Roy Acuff: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Roy Acuff

Background information
Birth name Roy Claxton Acuff
Also known as King of Country Music[1]
Born September 15, 1903(1903-09-15)
Origin Maynardville, Tennessee, USA
Died November 23, 1992 (aged 89)
Genres Country
Occupations Singer and Songwriter
Instruments Fiddle
Years active 1936 – 1992
Labels Acuff-Rose
Notable instruments

Roy Claxton Acuff (September 15, 1903 – November 23, 1992) was an American country music singer, fiddler, and promoter. Known as the King of Country Music, Acuff is often credited with moving the genre from its early string band and "hoedown" format to the star singer-based format that helped make it internationally successful.

Acuff began his music career in the 1930s, and gained regional fame as the singer and fiddler for his group, the Smoky Mountain Boys. He joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1938, and although his popularity as a musician waned in the late 1940s, he remained one of the Opry's key figures and promoters for nearly four decades. In 1942, Acuff co-founded the first major Nashville-based country music publishing company— Acuff-Rose Music— which signed acts such as Hank Williams, Roy Orbison, and The Everly Brothers. In 1962, Acuff became the first living person to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.[2]




Early life

THC marker along Maynardville Highway (TN-33) in Maynardville, Tennessee, near where Acuff was born

Roy Acuff was born in Maynardville, Tennessee to Ida Carr and Simon E. Neill Acuff[3], the third of five children. The Acuffs were a fairly prominent Union County family. Roy's paternal grandfather, Coram Acuff, had been a Tennessee state senator, and Roy's maternal grandfather was a local physician. Roy's father was an accomplished fiddler and a Baptist preacher, his mother was proficient on the piano, and during Roy's early years the Acuff house was a popular place for local gatherings. At such gatherings, Roy would often amuse people by balancing farm tools on his chin. He also learned to play harmonica and Jew's harp at a young age.[4][5]

The Acuff family relocated to Fountain City, a suburb of North Knoxville, in 1919.[4] Roy attended Central High School, where he sang in the school chapel's choir and performed in "every play they had."[6] Roy's primary passion, however, was athletics. He was a three-sport standout at Central, and after graduating in 1925, he was offered a scholarship to Carson-Newman, but turned it down. He played with several small baseball clubs around Knoxville, worked at odd jobs, and occasionally boxed.[2] In 1929, he tried out for the Knoxville Smokies, at that time a minor league baseball team for the New York Giants (now the San Francisco Giants).[6][5] A series of collapses in spring training following a sunstroke, however, ended his baseball career prematurely. The effects left him ill for several years, and he even suffered a nervous breakdown in 1930.[4] "I couldn't stand any sunshine at all," he later recalled.[6] While recovering, Acuff began to hone his fiddle skills, often playing on the family's front porch in late afternoons after the sun went down. His father gave him several records of regionally-renowned fiddlers, such as Fiddlin' John Carson and Gid Tanner, which were important influences on his early style.[6]

Early music career

In 1932, Dr. Hauer's medicine show— which toured the Southern Appalachian region— hired Acuff as one of its entertainers.[4] The purpose of the entertainers was to draw a large crowd to whom Hauer could sell medicines (of suspect quality) for various ailments.[5] While on the medicine show circuit, Acuff met legendary Appalachian banjoist Clarence Ashley, from whom he learned "The House of the Rising Sun" and "Greenback Dollar," both of which Acuff later recorded.[7] As the medicine show lacked microphones, Acuff learned to sing loud enough to be heard above the din, a skill that would later help him stand out on early radio broadcasts.[5]

In 1934, Acuff left the medicine show circuit and began playing at local shows with various musicians in the Knoxville area. That year, guitarist Jess Easterday and Hawaiian guitarist Clell Summey joined Acuff to form the "Tennessee Crackerjacks", which performed regularly on Knoxville radio stations WROL and WNOX (the band moved back and forth between stations as Acuff bickered with their managers over pay).[4] Within a year, the group had added bassist Red Jones and had changed its name to the "Crazy Tennesseans" after being introduced as such by WROL announcer Alan Stout.[6] Fans often remarked to Acuff how "clear" his voice was coming through over the radio, important in an era when singers were often drowned out by string band cacophony.[5] The popularity of Acuff's rendering of the song "Great Speckled Bird" helped the group land a contract with the American Record Corporation, for whom they recorded several dozen tracks (including the band's best-known track, "Wabash Cannonball") in 1936 and 1937 before leaving over a contract dispute.[5]

The Grand Ole Opry

In 1938, the Crazy Tennesseans moved to Nashville to audition for the Grand Ole Opry. Although their first audition went poorly, the band's second audition impressed Opry founder George D. Hay and producer Harry Stone, and they offered the group a contract later that year. On Hay and Stone's suggestion, Acuff changed the group's name to the "Smoky Mountain Boys", referring to the mountains near where Acuff and his bandmates grew up.[5] Shortly after the band joined the Opry, Clell Summey left the group, and was replaced by dobro player Beecher Kirby— best known by his stage name Bashful Brother Oswald— whom Acuff had met in a Knoxville bakery earlier that year.[5] Acuff's powerful lead vocals and Kirby's dobro playing and high-pitched backing vocals gave the band its distinctive sound. By 1940, Jess Easterday had switched to bass to replace Red Jones, and Acuff had added guitarist Lonnie "Pap" Wilson and banjoist Rachel Veach to fill out the band's line-up. Within a year, Roy Acuff and the Smoky Mountain Boys rivaled long-time Opry banjoist Uncle Dave Macon as the troupe's most popular act.[5]

In spring 1940, Acuff and his band traveled to Hollywood, where they appeared with Hay and Macon in the motion picture, Grand Ole Opry. Acuff appeared in several subsequent B-movies, including O, My Darling Clementine (1943) in which Acuff plays a singing sheriff and Night Train to Memphis (1946), the title of which comes from a song Acuff recorded in 1940. Acuff and his band also joined Macon and other Opry acts at various tent shows held throughout the southeast in the early 1940s. The crowds at these shows were so large that roads leading into the venues were jammed with traffic for miles.[5] Starting in 1939, Acuff hosted the Opry's "Prince Albert" segment, but left the show in 1946 after a dispute with management.[1]

In 1942, Acuff and songwriter Fred Rose (1897-1954) formed Acuff-Rose Music. Acuff originally sought the company in order to publish his own music, but soon realized there was a high demand from other country artists, many of whom had been exploited by larger publishing firms.[8] Due in large part to Rose's ASCAP connections and gifted ability as a talent scout, Acuff-Rose quickly became the most important publishing company in country music. In 1946, the label signed Hank Williams, and in 1950 published their first major hit, Patti Page's rendition of "Tennessee Waltz."[9]


In 1943, Acuff invited Tennessee Governor Prentice Cooper to be the guest of honor at a gala held to mark the nationwide premier of the Opry's Prince Albert show. Cooper rejected the offer, however, and lambasted Acuff and his "disgraceful" music for making Tennessee the "hillbilly capital of the United States."[8] A Nashville journalist reported the governor's comments to Acuff, and suggested Acuff run for governor himself. While Acuff initially did not take the suggestion seriously, he did accept the Republican Party nomination for governor in 1948.[5][8]

Acuff's nomination caused great concern for E.H. Crump, the head of a Memphis Democratic Party political machine that had dominated Tennessee state politics for nearly a quarter-century. Crump was not worried so much about losing the governor's office— in spite of Acuff's name recognition— but did worry that Acuff would draw large crowds to Republican rallies and bolster other statewide candidates. While Acuff did relatively well and helped reinvigorate Tennessee's Republicans, his opponent, Gordon Browning, still won with 67% of the vote.[10][11]

Later career

After leaving the Opry, Acuff spent several years touring the Western United States, although demand for his appearances dwindled with the lack of national exposure and the rise of musicians such as Ernest Tubb and Eddy Arnold, who were more popular with younger audiences.[2] He eventually returned to the Opry, although by the 1960s, his sales had dropped off considerably. After nearly losing his life in an automobile accident outside of Sparta, Tennessee in 1965, Acuff pondered retiring, making only token appearances on the Opry stage and similar shows,[5] and occasionally performing duos with long-time bandmate Bashful Brother Oswald.

In 1972, Acuff's career received a brief resurgence in the folk revival movement after he appeared on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band album, Will the Circle Be Unbroken.[11] The appearance paved the way for one of the defining moments of Acuff's career, which came on the night of March 16, 1974, when the Opry officially moved from the Ryman Auditorium to the Grand Ole Opry House at Opryland. The first show at the new venue opened with a huge projection of a late-1930s image of Roy Acuff and the Smoky Mountain Boys onto a large screen above the stage. A recording from one of the band's 1939 appearances was played over the sound system, with the iconic voice of George Hay introducing the band, followed by the band's performance of "Wabash Cannonball." That same night, Acuff showed President Richard Nixon (who was in attendance) how to yo-yo, and convinced the president to play several songs on the piano.[5]

In the 1980s, after the death of his wife, Mildred, Acuff moved into a house on the Opryland grounds, and continued performing. In 1991, he was given a lifetime achievement award by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. He died in Nashville on November 23, 1992 of heart failure.[1]

Repertoire and legacy

Many of Acuff's songs show a strong religious influence, most notably "Great Speckled Bird," "The Prodigal Son" and "Lord Build Me a Cabin." Such songs were typically set to a traditional Anglo-Celtic melody, which is most apparent on "Great Speckled Bird" and the 1940 recording "The Precious Jewel." Acuff also liked to perform popular songs of the day, including Pee Wee King's Tennessee Waltz and Dorsey Dixon's song "I Didn't Hear Nobody Pray" which he appropriated and renamed "Wreck on the Highway,"[12] and even recorded a version of Cajun fiddler Harry Choates' "Jole Blon." Traditional recordings included "Greenback Dollar," which he probably learned from Clarence Ashley while on the medicine show circuit, and "Lonesome Old River Blues," which he recorded with the Smoky Mountain Boys in the 1940s. Acuff and the Crazy Tennesseans recorded "Wabash Cannonball"— another traditional song— in 1936, although Acuff did not provide the vocals on this early recording. The better-known version of the song with Acuff providing the vocals was recorded in 1947.[8]

In 1979, Opryland opened the Roy Acuff Theatre, which was dedicated in Acuff's honor. Dunbar Cave State Park was established in 1973 largely around a recreational area the state had purchased from Acuff.[13] Two museums have been named in Acuff's honor— the Roy Acuff Museum at Opryland and the Roy Acuff Union Museum and Library in his hometown of Maynardville. Acuff has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame located at 1541 Vine Street.



Year Album US Country Label
Songs of the Smoky Mountains Columbia HL 9004
Old Time Barn Dance Columbia HL 9010
Greatest Hits Columbia CS 1034
That Glory Bound Train Harmony HL 7294
The Great Roy Acuff Harmony HL 7342
The Great Speckle Bird Harmony HS 11289
Waiting For My Call To Glory Harmony HL 7376
Night Train to Memphis Harmony HS 11403
Songs of the Smoky Mountains Capitol T 617
The Best of Roy Acuff Capitol T 1870
The Great Roy Acuff Capitol DT 2103
The Voice of Country Music Capitol DT 2276
Favorite Hymns MGM E 3707
Hymn Time MGM E 4044
Sacred Songs Metro MS 508
1959 Once More - It's Roy Acuff Hickory LPM 101
King of Country Music Hickory LPS 109
Star of the Grand Ole Opry Hickory LPS 113
The World is His Stage Hickory LPS 114
American Folk Songs Hickory LPS 115
Hand Clapping Gospel Songs Hickory LPS 117
Country Music Hall of Fame Hickory LPS 119
Great Train Songs Hickory LPS 125
Sings Hank Williams Hickory LPS 134
Famous Opry Favorites Hickory LPS 139
A Living Legend Hickory LPS 145
Treasury of Country Hits Hickory LPS 147
Time Hickory LPS 156
I Saw the Light Hickory LPS 158
Why Is Hickory LPS 162
1974 Back in the Country 44 Hickory/MGM H3F 4507
Smoky Mountain Memories Hickory MGM H3G 4517
That's Country Hickory MGM H3G 4521
Greatest Hits Vol. 1 Elektra 9E 302
Greatest Hits Vol. 2 Elektra 9E 303
1982 Back in the Country 53 Elektra E1 60012
Roy Acuff Hilltop JS 6028
Country Hilltop JS 6090
Wabash Cannonball Hilltop JS 6162
Steamboat Whistle Blues Rounder 23
Fly Birdie Fly Rounder 24
All Time Favorites Opryland 101
Roy Acuff Columbia 39998
Roy Acuff Time Life


Year Single Chart Positions Album
US Country US
1938 "Great Speckled Bird" singles only
"Wabash Cannon Ball"
1944 "The Prodigal Son" 4 13
"I'll Forgive You But I Can't Forget" 3 21
"Write Me Sweetheart" 6
1947 "(Our Own) Jole Blon" 4
1948 "The Waltz of the Wind" 8
"Unloved and Unclaimed" 14
"This World Can't Stand Long" 12
"Tennessee Waltz" 12
"A Sinner's Death" 14
1958 "Once More" 8 Once More - It's Roy Acuff
1959 "So Many Times" 16
"Come and Knock (On the Door of My Heart)" 20
1965 "Freight Train Blues" 45 single only
1974 "Back in the Country" 51 Back in the Country
"Old Time Sunshine Song" 97
1989 "The Precious Jewel" (w/ Charlie Louvin) 87 single only

Guest singles

Year Single Artist US Country Album
1971 "I Saw the Light" Nitty Gritty Dirt Band 56 Will the Circle Be Unbroken


  1. ^ a b c Don Cusic, "Roy C. Acuff." Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, 2002. Retrieved: 24 February 2009.
  2. ^ a b c John Rumble, "Roy Acuff". The Encyclopedia of Country Music: The Ultimate Guide to the Music (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), pp. 4-5.
  3. ^ Ancestry of Roy Acuff
  4. ^ a b c d e Colin Larkin (ed.), "Roy Acuff." The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Vol. 1 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), pp. 38-39.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Jack Hurst, Nashville's Grand Ole Opry (New York: H.N. Abrams, 1975), pp. 27-28, 37, 108-111, 119-122, 138-139, 303.
  6. ^ a b c d e Doug Green, Charles Wolfe (ed.). "Roy Acuff Recalls His Early Days in Knoxville." Old Time Music, Vol. 12 (Spring 1974), p. 21. Large .PDF file.
  7. ^ Joe Wilson, "Tom Ashley." In Greenback Dollar: The Music of Clarence "Tom" Ashley [CD liner notes]. County Records, 2001.
  8. ^ a b c d Colin Escott, "Roy Acuff." In The Essential Roy Acuff: 1936-1949 [CD liner notes]. Sony Music Entertainment, 1992.
  9. ^ Don Cusic, "Acuff-Rose. Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, 2002. Retrieved: 24 February 2009.
  10. ^ Paul Bergeron, et al. Tennesseans and Their History (Knoxville, Tenn.: University of Tennessee Press, 1999), p. 288.
  11. ^ a b Charles Faber. "Roy Acuff." Encyclopedia of Appalachia (Knoxville, Tenn.: University of Tennessee Press, 2006), p. 1116.
  12. ^ "Wreck On The Highway, Dorsey Dixon, I Didnt Hear Nobody Pray"
  13. ^ Carroll Van West, "Dunbar Cave State Natural Area." Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, 2002. Retrieved: 24 February 2009.

External links


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address