Roy Acuff

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.