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Volume 24, Number 6 — June 2017

ETSU's Dr. Ted Olson produces box set of Tennessee Ernie Ford recordings

June 22, 2015

JOHNSON CITY, TN — Dr. Ted Olson, an East Tennessee State University faculty member in Appalachian Studies, served as producer and liner notes author for a Bear Family Records boxed set containing all the secular-themed studio recordings of Bristol-born Tennessee Ernie Ford between 1949 and 1960.

This boxed set, titled "Tennessee Ernie Ford, 1949-1960: Portrait of an American Singer," will be a cornerstone of several celebrations of Ford's legacy to be held in Bristol and around the nation in 2015 — the 60th anniversary of Ford's hit single "Sixteen Tons."

A major recording star, Ford (1919-1991) sold an estimated 90 million albums worldwide, and charted 17 Top 10 country singles and four Top 10 pop singles over a 35-year recording career. He was inducted into both the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, and he played significant-and pioneering-roles in radio and television broadcasting.

According to Olson, "Ford's voice possessed considerable color and contrast. He could draw from both trained and instinctive approaches to singing, and he was influenced in more or less equal measure by classical, pop and folk vocal styles. Few singers of Ford's generation enjoyed as wide a range of repertoire."

Launching his recording career in the late 1940s within the country and western field, Ford scored a dozen top 20 country chart hits through the end of 1951. Within that same period, he placed half a dozen top 20 hits on the pop singles chart, demonstrating to his label, Capitol Records, and to disk jockeys and fans across the U.S. that there was a broad appeal for his music.

In the early months of 1955, Ford's version of "The Ballad of Davy Crockett" was a top five hit on the country chart as well as on the pop chart, foreshadowing Ford's ultimate crossover achievement.

Toward the end of that same year, his smash single "Sixteen Tons" topped both charts simultaneously, and rose to #1 in the United Kingdom. Selling over four million copies and proving to be one of the most influential singles of the 1950s, that single inspired many among the next generation in the U.S. and the U.K.-including some future superstars-to pursue careers in music. Ford's signature song, "Sixteen Tons," was eventually inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and into the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry.

Olson served as co-producer and co-writer of the liner notes with British scholar Tony Russell, for two previous Bear Family Records' boxed sets: "The Johnson City Sessions 1928-1929: Can You Sing or Play Old-Time Music?" and "The Bristol Sessions, 1927-1929: The Big Bang of Country Music."

After receiving worldwide positive reviews and the Certificate of Merit for Best Historical Research in Country Music from the Association for Recorded Sound Collections, the Johnson City Sessions set received the Jack Spadaro Documentary Award for Best Documentary on Appalachia from the Appalachian Studies Association. The Bristol Sessions set was nominated for two Grammy Awards.

In addition, Olson produced and wrote liner notes for a forthcoming CD and book titled, "Blind Alfred Reed: Appalachian Visionary," to be issued by Dust-to-Digital in 2015. Reed, a West Virginia native and 2007 inductee into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame, recorded at the 1927 Bristol Sessions, but his critically praised recordings have been overshadowed by those by two other Bristol Sessions acts, The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers.

Among Olson's earlier works are two CDs he co-produced for the Great Smoky Mountains Association: the Grammy Award nominee "Old-Time Smoky Mountain Music" and "Carroll Best and the White Oak String Band," both non-profit releases intended to benefit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
For further information, contact Olson at 423-439-4379 or olson@etsu.edu.