Country singer, fiddler, bandleader, and music publisher.
Born September 15, 1903, in Union County, Tennessee, near the Great Smoky Mountains, Roy Acuff grew up listening to the traditional music of southern Appalachia. His father was an accomplished fiddler whose house was a popular meeting place where music was performed by family and neighbors. Acuff’s early aspiration to be a baseball player was thwarted by a sunstroke-related collapse. After a stint developing his performance skills and showmanship as a singer and fiddler with a medicine show, Acuff recruited a group of local musicians and landed a program on Knoxville’s WROL radio station. In 1936 a talent scout for the American Record Corporation heard Acuff singing “The Great Speckled Bird” and signed him to a recording contract. In 1938 he joined the Grand Ole Opry. Changing his band’s name from the Crazy Tennesseans to the Smoky Mountain Boys, Acuff became the Opry’s greatest star. In 1942 he teamed with songwriter Fred Rose to launch Acuff-Rose Publications, the first modern publishing company in Nashville to specialize in country music. Acuff also appeared in several B movies and even contemplated a political career. In 1948 both major political parties courted him as a possible Tennessee gubernatorial candidate, and he accepted the Republican nomination. Although he lost the general election, he received the highest vote that any Republican had received up to that time in Tennessee.
In 1962 Acuff became the first living performer elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. Although he performed mostly ballads and songs from the regional repertoire and his singing style suggested the mountain church, his popularity extended beyond the Southeast. He received exposure to a new generation on the college circuit during the urban folk music revival of the 1960s and through his appearance on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s landmark collaborative album Will The Circle Be Unbroken in 1972. Despite his untrained tenor voice and limitations as a fiddler, Acuff attained stardom because of his showmanship and the great zeal and sincere emotion with which he performed. He died November 23, 1992.
Cite this Entry
"Roy Acuff," Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 2017, Encyclopedia of Appalachia. 25 May 2017 <http://www.encyclopediaofappalachia.com/entry.php?rec=1>
"Roy Acuff." (2017) In Encyclopedia of Appalachia, Retrieved May 25, 2017, from Encyclopedia of Appalachia: http://www.encyclopediaofappalachia.com/entry.php?rec=1