I enjoy the music of Tennessee Ernie Ford. What’s the significance of the name Tennessee?
—Gene Barnum Smith, Osceola, Wis.
Best known for the 1955 hit single “Sixteen Tons,” Ford, a Tennessean by birth, moved to California and took a disc jockey job after serving in the Army Air Corps during World War II. “During his stint at KXLA in Pasadena in the late 1940s, he did air time as two personalities,” says Ford’s son, Jeffrey. “‘Ernest Ford’ did the news every hour, but from 11 until 3, he was ‘Tennessee Ernie,’ a crazed hillbilly from east Tennessee, playing all the hits and singing along with many of them.” The silly “Tennessee Ernie” nickname stuck when Ford went on to launch his own music career. He had numerous country hits, hosted two network TV series and won a Grammy for one of his gospel albums. He died Oct. 17, 1991, exactly—to the day—36 years after “Sixteen Tons” was released.