One of the most enjoyable shows I remember from when I was a kid was The Ford Show, a variety show hosted by Tennessee Ernie Ford on NBC from 1956 to 1961. (Interestingly, the show's name came not from the host, but from the show's sponsor.) Born Ernest Jennings Ford in Bristol, Tennessee in 1919, his folksy persona and baritone/bass voice combined to make him a star in country, gospel, and pop music. Ford's personal life was less idyllic than his persona revealed. A troubled alcoholic, he continued drinking even after being told he had damaged his liver. Ford died in 1991, 364 days after he had been inducted in the Country Music Hall of Fame. Among other honors, he was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom and three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Posthumously, he was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.
The Ford show was noted for ending each episode with a gospel song -- something unheard of for the time but Ford had insisted and the network allowed him to do it. Ford's "hillbilly" style, combined with his signature phrase "Bless your pea-pickin' heart!", made him known to millions as The Ol' Pea-Picker.
Here he is, singing one of his best-known tunes, a cover of Merle Travis's Sixteen Tons:
And a moving version of the classic Shenandoah:
Another Merle Travis classic, Dark as a Dungeon:
And here's Ernie with Johnny Cash:
And the Everley Brothers:
And the Ol' Pea-Picker does Shotgun Boogie:
And we can't forget his gospel work. He he is with the great Odetta:
And there will be Peace in the Valley:
And Just a Little Talk with Jesus:
And this should be familiar to everyone:
One of Tennessee Ernie Ford's most popular and frequent guests was the young country singer Mollie Bee. Here they are with Merle Travis:
I could go on and on with his music. Bless your little pea-pickin' hearts!
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