Ernie Ford “This is where it all began”, in Bristol By Tim Buchanan The story of Tennessee Ernie Ford is familiar to most tenured lifelong Bristolians, who revere him as “Bristol’s Native Son”. In fact, mid-century, he was also one of the most recognized names throughout America, pioneering in the recording and television industry. Most would know him for a particular style of music but his success eventually led him to transcend various musical genres and become one of America’s first cross-over artists from country music, gospel, swing, jazz, and yes, rock & roll. He was born Ernest Jennings Ford at 1223 Anderson Street in Bristol, on February 13, 1919. He was educated and took his first job at radio station WOPI in Bristol. He grew up in a home with a deep appreciation for music. His dad would play the fiddle, his older brother Stanley played the piano and banjo, and Ernie played the trombone, and everyone would sing. They would sing for neighbors and friends, in a group called “The Cornfield Canaries”. They would sing around the old piano at home, and sing again at their church, the Anderson Street United Methodist. Ernie learned early that he had a God-given voice and musical pipes that resounded with a deep mellow tone. Ford’s career eventually led him to Knoxville, then to California where he adopted his state as a part of his name, and was also identified as the “ole pea-picker”. He hosted television programs on all three major networks, was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and was the first country music celebrity to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, among many other accomplishments. Standing in front of his humble birthplace on Anderson Street before his death in 1991, he could be heard saying under his breath, “this is where it all began”. He remembered the five peddle piano and the old claw-foot iron tub, and the memories began coming back. He took Tennessee, in particular Bristol, with him where ever he went, and made history. Today, his birthplace on Anderson Street has been preserved by the Bristol Historical Association. It does have that old claw-foot tub and hundreds of personal memorabilia on display, so that his memory will not be erased by time. As Ernie said, “this is where it all began”, in Bristol!

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