The Kennedy Center

Roy Acuff


Roy Acuff

"His songs have told their stories--of their disappointments, of their triumphs, of their love, of their faith." With these words President Ronald Reagan in 1982 proclaimed Roy Acuff the troubadour of the American people. And each year, from the 1930s to the 1980s, hundreds of thousands traveled to Tennessee from all corners of the nation to hear Roy Acuff sing the stories of their lives.

Acuff's first ambition in life was to be a professional baseball player, but that dream came to an end when a severe case of sunstroke left him physically debilitated. Two years of recuperation followed, during which time he picked up the fiddle for a distraction. He wasn't half bad at it. At 28, he went on the road with Doctor Hare's Medicine Show for what was to be a year's diversion, but by the end of the season, in 1932, Cuff was in show business for good. With a band, the Crazy Tennesseans, he landed a regular spot on a Knoxville radio show and did some local tours. But at the height of the Depression, Acuff's main goal was "to play a date where the box office receipts would total as much as a hundred dollars."

The first recording came in 1936 with the American Record Company. The song was "The Great Speckled Bird." Two years later, Acuff and the band made an audition appearance on February 5, 1938, at the Grand Ole Opry. It was to be a very important day for that venerated temple of country music. As the mail began pouring in, he became the Opry's first real solo singing star, and he has reigned ever since as the king of country music with hits such as "Wabash Cannonball," "Wreck on the Highway," "Fireball Mail," "Night Train to Memphis," "Low and Lonely," and many, many more.

One of the biggest nights in Acuff's long and distinguished career took place on March 1, 1982, when the enduring star was honored in a two-hour television special. More than 30 of country music's greatest stars turned out to pay tribute to their idol. And from the White House the then president Ronald Reagan declared Roy "the epitome of the American dream."

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