “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers “. This would bring the duo recognition in the form of CMA Awards for “Best Album of the Year” and “Vocal Duo of the Year” in 1977.
Forming her own band called Southern Spirit in 1980 she and Jim Ed Brown went their separate ways soon after and she went on tour with Conway Twitty.
Branching out from her concert tours and appearances she moved into the realms of musical theatre and in 1984 took the lead part in the road show of Annie Get Your Gun. Returning to touring after the show had closed she once again toured and the next two years saw her in concert after concert with The Statler Brothers and on her own.
Deciding to take up another new challenge she opened her own dinner theatre, Nashville South, in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, in 1991 and here she could be heard every night for the next 5 years.
Getting back together with Jim Ed Brown in the late 1990s they made several appearances together, including two sell-out performances and the success of these saw them continuing to give occasional performances. Up until 2003 she could also be heard singing at the 76 Music Hall in Branson, Missouri, as part of the Grand Ladies of Country Music Show but she left them to go back on the road once again.
Appearing on many recordings during her career she is heard on CDs and LPs such as her own Helen Cornelius, Greatest Hits and Anthology with Jim Ed Brown , Smokey Mountain Christmas and many anthologies. Recognised for her achievements in country music she was inducted into the Missouri Country Hall of Fame in 2005.
Here she is singing “Banks of the Ohio”…