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Acuff, Roy (15 September 1903–23 November 1992), country music singer and composer, was born Roy Claxton Acuff in Maynardsville, Tennessee, just a few miles north of Knoxville in a spur of the Great Smoky Mountains, the son of Neil Acuff, an attorney and pastor, and Ida Florence Carr. The family moved to Fountain City, a suburb of Knoxville, when Acuff was sixteen, and he spent most of his high school years excelling in sports. After graduation he was invited to have a tryout at a major league baseball camp, but a 1929 fishing trip to Florida resulted in a severe sunstroke, and Acuff was bedridden for a number of months. During his convalescence he reawakened an early interest in music and began to hone his abilities on the fiddle. By the time he had recovered, he had given up his dreams of a baseball career and had determined to utilize his newly discovered musical talent....

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Canova, Judy (20 November 1916–05 August 1983), hillbilly singer, was born Juliette Canova in Starke, Florida, the daughter of Joseph Canova, a cotton broker and contractor, and Henrietta Perry, a concert singer. The family was quite musical, and Canova and her brother Zeke and sister Annie studied piano, voice, violin, and horn. Judy, an extrovert—or, as her mother put it, “a natural ham”—from age three, performed at family and church socials. At age twelve she and her best friend entered a series of Jacksonville amateur nights, often taking first place. When the friend dropped out, Zeke and Annie took her spot and the Canova Cracker Trio was born. They sang and did hillbilly comedy and were signed to do local radio. She claimed to have picked up her cornpone lingo from sharecroppers who patronized her father’s cotton gin....

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Foley, Red (17 June 1910–19 September 1968), country music recording artist and television star, was born Clyde Julian Foley in Blue Lick, Kentucky, near the black community of Middletown, the son of Benjamin Harrison Foley, the proprietor of a Berea, Kentucky, general store, and Katherine Elizabeth (maiden name unknown). Foley’s older brother Clarence nicknamed him “Red” because of his hair color. The Foleys attended a black Southern Baptist church, whose music influenced Red. Family members recalled him “entertaining almost as soon as he could walk.” He began playing guitar in earnest when his father took one as trade for groceries. In grade school he was a prankster. At Berea High School (and briefly in college in 1928) he became a star basketball player. A teacher impressed by seventeen-year-old Foley’s singing entered him in a classical competition at Georgetown College (Ky.). Though he forgot the song’s words, he kept going and, said the contest administrator, “won not just for his voice but for his grit.” In 1929, during Foley’s first semester at Berea College, he frequently sang on WCKY radio in Covington, Kentucky, and on Cincinnati’s WLW, where a WLS radio scout heard him and offered a job. Foley left college and borrowed $75 to join the Cumberland Ridge Runners vaudeville group as vocalist and clown on Chicago’s “WLS National Barn Dance,” carried on fifty NBC radio stations. In 1930 he gained a solo spot, dubbed “Ramblin’ Red.” His rich baritone and ease with “high hard” notes earned him instant popularity as “the ...

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Ford, Tennessee Ernie (13 February 1919–17 October 1991), country-music entertainer, was born Ernest Jennings Ford in Bristol, Tennessee, the son of Clarence Thomas Ford, a postal worker, and Maude Long. Ford grew up in a religious family that valued song as an expression of faith. He later said of music, “It was part of our religion, part of our way of life… . God and the Bible meant a lot to us, and hymns and spirituals and gospel songs seemed to us just about the best way of saying what was in our hearts and minds” ( ...

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Nelson, Rick (08 May 1940–31 December 1985), singer and actor, was born Eric Hilliard Nelson in Teaneck, New Jersey, the son of Ozzie Nelson and Harriet Hilliard Nelson (née Peggy Lou Snyder), radio and television stars who did much to define the situation comedy. Nelson made his first professional appearance on radio in 1949 on “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.” He played the smart-aleck little brother to David Nelson, and his wisecracks were used as laugh-winning punch lines. Moving with his family to television, Rick used the medium to debut as a rock star in the early days of that musical form (1957), recording a cover version of Fats Domino’s “I’m Walkin’,” reportedly to impress a girl. The record sold more than 1 million copies in two weeks, highlighting the fact that the white treatment of rhythm and blues, called rock and roll, could sell, particularly if the singer were photogenic and nonthreatening, or at least not black....

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Ritter, Tex (12 January 1905–02 January 1974), singer and actor, was born Woodward Maurice Ritter in Murvaul, Texas, the son of James Everett Ritter, a farmer and cowboy, and Elizabeth Matthews. Ritter attended school in his church, “which was partitioned into two rooms.” When he was fifteen, the family of eight resettled in Nederland, southwest of Beaumont and Port Arthur. After the harvest, he attended “singing schools” conducted by itinerant teachers, one of whom was ...

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Tubb, Ernest (09 February 1914–06 September 1984), singer and songwriter, was born in Crisp, Texas, the son of Calvin Robert Tubb, a cotton sharecropper and sometime bootlegger, and Sarah Ellen Baker. When he was six, his family moved to Benjamin, where his father was a farm overseer. Tubb began school at age nine, attending for two years (which he maintained was equal to four). Described by siblings as a child of “smarts, ambition, and drive,” Tubb wrote poetry and, influenced by silent film stars ...