Just beginning to tell this story has brought back so many fond memories of my growing up in West Texas during the 1950’s and 1960’s…..as my family would gather around the “ol black & white TV set with rabbit ears reception” to watch Tennessee Ernie Ford Show ever Thursday night from 1956 through 1961…..as “The Ol Pea-Picker” himself would entertain his television audiences with talented guests and musicians / singers performing wonderful pop and gospel music…while providing hilarious comedy skits at the same time.
Music & Entertainment – Documentary – 1919 To 1991 – Radio Bristol Special – “Tennessee Ernie Ford’s 100th Birthday Tribute”
Ernest Jennings Ford (February 13, 1919 – October 17, 1991) was better known as Tennessee Ernie Ford, was an American singer and television host …..who enjoyed success in the country and western, pop, and gospel musical genres. Noted for his rich bass-baritone voice and down-home humor, he is remembered for his hit recordings of “The Shotgun Boogie” and “Sixteen Tons”.
Music & Entertainment – 2020 – Remembering Famous People Special – “The Life and Tragic Ending of Tennessee Ernie Ford”
Ford was born in Bristol, Tennessee, United States, to Maud (née Long) and Clarence Thomas Ford. He spent a lot of his time in his early years listening to country or western musicians, in person or on the radio.
Music & Entertainment – 1961 – The Jack Benny Program Special – “Tennessee Ernie Ford Show” – Part 1
Music & Entertainment – 1961 – The Jack Benny Program Special – “Tennessee Ernie Ford Show” – Part 2
Ford began wandering around Bristol in his high school years…..while taking an interest in radio and began his radio career as an announcer at WOPI-AM in 1937…..where he was paid 10 dollars a week. In 1938, the young bass-baritone left the station and went to study classical music at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music in Ohio…..then he returned for the announcing job in 1939 and did it from 1939 to 1941 in stations from Atlanta to Knoxville. A first lieutenant, he served in the United States Army Air Corps in World War II as the bombardier on a B-29 Superfortress…..but the war ended before he was to be sent to Japan. He was also a bombing instructor at George Air Force Base, in Victorville, California.
Music – 1960 – Merle Travis, Molly Bee, Ernie Ford – “Dim Lights Thick Smoke and Loud, Loud Music”
Music – 1957 – Tennessee Ernie Ford – “Don’t Be Ashamed Of Your Age”
Comedy & Entertainment – 1958 – The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show Presents – Minnie Pearl & George Gobel
After the war, Ford worked at radio stations in San Bernardino and Pasadena, California. At KFXM, in San Bernardino, Ford was hired as a radio announcer …..where he was assigned to host an early morning country music disc jockey program, Bar Nothin’ Ranch Time. To differentiate himself, he created the personality of “Tennessee Ernie”, a wild, madcap, exaggerated hillbilly. He became popular in the area…..and was soon hired away by Pasadena’s KXLA radio…..plus, he also did musical tours. The Mayfield Brothers of West Texas, including Smokey Mayfield, Thomas Edd Mayfield, and Herbert Mayfield, were among Ford’s warmup bands…..while having played for him in concerts in Amarillo and Lubbock, during the late 1940’s.
Music & Entertainment – 3/03/1961 – The Ernie Ford Show – Featuring Ernie & The Everly Brothers
Music – 1981 – Tennessee Ford – “Tennessee Stud”
Comedy – 19xx – I Love Lucy – “The Wicked City Woman” – With Tennessee Ernie Ford as “Cousin Ernie”
Comedy – 1954 – I Love Lucy – “Early Wake-Up Call” – With Tennessee Ernie Ford as “Cousin Ernie”
At KXLA, Ford continued doing the same show…..and also joined the cast of Cliffie Stone’s popular live KXLA country show Dinner Bell Roundup…..as a vocalist while still doing the early morning broadcast. Cliffie Stone, a part-time talent scout for Capitol Records, brought him to the attention of the label…..when in 1949, while still doing his morning show, he signed a contract with Capitol. He became a local TV star as the star of Stone’s popular Southern California Hometown Jamboree show. RadiOzark produced 260 15-minute episodes of The Tennessee Ernie Show on transcription disks for national radio syndication.
Music – 1961 – The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show Live – Tennessee Ernie Ford Sings “When Clancy Lowers The Boom”
Music – 1967 – The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show Live – Featuring The Supremes – “Down By The Old Mill Stream”
He released almost 50 country singles through the early 1950’s….while several of them made the Billboard charts. Many of his early records, including “The Shotgun Boogie” and “Blackberry Boogie”, were exciting, driving boogie-woogie records featuring accompaniment by the ‘Hometown Jamboree’ band…..which included Jimmy Bryant on lead guitar and pioneer pedal steel guitarist Speedy West. “I’ll Never Be Free”, a duet pairing Ford with Capitol Records pop singer Kay Starr, became a huge country and pop crossover hit in 1950. A duet with Ella Mae Morse, “False Hearted Girl” was a top seller for the Capitol Country and Hillbilly division.
Music – 1951 – The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show Live – With The Ol Pea-Picker Singing “The Shotgun Boogie”
Music – 1952 – Song From Tennessee Ernie Ford Album “Ol Rockin’ Ern” – Tennessee Ernie Ford Sings “The Blackberry Boogie”
Music – 1950 – Special Duet – Kate Starr & Tennessee Ernie Ford – “I’ll Never Be Free”
Music – 1952 – Special Duet – Ella Mae Morse & Tennessee Ernie Ford – “False Hearted Girl”
Ford eventually ended his KXLA morning show and in the early 1950’s, moved on from Hometown Jamboree…..wherein he took over from bandleader Kay Kyser as host of the TV version of NBC quiz show College of Musical Knowledge…..when it returned briefly in 1954 after a four-year hiatus. He became a household name in the U.S., largely as a result of his portrayal in 1954 of the ‘country bumpkin’, “Cousin Ernie”, in three episodes of I Love Lucy. In 1955, Ford recorded “The Ballad of Davy Crockett”…..which reached # 4 on the country music chart…..with “Farewell to the Mountains” on the B-side.
Music – 1954 – Tennessee Ernie Ford – “The Ballad of Davy Crockett”
Music – 2009 – A Virtual Duet With Thanks to Alexander Gubar – Tennessee Ernie Ford and Sissel – “Shenandoah”
Music – 1954 – Tennessee Ernie Ford – “Farewell To The Mountains”
Ford scored an unexpected hit on the pop chart in 1955 with his rendering of “Sixteen Tons”…..which was a sparsely arranged coal-miner’s lament that Merle Travis had 1st recorded it in 1946……as it reflected experiences of the Travis family in the mines at Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. The song’s fatalistic tone and bleak imagery were in stark contrast to some sugary pop ballads and rock & roll also on the charts in 1955: “You load sixteen tons, what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt. Saint Peter, don’t you call me, ’cause I can’t go; I owe my soul to the company store…”
Music – 1954 – Tennessee Ernie Ford – “Sixteen Tons”
Music – 1954 – Tennessee Ernie Ford – “The River of No Return”
Music – 1956 – The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show Live – Tennessee Ernie Ford – “Children, Go Where I Send Thee”
With Ford’s snapping fingers and a unique clarinet-driven pop arrangement by Ford’s music director, Jack Fascinato, “Sixteen Tons” spent ten weeks at #one on the country chart and seven weeks at number one on the pop chart. The record sold over twenty million copies…..and was awarded a gold disc. The song made Ford a crossover star, and became his signature song.
Music – 1954 – Tennessee Ernie Ford – “The Ballad of John Henry”
Ford subsequently hosted his own prime-time variety program, The Ford Show, which ran on NBC television from October 4, 1956, to June 29, 1961. Ford’s last name allowed the show title to carry a unique double entendre by selling the naming rights to the Ford Motor Company (Ford had no known relation to the Ford family that founded that company). The Ford Theatre, an anthology series also sponsored by the company, had run in the same time slot on NBC in the preceding 1955–1956 season. Ford’s program was notable for the inclusion of a religious song at the end of every show, a tradition he recalled during his days as a cast member on Cliffie Stone’s Hometown Jamboree live radio and TV show. Ford insisted on ending with a hymn on his own show despite objections from network officials and the ad agency representing Ford, who feared it might provoke controversy. Everyone relented after the hymns received overwhelmingly favorable viewer response. The hymn became the most popular segment of his show. He earned the nickname “The Ol’ Pea-Picker” due to his catchphrase, “Bless your pea-pickin’ heart!” He began using the term during his disc jockey days on KXLA.
Music – 2014 – Live on the Grand Ole Opry Stage – Tennessee Ernie Ford & Pianist Bill Walker Sing Classic Hymns – “Peace in the Valley” & “I Found A Friend In Jesus” & “There’s A Cross For Me” & “Out On The Hills, Rejoice for the Lord Brings Back His Own”
Music – 1955 – Tennessee Ernie Ford – “Somebody Bigger Than You And I” + “I Am A Pilgrim”
In 1956 he released Hymns, his first gospel music album, which remained on Billboard‘s Top Album charts for 277 consecutive weeks; his album Great Gospel Songs won a Grammy Award in 1964 and was nominated for several others. After the NBC show ended, Ford moved his family to Portola Valley in northern California. He also owned a cabin near Grandjean, Idaho, on the upper South Fork of the Payette River, where he would regularly retreat. In 1961, he recorded two albums of American Civil War songs, one for songs of the Union and another for songs of the Confederacy.
Music – 1956 – Tennessee Ernie Ford Sings Gospel – “Onward Christian Soldiers” & “900 Pages of 66 Books” & “The Church In The Wildwood” & “Count Your Blessings & “All Hail the Power” & “Noah Found Grace in the Eyes of the Lord” & “The Ninety and Nine” & “When God Dips His Pen of Love in My Heart”
Music – 1961 – From the Album “Songs of the Civil War for The Union” – Tennessee Ernie Ford – “The Army of the Free”
Music – 1961 – From the Album “Songs of the Civil War for The Union” – Tennessee Ernie Ford – “Marching Through Georgia”
Music – 1961 – From the Album “Songs of the Civil War for The Union” – Tennessee Ernie Ford – “Union Dixie”
Music – 1961 – From the Album “Songs of the Civil War for The Confederacy” – Tennessee Ernie Ford – “Stonewall Jackson Way”
Music – 1961 – From the Album “Songs of the Civil War for The Confederacy” – Tennessee Ernie Ford – “The Bonnie Blue Flag”
Music – 1961 – From the Album “Songs of the Civil War for The Confederacy” – Tennessee Ernie Ford – “Dixie”
From 1962 to 1965, Ford hosted a daytime talk/variety show, The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show…..which was later known as Hello, Peapickers from KGO-TV in San Francisco, broadcast over the ABC television network. In 1968, Ford narrated the Rankin/Bass Thanksgiving TV special The Mouse on the Mayflower for NBC. The mouse narrator seen at the beginning of the special, William the Churchmouse, was a caricature of Ford, in keeping with a Rankin/Bass tradition. Ford was the spokesman for the Pontiac Furniture Company in Pontiac, Illinois, in the 1970’s. He also became the spokesman for Martha White brand flour in 1972.
Music – 1953 – Tennessee Ernie Ford – “Hey Mister Cotton Picker”
Music – 1957 – From the Album “The Capitol Singles 1956 to 1958” – Tennessee Ernie Ford – “Bless Your Pea Pickin’ Heart”
Music – 1957 – From the Album “The Capitol Singles 1956 to 1958” – Tennessee Ernie Ford – “Down Deep”
Although he left his own TV show, he went on other shows like The Dolly Show and on Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters in the early 1980’s.
Music – 1950 – Duet Special – Kay Starr & Tennessee Ernie Ford – “Ain’t Nobody’s Business But My Own”
Ford left Capitol Records in 1975…..for by that time the quality of his country albums had become uneven…..and none of his releases were selling well. He would never record for a major label again.
Music & Entertainment – 1959 – The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show Family Christmas Show – Featuring Kate Smith & Gordon MacRae & Jon Provost and Lassie & Lee Aaker and Rin Tin Tin
Ford’s experiences as a navigator and bombardier in World War II led to his involvement with the Confederate Air Force (now the Commemorative Air Force), a war plane preservation group in Texas…..when he was a featured announcer and celebrity guest at the annual CAF Airshow in Harlingen, Texas, from 1976 to 1988. He donated a once-top-secret Norden bombsight to the CAF’s B-29 bomber restoration project. In the late 1970s, as a CAF colonel, Ford recorded the organization’s theme song “Ballad of the Ghost Squadron”.
Music – 1978 – Tennessee Ernie Ford – “Ballad of the Ghost Squadron”
Over the years, Ford was awarded three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, for radio, records, and television…..while he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1984…..plus was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1990.
Music & Entertainment – 1960 – The Ford Show – Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford Featuring Tony Bennett
– “Put On A Happy Face” & “Follow Me” & “Take A Train” & Hank William Medley”
Music & Entertainment – 1961 – The Ford Show – Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford Featuring Brenda Lee
Music & Entertainment – 1961 – The Ford Show – Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford Featuring Andy Devine & Ralph Edwards
Music & Entertainment – 1961 – The Ford Show – Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford Featuring Tab Hunter
Out of the public eye, Ford and wife Betty contended with serious alcohol problems…..when Betty had the problem since the 1950’s…..as well as emotional issues that complicated both their lives…..and the lives of their sons. Though his drinking began to worsen in the 1960’s, he worked continuously, seemingly unaffected by his heavy intake of whiskey. By the 1970’s, however, it had begun to take an increasing toll on his health, appearance and ability to sing…..albeit his problems were not known publicly. After Betty committed suicide in 1989 because of prescription drug abuse….that is when Ernie’s liver problems, diagnosed years earlier, became more apparent…..but he refused to reduce his drinking despite repeated doctors’ warnings. His last interview was taped on September 23, 1991, by his long-time friend Dinah Shore for her TV show…..and was later aired on December 4 that year. Ford received posthumous recognition for his gospel music contributions by being added to the Gospel Music Association’s Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1994.
Music & Entertainment – 1961 – The Ford Show – Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford – “The Ballad of Davey Crocket” & “The Ballad of Ben Franklin & The Ballad of the Alamo”
Music & Entertainment – 1961 – The Ford Show – Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford Featuring Roberta Sherwood – “That’s What I Like About The South” & “The Best Things in Life Are Free” & “Make Someone Happy” & ‘Put Your Sweet Lips A Little Closer To The Phone” & “Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey”
Music & Entertainment – 1961 – The Ford Show – Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford Featuring Hoagy Carmichael – “Oh, Buttermilk Sky” & “Stardust” & “Hong Kong Blues” & “Georgia On My Mind” & “Lazy Bones”
Music & Entertainment – 1961 – The Ford Show – Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford Featuring Jerry Lewis
Music & Entertainment – 1961 – The Ford Show – Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford Featuring The Top 20 Singing Group – The Last Ford Show Televised
Music & Interview – 1974 – Day and Night Program Special – James Day Interviews Tennessee Ernie Ford
Music & Awards Shows – 1990 – Country Music Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony Special – “The Oak Ridge Boys Introduce New Inductee Tennessee Ernie Ford”
In concluding this video story of the incredibly talented “Ole Pea-Picker” Tennessee Ernie Ford…..especially after viewing each and every video posted herewith…..for it has become delightfully obvious that this man was blessed with a gorgeous baritone / bass voice that could be used with dang near any and all genres of music…..whether it be ballads, country, gospel, pop or patriotic, Ol Ern could simply deliver his rendition beautifully…..but more than his singing awesomeness, Tennessee Ernie Ford was a good actor, a funny comedian and nothing less than a superb entertainer…..who won the hearts of millions of folks. I was weened on The Ford Show while living out in West Texas…..as this program exemplified what life was like way out West…..combining all things that were good and righteous in humanity under the vast skies of West Texas…..after being sprinkled with a good dose of song and soul. Tennessee Ernie Ford brought the joy of music to so many folks…..and his songs and sounds will endure for generations to come…..for as he brightened Thursday nights at our family homestead for many years….so shall his music serve to brighten many hearts and souls of generations to follow. We hope you enjoyed this post as much as we enjoyed posting it.
Music – 1969 – The Hee Haw Show Live – Hee Haw Gospel Quartet – “Jesus, Hold My Hand”
Music – 1969 – The Hee Haw Show Live – Hee Haw Gospel Quartet – “Just A Little Talk With Jesus”
Music – 1969 – The Hee Haw Show Live – Hee Haw Gospel Quartet – “Mother’s Mansion Is Higher Than Mine”
Music – 1969 – The Hee Haw Show Live – Hee Haw Gospel Quartet – “I’m Just A Little Old Fashion”