Tennessee Ernie Ford (1919–1991)

Updated: March 01, 2011

Country and gospel singer.

Born February 13, 1919, and reared in Bristol, Tennessee, Ernest Jennings Ford studied at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. After serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, he settled in southern California, where he performed on various radio shows as a singer and as a hick comic character known as “Tennessee Ernie.”

After signing with Capitol Records in 1948, Ford enjoyed a series of hits, with many of his records crossing over to the pop charts. Some of his biggest sellers, such as “Mule Train” and “The Cry of the Wild Goose,” were writ- ten by New York City–based songwriters. He also recorded duets with pop singer Kay Starr. For these reasons, Ford was not accepted as a legitimate country singer by many people. Nonetheless, his signature song, “Sixteen Tons,” written by Merle Travis, depicted life as experienced by Appalachian coal miners deeply in debt to the company store. Ford’s recording of that song remained number one on the country chart for ten weeks and number one on the pop chart for eight weeks. From 1954 through the 1970s, Ford hosted his own television show and/or appeared regularly on other programs.

Ford recorded more than one hundred albums, the majority of which contained primarily sacred music; his 1956 album Hymns was among the best-selling albums of its era. In 1964 Ford won a Grammy Award for Best Gospel or Other Religious Recording. His induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1990 marked his final acceptance by the country music establishment. Ford died October 17, 1991.

Cite this Entry

MLA Style

"Tennessee Ernie Ford," Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 2018, Encyclopedia of Appalachia. 23 Sep 2018 <http://www.encyclopediaofappalachia.com/entry.php?rec=89>

APA Style

"Tennessee Ernie Ford." (2018) In Encyclopedia of Appalachia, Retrieved September 23, 2018, from Encyclopedia of Appalachia: http://www.encyclopediaofappalachia.com/entry.php?rec=89

“Tennessee” Ernie Ford