First things first, let's get this out of the way right here at the start.

No, Tennessee was not his real first name.

Ernest Jennings Ford was born in Bristol, Tennessee February 13, 1919.  Following his service in World War II, he got a radio disc jockey job and created the character of 'Tennessee Ernie', an exaggerated Hillbilly character, to differentiate himself from the other DJ's.

With the beginning of his musical career, Ford released nearly 50 country music singles through the first half of the 1950's, many of which charted, but few of which are remembered.  But then 1956 happened.

'Sixteen Tons' was first recorded by Merle Travis in 1946, but it was Ford's 1956 version that became a smash hit and remains one of the biggest songs of the entire decade of the 1950's.

Just how big was it?

Well, it spent 10 weeks at #1 on the Country charts and 8 weeks at #1 on the Pop charts.  It is Tennessee Ernie Ford's signature song.

From 1956 to 1960, Ford hosted his own show on NBC television called 'The Ford Show'.  An interesting trivia fact: 'The Ford Show' was not named for the singer.  Nope, it was named for the advertiser of the program.

Of course, Tennessee Ernie is probably even better known in christian music and gospel music circles.  To hear his booming beautiful voice sing 'How Great Thou Art' is to hear the christian classic at it's very best.

So whatever happened to Tennessee Ernie Ford?

Well, unknown to many of his millions of fans, Ernie battled alcoholism for many years of his adult life.  After suffering liver failure, Ernie Ford passed away at the age of 72 on October 17, 1991.

It was exactly 36 years to the day that 'Sixteen Tons' was released.