February 13, 2019 marks the 100th anniversary of Tennessee Ernie Ford’s birthday, and his hometown has come together to celebrate that milestone with a variety of events and activities, including a musical performance, a conversation with Ford’s son Buck, a special church service, show screenings, a commemorative stamp, and birthday cake!
Born in Bristol, Ernest Jennings Ford was known by many names throughout his life: “Ernest” by his mother, “Ernie” by his relatives, friends, and neighbors, and “The Ol’ Pea-Picker” as a public stage name during the 1950s, based on his catchphrase “Bless your little pea-pickin’ hearts.” But he was most well known as “Tennessee Ernie Ford” – a tribute to his Tennessee home and heritage.
Ford’s career spanned radio, recording, and television, resulting in three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and numerous other awards and honors, including a Grammy and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. His song “Sixteen Tons” – a particular favorite of fans and music historians – was an unexpected hit on the pop charts in 1955 and a defining moment in his career. With Ford snapping his fingers and a unique clarinet-driven pop arrangement by Ford’s music director, Jack Fascinato, “Sixteen Tons” spent ten weeks at number one on the country charts and seven weeks at number one on the pop charts. In an interview in 1990, Ford noted that this record had sold over twenty million copies, and in 1998 his version of the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and in 2015 it was honored by being included in the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry.
For a full list of events taking place in February, visit 100ernieford.com.