Tennessee Ernie Ford

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Ford in 1957

Ernest Jennings Ford, known as Tennessee Ernie Ford (February 13, 1919 – October 17, 1991), was born in Bristol, Tennessee, where he first began a career in radio before serving in the military during World War II. After the war, Ford returned to radio in California with the unusual name of “Tennessee Ernie.” He hosted his own half-hour variety program, The Ford Show, on NBC from 1956 to 1961.

In 1949, while doing the morning show at KXLA radio in Pasadena, California, Ford signed to a recording contract with Capitol Records in Hollywood and immediately landed on the country music Hit Parade with three hits before topping the chart with “Mule Train.”

The following year “The Shot Gun Boogie” also peaked at #1 on the country charts followed by “Mr. and Mississippi in 1951. “Ballad of Davy Crockett” topped the pop survey in 1955, the year that “Sixteen Tons” also did for an uninterrupted 22 weeks. It would become Tennessee Ernie Ford’s signature song.[1]

During his fifty years in radio, television and as a singer, Ford sold more than sixty million albums. The majority featured Tennessee Ernie as a gospel singer, with his “Hymns” recording on the charts for a record breaking 277 consecutive weeks. “Great Gospel Songs” earned him a Grammy award in 1964.

Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by U.S. President Ronald Reagan in 1984, Tennessee Ernie Ford was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1990, the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1994, and he has three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions in radio, television, and as a recording artist.

One of the most popular and beloved entertainers America and the world have ever known, he would almost single-handedly bringing inspirational music into the mainstream of American entertainment.

Ford was married to the former Betty Heminger from September 18, 1942, until her death on February 26, 1989. They had two sons: Jeffrey Buckner "Buck" Ford (born 1950); and Brion Leonard Ford (1952-2008). Ford died at the age of seventy-two at H. C. A. Reston Hospital Center in Reston, Virginia. He is interred at Alta Mesa Memorial Park, Palo Alto, California. His second wife, Beverly Wood Ford (1921–2001), is interred with him. His sons were with him when he died.