Eddy Arnold: May 15, 1918 – May 8, 2008 posted on May 8th, 2008
Today, the country world has lost a legend: Eddy Arnold, also known as “The Tennessee Plowboy,” died Thursday, May 8 in Franklin, Tennessee, just one week short of his 90th birthday. Richard Edward Arnold was born in Henderson, Tennessee, May 15, 1918. As a child, he lost both his father and the family farm, plunging his childhood into poverty. Though young Eddy left school to help out on the farm, he found time to play the fiddle at local clubs and dances. His first radio appearance, at a station in Jackson, was in 1936.
At the age of 18, Arnold left home to follow a passion for music. Though he initially struggled to gain recognition, he eventually landed a job as the lead male vocalist for the Pee Wee King band. By 1943, he had become a solo star on the Grand Ole Opry and was signed by RCA Victor. Soon, in December of ’44, he had cut his first record and two years later, found stardom with the hit “That’s How Much I Love You.” Under the management of Col. Tom Parker (who later went on to control the career of Elvis Presley), Arnold dominated the country charts. In 1947-48, 13 of the top 20 songs were his.
Throughout his life, Arnold always seemed to know how to take his career in the right direction. He successfully made the transition from radio to television, and in 1955 recorded pop versions of “Cattle Call” and “The Richest Man (In The World)” with the Hugo Winterhalter Orchestra to expand his fanbase beyond country. Along with country crooner Jim Reeves, Arnold continued to develop pop-sounding string arrangements of country songs, a style of music that would soon be known as the Nashville Sound. He was one of country’s first crossover stars.
In 1964, manager Jerry Purcell helped Arnold begin a “second career” which found even greater success and a more diverse audience than the first. The song “Make The World Go Away” had already been recorded by several artists, but Arnold’s version became an international hit. Through the 1960s, Arnold charted 16 straight hits, performed two concerts at Carnegie Hall in New York City, and appeared before the Hollywood crowd at the Coconut Grove. Arnold eventually left the RCA label and recorded four albums for MGM in the 1970s, producing one hit (“If The Whole World Stopped Lovin’”). However, he later returned to RCA to record the final chartbreakers of his career: the album Eddy and the hit sing “Cowboy.” Arnold’s final album (After All These Years) was released in 2005; Arnold was 87.
In his career, Arnold charted 145 songs and 28 number one hits, ranking only second to George Jones. Throughout his lifetime, he sold nearly 85 million albums. His great success seems to be due to a number of factors. From early on, Arnold stood out from other singers in the country world. His outfits never were adorned with quite as much “bling” and he avoided the nasal twang of his contemporaries. He also dropped many of the honky-tonk themes and performed a repertoire of love songs. Through his associations with excellent musicians such as Charles Grean, Bob Moore, Chet Atkins and steel guitarist Roy Wiggins, Arnold’s music was richly instrumented. But truly, the greatest source of Arnold’s success was his voice; throughout his life, Arnold worked hard to perfect his natural ‘instrument,’ developing a sound that was compared to the likes of Bing Crosby and Enrico Caruso.
Arnold was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1966. In the following year, he was voted as the first Country Music Association’s Entertainer Of The Year, and received the Academy of Country Music’s Pioneer Award in 1985.
Eddy performed his final concert on May 16, 1999 (the day after his 81st birthday) at the Hotel Orleans in Las Vegas. On May 8, 2008, he passed away after battling a lengthy illness. His wife, the late Sally Gayhart, preceded him in death in March of 2008 following hip replacement surgery. Arnold is survived by his children, Dickie and Jo Ann as well as two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
And there are the numerous fans – three generations of them, in fact – who have been touched by Arnold’s rich voice, gracious personality and, of course, his timeless love songs.
Eddy Arnold – “Richest Man In All The World”