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Country Legend Eddy Arnold


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Country Legend Eddy Arnold

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Country Legend Eddy Arnold

NASHVILLE, Tennessee -- Eddy Arnold, the most successful country hit maker of all time, who played a crucial role in transforming what had long been considered "hillbilly music" from a rural phenomenon into music with broad-based national appeal, died Thursday, May 8. He was 89, a week short of his 90th birthday.

Arnold, an elegant, pop-influenced singer, died at a long-term care facility near Nashville, family spokesman and Arnold biographer, Belmont University Professor Don Cusic said. His wife of 66 years, Sally, had died in March and Arnold had broken his hip the same month in a fall at his home.

Arnold's mellow baritone on songs like "Make the World Go Away" -- a crossover hit on the pop charts in 1965 -- made him one of the most successful country singers in history. Arnold, legendary country balladeer of such hits as "Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye" and "After Loving You."

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Eddy Arnold

He became a pioneer of "The Nashville Sound," also called "countrypolitan," a mixture of country and pop styles. He was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1966. The following year, he was the first person to receive the entertainer of the year award from the Country Music Association.

The reference book, "Top Country Singles 1944-1993," by Joel Whitburn, ranked Arnold the No. 1 country singer in terms of overall success on the Billboard country charts. It lists his first No. 1 hit as "It's a Sin," 1947, and for the following year ranks his "Bouquet of Roses" as the biggest hit of the entire year.

Other hits included "Cattle Call," "The Last Word in Lonesome Is Me," "Anytime," "What's He Doing in My World?" "I Want to Go With You," "Somebody Like Me," "Lonely Again" and "Turn the World Around."

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Eddy Arnold with The Jordanaires in 1955

Most of his hits were done in association with famed guitarist Chet Atkins, the producer on most of the recording sessions. The late Dinah Shore once described his voice as like "warm butter and syrup being poured over wonderful buttermilk pancakes."

Reflecting on his career, he said he never copied anyone. "I really had an idea about how I wanted to sing from the very beginning," he said. He revitalized his career in the 1960s by adding strings, a controversial move for a country artist back then.

"I got to thinking, if I just took the same kind of songs I'd been singing and added violins to them, I'd have a new sound. They cussed me, but the disc jockeys grabbed it. . . . The artists began to say, 'Aww, he's left us.' Then within a year, they were doing it!"

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Eddy Arnold

Arnold was born Richard Edward Arnold on May 15, 1918, grew up working on his parents' farm near Henderson, Tennessee, only to see it repossessed during the Depression, after which the family became sharecroppers on what had been their own land. His father died when Eddy was 11, so the boy started singing at church picnics and other events, sometimes earning $1 a gig.

"His childhood made such an impression on him," Country Hall of Fame director Young said. "I would say he was driven, probably until his last breath, because he was still worried that some day he might wake up penniless." When he turned 18, he left home to try to make his mark in the music world.

Arnold made his first radio appearance in 1936. He continued to sing on regional Tennessee radio stations in Jackson and Memphis as well as radio stations in St. Louis, Missouri before becoming nationally known. Early in his career, his manager was Col. Tom Parker, who later became Elvis Presley's manager.

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Eddy Arnold with Elvis Presley

Arnold's formative musical years included early struggles to gain recognition until he landed a job as the lead male vocalist for the Pee Wee King band. By 1943, Arnold had become a solo star on the Grand Ole Opry. He was then signed by RCA Victor.

In December of 1944, he cut his first record. Although all of his early records sold well, his initial big hit did not come until 1946 with "That's How Much I Love You." In common with many other country and western singers of the time, he had a folksy nickname: "The Tennessee Plowboy."

His image was always that of a modest, clean-cut country boy. "You cannot satisfy all the people," he once said. "They have an image of me. Some people think I'm Billy Graham's half brother, but I'm not. I want people to get this hero thing off their mind and just let me be me."

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Eddy Arnold

Arnold's longevity was exceptional. For more than 50 years, he transcended changing musical tastes. His later concerts attracted three generations of fans. To some he also served as a role model; in a field often awash with alcohol and drugs, he remained temperate. And Arnold acted as a mentor for countless younger singers.

"He's given me a lot of advice," singer Josh Turner wrote, "but the one thing that stuck out in my mind when it came to making music was when he told me, 'You go and record some love songs, because that's what people relate to.' He said, 'The relationship between a woman and a man relates to people better than anything else.'"

Where other country stars flashed their success with bejeweled cowboy outfits, silver-dollar-covered luxury cars and guitar-shaped swimming pools, Arnold remained the low-key country gentleman, quietly parlaying the money from his hit records into lucrative real estate investments in and around Nashville.

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Eddy Arnold

"He was often called the wealthiest man in Nashville," Streissguth said. But you'd never know it from outward appearances. Robert Hilburn, The Times' former pop music critic, offered similar memories of Arnold in a statement.

"He was a humble guy who didn't seem to care all that much about the razzle-dazzle surrounding the music business," Hilburn recalled. "He was just into going onstage (or into the studio) and singing his songs and then enjoying his hobbies and private life. He ranks with Johnny Cash as one of the great ambassadors of country music."

Arnold is survived by his son, Richard Edward Arnold Jr., and daughter, Jo Ann Pollard, as well as two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Visitation will take place Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning at the Country Hall of Fame, followed Wednesday afternoon by a funeral at the Ryman Auditorium, the long-time home of the Grand Ole Opry.

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