BRISTOL - 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 (of course) 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 20 million copies, and in 1998 his version of the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and in 2015 was honored by being included in the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry.
A special website - ErnieFord100.com - has been created to chronicle Tennessee Ernie Ford's achievements, in addition to listing a host of events celebrating Bristol's favorite son this February.
Here are just a few of the events on tap.
Through Feb. 28: The Birthplace of Country Music Museum will have several objects, photographs and items of memorabilia on loan from Tennessee Ernie Ford Enterprises or the museum’s collection on display during the entire month of February.
Feb. 12: The Birthplace of Country Music Museum and the Bristol Historical Association will co-host an informal conversation in the museum’s Performance Theater at 7 p.m. between Ernie’s older son, Buck, and long-time Ford family friend Sid Oakley. Ford family home movies will also be screened. There is no charge for admittance, but you must RSVP online at ErnieFord100.com.
Feb. 13: On Ernie’s actual 100th birthday, the Paramount Bristol will host an afternoon of Tennessee Ernie Ford music and films from 2 to 5 p.m. culminating with the serving of birthday cake courtesy of Food City.
For a complete list, visit ErnieFord100.com.