Roy Acuff is responsible for not only some of the genre’s foundational recordings, but for helping to put Nashville on the map as a star of the Grand Ole Opry, a music publishing tycoon, and even a candidate for governor of Tennessee.
Not bad for a middle child from rural Tennessee, the son of a prominent family from the small town of Maynardville. Though both of his parents were skilled musicians, his passion was baseball, and he got as far as minor league tryouts before sunstroke ended his budding career. He chose to hone his skills with the fiddle, and began performing around the south as part of a touring medicine show. Incorporating the southern gospel song, “Great Speckled Bird”, into his performances caught the attention of the record companies. By the end of the thirties, he had several hits and a Grand Ole Opry cast membership to his credit.
It was that Opry membership that would be his most high profile gig, lasting until his death in 1992. But while cable TV subscribers from the eighties might best remember him from hosting the Opry, it was the business moves he made four decades earlier that made him one of the wealthiest men in Nashville. Partnering with Fred Rose, Acuff was instrumental in monetizing the country music industry in a way that was unheard of before. They founded Acuff-Rose Publishing, inspired by the money that New York publishing houses were offering up for his catalog, which by that time included standards like “Wreck on the Highway” and “The Precious Jewel.”
Acuff continued to score hits throughout the forties and fifties as a performer, but his bigger legacy from that time period was publishing the catalogs of legends like Hank Williams, the Louvin Brothers, and Boudleaux & Felice Bryant. He also dabbled with politics during this period, running for governor in 1948. By the time he was the first living inductee into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1962, he was being dubbed the King of Country Music. A nice upgrade, he once noted, from the King of Hillbilly Music he was called before that.
After a heart attack effectively ended his touring career, the very wealthy Acuff bought a modest home right by Opryland, which had become the home for the Grand Ole Opry. He performed on the show regularly until his passing, always keeping himself accessible to fans and singing the country and gospel songs that made him famous so many years ago.
- Great Speckled Bird, 1936
- Wabash Cannon Ball, 1936
- Wreck on the Highway, 1942
- Night Train to Memphis, 1942
- The Prodigal Son, 1943
- I’ll Forgive You but I Can’t Forget, 1944
- Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain, 1947
- I Saw the Light, 1948
- Once More, 1958
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