Ernest Jennings Ford was born February 13, 1919 at Bristol, Tennessee where he first began a career in radio before serving in the military during World War II. After the war, Ford returned to radio in California with the name “Tennessee Ernie.”
In 1949 while doing the morning show at KXLA radio in Pasadena, Ernie signed to a recording contract with Capitol Records in Hollywood and immediately landed on the country music Hit Parade with three hits before topping the chart with “Mule Train.”
The following year “The Shot Gun Boogie” also peaked at #1 on the country charts followed by “Mr. and Mississippi” in 1951. “Ballad of Davy Crockett” topped the pop survey in 1955, the year that “Sixteen Tons” also did for an uninterrupted 22 weeks. It would become Tennessee Ernie Ford’s signature song.
During his fifty years in radio, television and as a singer, Ford sold more than sixty million albums. The majority featured Tennessee Ernie as a gospel singer, with his “Hymns” recording on the charts for a record breaking 277 consecutive weeks. “Great Gospel Songs” earned him a Grammy award in 1964.
One of the most popular and beloved entertainers America and the world have ever known, he would almost single-handedly bringing inspirational music into the mainstream of American entertainment.
At 72 years of age and with his sons at his bedside, Tennessee Ernie Ford died on October 17, 1991.
Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Reagan in 1984, Tennessee Ernie Ford was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1990 the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1994, the Hit Parade Hall of Fame in 2009 and has three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions in radio, TV and as a recording artist.