Roy Claxton Acuff (September 15, 1903 – November 23, 1992) was an American country musician, vocalist, songwriter, and fiddler, who was known as the "King of the Hillbillies," the "Caruso of Mountain Music," and the "Backwoods Sinatra." Along with his crooning style of singing within a hardcore hillbilly genre, Roy Acuff created a music and style of entertainment which captured the hearts of his audiences by generating the uplifting of the human spirit and the pride in the character and culture of American life.
Acuff was born in Maynardville, Tennessee, 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. He toured the Southern United States and eventually formed a band called, "The Crazy Tennesseans."
In 1936, he recorded a cover of the traditional song "The Great Speckled Bird." His performance of it in his Grand Ole Opry debut was not well received. Acuff became a regular on the Grand Ole Opry in 1938, forming a backing band called the Smoky Mountain Boys, led by friend and Dobro player, Bashful Brother Oswald.
Acuff released several singles in the 1940s, such as The Wreck on the Highway, Beneath That Lonely Mound of Clay, and The Precious Jewel. He later formed a music publishing venture with Chicago songwriter Fred Rose. Hank Williams, the Everly Brothers, and Roy Orbison, among others, all initially signed with Acuff-Rose Music.
Acuff spent most of the 1950s and 1960s touring constantly, becoming one of the hottest tickets in country music. By the 1970s, Acuff performed almost exclusively with the Grand Ole Opry, at Opryland, greatly legitimizing it as the top institution in country music. 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 1948. Acuff later campaigned in 1970, for his friend Tex Ritter in his campaign for GOP nomination for U.S. Senate in Tennessee.
Appalachian folk music, which comprised a major part of Acuff's musical background, became a major influence on styles like hillbilly music, country music, and bluegrass. It is one of the few regional styles of old-time music that, since World War II, has been learned and widely practiced in all areas of the United States (as well as in Canada, Europe, Australia, and elsewhere). In some cases (as in the Midwest and Northeast), its popularity has eclipsed the indigenous old-time traditions of these regions. There is a particularly high concentration of performers playing Appalachian folk music on the East and West Coasts (especially in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and the Pacific Northwest). A number of American classical composers, in particular Henry Cowell and Aaron Copland, have composed works that merge the idioms of Appalachian folk music with the Old World–based classical tradition.
Appalachian old-time music is itself made up of regional traditions. Some of the most prominent traditions include those of Mount Airy, North Carolina (specifically the Round Peak style of Tommy Jarrell) and Grayson County/Galax, Virginia (Wade Ward and Albert Hash), West Virginia (the Hammons Family), East Kentucky (J. P. Fraley and Lee Sexton), East Tennessee (Roan Mountain Hilltoppers), and the hardcore hillbilly genre of Roy Acuff.
Roy Acuff made American country music and, specifically, "hillbilly" music, or music of the mountains or the backwoods areas in the southern United States, acceptable to the general American public. No longer was this genre of music seen as a disparagement, but as a part of the exciting musical culture of America. Acuff created a strong pride within those who listened to and performed this traditional music, and his shows always drew great crowds. Acuff also used religious songs in his repertoire, which additionally made spirituality and religion an acceptable form of reverence and Southern musical hospitality.
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