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Looking Back - June 30, 2013

History column

Each week Albany Herald researcher Mary Braswell looks for interesting events, places and people from the past. You can contact her at (229) 888-9371 or mary.braswell@albanyherald.com.

Sometime in the 1950s, while the rest of America was celebrating Independence Day, the Country Music Deejay Association (CMDJA) decided to celebrate a holiday of its own. Originally, National Country Music Day was created to commemorate Jimmy Rodgers and country music. Although an attempt made to have the day declared an official holiday was unsuccessful, the music industry continues to host festivities nationwide. Here is a look back at just a few of the leaders in country music.

Jimmie Rodgers

(Sept. 8, 1897–May 26, 1933)

• Rodgers’ affinity for entertaining came at an early age, and the lure of the road called to him. By age 13, he had twice organized and begun traveling shows, only to be brought home by his father.

• “The Soldier’s Sweetheart” and “Sleep, Baby, Sleep” were Rodgers’ first two recordings for the Victor Talking Machine Company in 1927. For the test recordings, Rodgers received $100.

• During his last recording session on May 24, 1933, after years of fighting tuberculosis, Rodgers was so weakened that he rested on a cot between songs. He died two days later at the age of 35.

• Remember these? “Blue Yodel No. 1 (T for Texas)” and “In the Jailhouse Now”

Kitty Wells

(Aug. 30, 1919–July 16, 2012)

• Born Ellen Muriel Deason, Kitty Wells was the first female country singer to top the U.S. country charts.

• As a teenager, Wells sang with her sisters, who performed under the name the Deason Sisters on a local radio station .

• In 1952, Paul Cohen, an executive at Decca Records, approached Wells about recording “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels”. Wells was discouraged with her career and even considered retirement, but agreed to the session primarily because of the $125 union scale recording payment.

• The record’s message was controversial at the time, and was banned by some radio stations. It was also temporarily banned from the Grand Ole Opry. Audiences, however, couldn’t get enough of it.

• Wells married Johnnie Wright in 1927. He died just short of the couple’s 74th wedding anniversary.

Ernest Dale Tubb

(Feb. 9, 1914–Sept. 6, 1984)

• Nicknamed the Texas Troubadour, Tubb’s biggest hit song, “Walking the Floor Over You” (1941), marked the rise of the honky tonk style of country music.

• At age 19, Tubb took a job as a singer on a San Antonio radio station. The pay was so low Tubb also dug ditches for the Works Progress Administration and then clerked at a drug store.

• In 1957, Tubb walked into the National Life building’s lobby in Nashville and fired a .357 Magnum, intending to shoot music producer Jim Denny. Tubb shot at the wrong man but did not hit anyone. He was arrested and charged with public drunkenness.

• In 1980, Tubb appeared as himself in Loretta Lynn’s autobiographical film, “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” with Roy Acuff and Minnie Pearl.

• Tubb’s singing voice remained intact until late in life, when he fell ill with emphysema. Even so, he continued to make more than 200 personal appearances a year, carrying an oxygen tank on his bus. After each performance he would shake hands and sign autographs with every fan who wanted to stay. Health problems finally halted his performances in 1982.

Connie Smith

(Aug. 14, 1941)

• Born Constance June Meador, Smith has earned 11 Grammy award nominations, 20 top 10 Billboard country singles, and 31 charting albums, three of which have hit No. 1.

• When Smith was 7, her mother divorced her abusive father and married Tom Clark, who had eight children, along with the five children Smith’s mother already had. The couple would have two more children together, for a total of 14 children.

• In 1959, Smith graduated from high school as the class salutatorian.

• “Once a Day”, written by Bill Anderson especially for Smith in 1964, became the first debut single by a female country artist to reach No. 1.

• In the mid-’60s Smith was temporarily fired from the Grand Ole Opry for not being on the show for 26 weeks out of the year, which was a requirement at the time. In the 1970s, Smith was nearly fired again from the show for testifying about Jesus Christ.

Faron Young

(Feb. 25, 1932–Dec. 10, 1996)

• Known as the Hillbilly Heartthrob, Young’s singles made the charts for more than 30 years.

• Most famous of Young’s hits was “Hello Walls,” a 1961 song written by Willie Nelson. It sold more than 1 million copies, and was awarded a gold disc.

• By the mid-1970s Young’s records were becoming overshadowed by his behavior. In 1972 he was charged with assault for spanking a girl in the audience at a concert in West Virginia, who he claimed spat on him.

• Young shot himself on Dec. 9, 1996. He died in Nashville the following day and was cremated. His ashes were spread by his family over Old Hickory Lake outside Nashville at Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash’s home.

Porter Wayne Wagoner

(Aug. 12, 1927–Oct. 28, 2007)

• Known for his flashy outfits and pompadour hairstyle, Wagoner moved to Nashville, joining the Grand Ole Opry in 1957.

• His syndicated television program, “The Porter Wagoner Show,” aired from 1960 to 1981. In 1967, he introduced then-obscure singer Dolly Parton on his show and they were a well-known vocal duo throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s.

• Wagoner was honored on May 19, 2007 at the Grand Ole Opry for both his 50 years of membership and his 80th birthday.

• On June 5, 2007, Wagoner released his final album called “Wagonmaster,” produced by Marty Stuart.

John R. “Johnny” Cash

(Feb. 26, 1932–Sept. 12, 2003)

• Although primarily remembered as a country music icon, Cash’s songs spanned other genres including rockabilly, rock and roll, blues, folk, and gospel. This crossover appeal won Cash the rare honor of induction in the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.

• Cash was named J.R. Cash because his parents couldn’t think of a name. When Cash enlisted in the Air Force in 1950, he was not allowed to use initials as his name, so he started to use the legal name John R. Cash. In 1955, when signing with Sun Records, he took Johnny Cash as his stage name.

• Despite landing in jail seven times for misdemeanors, Cash spent no time in prison. His most famous run-in with the law occurred in 1965, when he was arrested by a narcotics squad in Texas.The officers found 688 Dexedrine capsules (uppers) and 475 Equanil tablets (downers) that the singer had hidden inside his guitar case. Because the pills were prescription drugs rather than illegal narcotics, he received a suspended sentence.

• In 1968, 13 years after they first met backstage at the Grand Ole Opry, Cash proposed to June Carter during a live performance in London, Ontario.

• June Carter Cash died on May 15, 2003, at the age of 73. June had told Cash to keep working, so he continued to record, completing 60 more songs in the last four months of his life.