Born in February of 1919, Ernest Jennings Ford has remained one of the most beloved, and popular entertainers of the Twentieth Century. His appeal to the common man was marked, perhaps forever, by his now legendary release of the timeless anthem for the working man, "SIXTEEN TONS".
Over the years, Ford has sold more than 60 million records worldwide--an astonishing number, even by today's standards. Even more astonishing...to date, more than 40 million of that number represent the body of work he became best known for...gospel, hymns and spirituals. His first album of inspirational music, entitled simply, "Hymns" -released in 1956- remained on Billboard magazine's Top Album chart an unbelievable 277 consecutive weeks, and in November of 1963 was recognized as the largest-selling LP ever recorded by a Capitol artist.
From 1956 to 1965, Ford's top-rated television series' for both NBC and ABC brought not only his voice, but Ernie himself in to the living rooms of homes across the country every week. Through his natural, unaffected charm, friendliness and honesty, Ernie became much more than just a host for his own prime-time variety shows...he became a cherished member of millions of American families...families from every corner of the country, from every walk of life.
Consistently among the highest rated, NBC's, The Ford Show featured all the ingredients of the top variety shows of the day; Hollywood's greatest guest stars, top-of-the-line production, and terrific music. But one simple element separated it from all others...Ford closed virtually every show with a hymn, a spiritual or a song of faith. For the time, it was a bold and powerful statement for a popular entertainer of Ford's stature to be making on live television, especially in the face of the initial objections from Madison Avenue and the network. But it was a statement that would become the trademark of his career, and in many ways, the mark of his life. It would earn him the distinction of almost single-handedly bringing inspirational music into the mainstream of American entertainment...an enduring legacy of the lasting impact that one man's expression of faith can have on millions of people.
In September of 1991, Ernie taped an extended television interview in Los Angeles with his long-time friend, Dinah Shore. Sadly, it was to be his last television appearance. In October, after attending a State Dinner at the White House with then-President and Mrs. Bush, he fell ill while en route to Dulles International Airport. His condition was grave, and though he rallied for a brief time, with his sons at his side, Ernest Jennings Ford passed away October 17th, 1991; thirty-six years to the day after the release of Sixteen Tons.
In 2008, Ford's oldest son, Buck, released his critically acclaimed memoir entitled, RIVER of NO RETURN - Tennessee Ernie Ford and The Woman He Loved, chronicling Ernie's life and forty-six year long marriage to his wife, Betty.
IN A SWEEPING, CINEMATIC NARRATIVE, told with heartbreaking honesty, wry humor and riveting intimacy, River of No Return carries the reader from Ernie and Betty Ford’s first meeting on a desert airbase at the dawn of World War Two, through a brilliant, meteoric rise to the heights of Hollywood’s second Golden Age, to Ford’s controversial departure from Hollywood at the zenith of his career, and to their last moments together nearly half a century later. The story of Ernie Ford and the woman he loved is an American love story, an American tragedy; an unforgettable portrait of an ordinary couple changed forever by an extraordinary life.
Today, Tennessee Ernie Ford remains one of the most popular and beloved entertainers America and the world have ever known. His half-century legacy is staggering. His unprecedented achievements earned him three stars in The Hollywood Walk of Fame--for Radio, Records and Television. His "Great Gospel Songs" LP with The Jordanaires was 1964's Grammy winner for Best Inspirational Recording. He was the third recipient of The Minnie Pearl Award, for his lifetime of contributions to both Country and Popular music. On October 18th, 1990, he was inducted in the Country Music Hall of Fame, and on March 26th, 1984, President Ronald Reagan presented Ernie with The Presidential Medal of Freedom; the highest honor a sitting President can bestow upon a civilian on behalf of his country...a simple, but eloquent Citation on a single page which perhaps best describes this simple man from Tennessee and the enduring legacy he left to America and the world...
"America is a nation richer because of Tennessee Ernie Ford..."