Personalities | Eddy Arnold | War Years | Country

Born in Henderson, Tennessee, in 1918, Eddy Arnold has not only shown remarkable longevity as an artist (his career spans seven decades and he has sold more than 80 million records); he was also a pivotal figure in country music’s dramatic stylistic shift during the 1950s from rough and rural to urbane and sophisticated.

Speaking Through Song

A farmer’s son, Arnold discovered his penchant for singing at a very early age when he listened to the records of stars of the day like Gene Autry, Bing Crosby and Jimmie Rodgers. He often sang at school and at church functions, accompanying himself on a cheap Sears Roebuck Silvertone guitar. Years later, Arnold recalled the musical epiphany he experienced as a youngster – one that stuck with him over the decades: ‘I discovered I could speak to people through songs in a way I never could by just talking.’

The dollar a night he could earn at age 11 as a singer at local ice-cream socials and barbeque picnics came in handy after his father died and the family lost its farm. Within a few years, Arnold moved on to Jackson, Tennessee, where he sang in bars and on local radio stations while also driving for an undertaker. He soon moved on to Memphis and St. Louis, where he sang and also performed down-home comedy on radio.

Big Break

Arnold’s big break came in 1940 when he was hired as the featured singer in Pee Wee King’s Golden West Cowboys, a popular band of the day. The exposure he gained playing with the Golden West Cowboys on the Grand Ole Opry and elsewhere gave Arnold the confidence to embark on a solo career in 1943. Soon he was performing on the Opry on his own and in December 1944, he had his first recording sessions for RCA in the studio of WSM Radio in Nashville.

Almost from the start, Arnold’s releases sold well and for the remainder of the 1940s he rode the top of the charts with hits like ‘That’s How Much I Love You’ (1946), ‘Anytime’ (1948) and ‘Bouquet Of Roses’ (1948). Arnold’s warm, plaintive vocal style also warmed hearts among pop listeners and as early as the 1940s, his records began crossing over into the pop charts.

Tennessee Plowboy

By the 1950s, Arnold, with methodical and ambitious deliberation, gradually expanded his crossover appeal while opening new avenues both for himself as a singer and for country music in general. In the early 1950s, he was one of the first country performers to play Las Vegas – a city that today is one of country’s most lucrative performance venues. He also branched out into television, appearing first on The Milton Berle Show and later hosting shows of his own in the mid-1950s. All the while, Arnold, who had actually ploughed with a mule as a kid and later billed himself as ‘The Tennessee Plowboy’, began cultivating a musical style and a public persona that was increasingly...

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Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Country Music, consultant editor Bob Allen


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