"Bless your little pea-pickin' hearts."
Tennessee Ernie Ford was born Ernest Jennings Ford on the 13th of February, 1919 in Bristol, Tennessee.
Ford started his radio/television career working as a radio announcer -- two radio announcers, in fact. He was both the serious Ernest Jennings Ford, and the hillbilly Tennessee Ernie on KFXM in San Bernadino, California and later on KXLA in Pasadena. It was his singing along with records on-air as Tennessee Ernie that led to singing on Cliffie Stone's numerous radio and TV shows in the Los Angeles area.
This in turn led to his signing on with Capitol Records in 1949, with whom he stayed through 1976. Under the Capitol label he released a total of eighty-three albums. On his first day with the label he recorded his first Top 10 hit, Tennessee Border . He went on write many, many other hits -- among them Mule Train , The Shot Gun Boogie , and Ballad Of Davy Crockett . Most impressive is his recording of Sixteen Tons*, released in September 1955 as the B side of You Don't Have To Be A Baby To Cry . It became a #1 country and pop hit, selling 400,000 copies during its first week and over two million by Christmas of that year.
During his music career, he sold over 60 million records worldwide. Even more amazing is the fact that most of them -- more than 40 million -- were gospel, hymns, and spirituals.
His first album of inspirational music, entitled Hymns , was released in 1956, and remained on Billboard magazine's Top Album chart for 277 consecutive weeks. Tennessee Ford was the first person to successfully bring religious music to the pop charts.
Ford went into Television in 1955, and stared in a half-hour prime time variety show, The Ford Show! , on NBC-TV in 1956. It was well liked, and lasted for nine years. It was an average variety show (big stars, Ford singing, etc.), except for the fact that Ford closed almost every show with a religious hymn. This was an iffy move at that time, but it turned out that the public liked it.
On October 18th, 1990 he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. That same year, he was the third-ever recipient of The Minnie Pearl Award. On March 26th, 1984, President Ronald Reagan presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Ernest Jennings Ford passed away October 17th, 1991 from liver disease.
* Originally written and recorded by Merle Travis in 1946.