On this day in 1903, the late country music legend Roy Acuff was born in Maynardsville, Tenn. Acuff was one of the most influential of country music's early practitioners and did much to popularize the Grand Ole Opry.
Acuff wanted to play pro baseball while growing up, but a severe sunstroke left him physically incapable. He began playing the fiddle and joined a traveling medicine show. Acuff developed an act that incorporated old-time string-band music, hymns, contemporary songs and jokes. He also entertained by performing tricks with his yo-yo.
In 1933, Acuff formed the Tennessee Crackerjacks and began performing
on Knoxville radio stations. He possessed a leathery, high-pitched
voice that pleased most listeners. The group began recording three
years later as the Crazy Tennesseans. Also in 1936, Acuff recorded
the two songs for which he is most remembered -- "Great Speckled Bird"
and "Wabash Cannonball."
A few years later, Acuff changed his group's name to the
Smoky Mountain Boys and they began appearing at Nashville's burgeoning
showcase, the Grand Ole Opry. Acuff became one of the Opry's
first true stars and, in the process, widened the audience for
country music. He sold more than 25 million records in his heyday,
with such hits as "Night Train to Memphis," "Wreck on the Highway"
and the 1943 million-seller "Great Speckled Bird."
In 1942, Acuff established the Acuff-Rose Music Publishing Company
with songwriter Fred Rose and began to shift his career emphasis
away from performing. The partnership became one of the world's
most successful country music publishing companies. Because of this
enterprise, Acuff became a mentor to many of Nashville's greatest
artists, including Hank Williams and Boudleaux Bryant, who wrote
most of the Everly Brothers' biggest hits, including "Bye Bye Love,"
with his wife, Felice.
Acuff ran for governor of Tennessee unsuccessfully three times in
the '40s. In 1961, he became the first living musician elected to
the Country Music Hall of Fame. In 1966, Acuff issued the LP
Roy Acuff Sings Hank Williams.
When Acuff died in November 1992, President George Bush said:
"Roy Acuff showed that America loves country music because country
music loves America. He helped the Grand Ole Opry become America's
heirloom of the heart ... Roy Acuff leaves what for 89 years he
lived, a touch of the American dream."
Acuff once said: "I want to go down as a gentleman in country music.
That's all I care to be."
Other birthdays: Lee Dorman (Iron Butterfly), 53.