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Ernest Jennings Ford :: a biography

Born Ernest Jennings Ford on February 13th, 1919 in Bristol, Tennessee, Tennessee Ernie Ford has made an indelible impact on America and the world through his unparalleled accomplishments in radio, records and television.

Throughout his legendary career spanning over 50 years, Ernie Ford's early successes as a radio personality led to his signing with Capitol Records in 1949. Through 1976, he released a total of eighty-three albums on the label--and literally scores of single records, including his classic version of Merle Travis' timeless anthem to the working man, "Sixteen Tons" the time of its release, the fastest selling single in Capitol's history.To date, it is estimated that Ford has sold more than 400 million records worldwide--an astonishing number, even by today's standards. Even more astonishing...more than 40 million of that number represents 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 Pop Albums chart an unbelievable 277 consecutive weeks. In November of 1963 -seven years after its release- Hymns was recognized by the label's Alan Livingston, as the largest-selling LP ever recorded by a Capitol artist.

Catapulted to international fame on the strength of a string of top-ten singles, including Mule Train, and his unforgettable duet with Kay Starr, I'll Never Be Free, Ernie quickly caught the attention of both Madison Avenue and television's earliest movers and shakers, including Lucille Ball. Today, forty seven yearsafter his now-legendary 1954 national debut on I Love Lucy, Cousin Ernie remains one of classic television's most enduring characters. Then, in September of 1955, Ford Motor Company announced it would be sponsoring its own prime-time variety show on NBC, and the search for a star to host the show was on. One year later, on Thursday night, October 4th, 1956, the result of that search aired coast-to-coast with the network's broadcast premiere of The Ford Show Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford.

As prime-time's # 1 half-hour variety show for five years, 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...Ernie 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 enduring legacy of the lasting impact that one man's expression of faith can have on millions of people.

On October 17, 1991 -36 years to the day after the release of Sixteen Tons - the world lost this legendary star.  But today, Tennessee Ernie Ford remains one of the most popular and beloved entertainers America and the world have ever known. His unprecedented achievements earned him numerous accolades, including: three stars in The Hollywood Walk of Fame--for Radio, Recordsand Television. His "Great Gospel Songs" LP with The Jordanaires was 1964's Grammy winner for Best Inspirational Recording; the fourth Grammy to ever be awarded in that category. 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 honor bearing a brief, 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 in spirit because of Tennessee Ernie Ford"

Coast Recorders - San Francisco.jpg
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At the unfinished Capitol Records Tower
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