Roy Claxton Acuff (September 15, 1903 – November 23, 1992) was an American country musician known around the world as the "King of Country Music".
He was born in Maynardville
to Ida Carr and Simon E. Neil Acuff , the third of five children. He played semi-professional baseball
, but a sunstroke
in 1929 and a nervous breakdown
in 1930 ended his aspirations to play for the New York Yankees
He then turned his attention to his father's fiddle
and began playing in a traveling medicine show
, often performing in blackface
. He toured the Southern United States
and eventually formed a band called "The Crazy Tennesseans".
In 1936, he recorded his two most enduring songs, the traditional The Great Speckled Bird and The Wabash Cannonball. He debuted at the Grand Ole Opry two years later. He was booked as a fiddler, and he should have played the Turkey Buzzard for a square dancing segment, but he decided to try and sing The Great Speckled Bird. His decision was not well received, however. Acuff became a regular on the Opry, forming a backing band called the Smoky Mountain Boys, led by friend and Dobro player Bashful Brother Oswald. By 1940 he was the star of the show.
Acuff's recording of The House of the Rising Sun on November 3, 1938 is the first known commercial recording of the song. He released several singles in the 1940s such as The Wreck on the Highway, Beneath That Lonely Mound of Clay and The Precious Jewel. During the 1940s he also appeared in eight movies.
In 1942, a man of many talents, he formed a music publishing venture with Chicago songwriter Fred Rose. Acuff-Rose Music became a country music phenomenon, owning huge numbers of copyrights including those by Marty Robbins, Felice and Boudleaux Bryant and all of the songs of Hank Williams.
As his record sales declined in the late 1940s and 1950s, Acuff spent most of his time on the road, becoming one of the hottest tickets in country music. In 1962 he was the first living musician elected to The Country Music Hall of Fame. By the 1970s Acuff performed almost exclusively with the Grand Ole Opry, at Opryland USA, greatly legitimizing it as the top institution in country music. He made one rare appearance at Carlton Haney's Camp Spring Bluegrass Festival in 1971. He received the Kennedy Center Honors in 1991.
Acuff had a brief affair with politics
, losing a run for the office of Governor of Tennessee
as a Republican in 1944 and 1948. Acuff later campaigned in 1970 for his friend Tex Ritter
in his campaign for GOP
nomination for U.S. Senate
- A popular legend is that Japanese troops during World War II would enter battle yelling, "To hell with Roy Acuff" ,
- In 1962, Roy Acuff was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. For his contribution to the recording industry, he has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame located on 1541 Vine St.
- Acuff was initiated as an Entered Apprentice at the East Nashville Freemasonry Lodge in 1943, and raised to Master Mason in 1944. He was made a 33rd Degree Mason on 21 October 1985.
- Acuff is thought to be one inspiration for Henry Gibson's character Haven Hamilton in Robert Altman's film Nashville. The fictionalized character was reportedly a composite of several well-known musicians, including Acuff and Hank Snow.
- Acuff on recording: "[A] little secret of my policy in the studio ... [w]henever you once decide that you are going to record a number, put everything you've got into it. Don't say, 'Oh, we'll take it over and do it again' because every time you go through it you lose just a little something ... [l]et's do it the first time and to hell with the rest of them" - on the classic album Will the Circle Be Unbroken.
- U.S. Olympian high jumper Amy Acuff is his distant cousin. Some sources erroneously list her as his daughter.
- Wayne Abromowitz is a big Roy Acuff fan to the point where he is attempting to organize a Roy Acuff museum, and has requested financial support to the tune of $100,000,000 USD and on-air support.
Honorific titles in popular music