Grandpa Jones (1913–1998)

Updated: March 01, 2011

Country banjo player and singer.

During a country music career that lasted almost seventy years, Louis Marshall “Grandpa” Jones was known as a comedian, as one of the leading advocates of traditional country music and old-time gospel singing, and for keeping the frailing style of five-string banjo playing alive during a period when it virtually disappeared from country music.

Jones was born October 20, 1913, in Henderson County, Kentucky, to a mother who sang traditional ballads and a father who was a traditional fiddler. In 1929, at age sixteen, Jones started his professional career, performing on radio in Akron, Ohio, as “The Young Singer of Old Songs,” specializing in the “blue yodels” of Jimmie Rodgers. While per- forming with Bradley Kincaid in Boston in 1935, Jones was dubbed “Grandpa.” Although he was only twenty-two, his manner reminded Kincaid of an old man’s.

In 1946 Jones began working on the Grand Ole Opry. With the exception of breaks from 1949 to 1952 and 1956 to 1959, he remained on the show until his death. Also in 1946, Jones married Ramona Riggins, a talented fiddler, singer, and mandolin player from Indiana whom he had met while working in Cincinnati. A year later, he learned to play frailing-style banjo from another Kentucky performer, Cousin Emmy (Cynthia May Carver), and soon performed the instrument on his hit recordings of “Old Rattler” and “Mountain Dew.” A regular slot on the television show Hee Haw beginning in 1969 helped make Jones’s persona one of the best known in country music. Jones was a member of the gospel groups Brown’s Ferry Four and the Hee Haw Gospel Quartet, which made several commercially successful recordings. In 1978 he was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. After an Opry performance on January 3, 1998, Jones collapsed; he died on February 19.

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Grandpa Jones