Ernest Tubb

Honky-tonk singer-songwriter, movie actor, record retailer, a longtime Grand Ole Opry star, and member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, Ernest Dale Tubb was among the most influential and important country performers in history. Throughout his own illustrious fifty-year career he gave numerous younger stars invaluable broadcast and concert exposure.

Youngest of five children in a sharecropper’s family, Ernest Tubb was born on a cotton farm near Crisp, Texas (thirty-five miles southeast of Dallas) and spent his youth farming in different parts of the state. A fan of early movie cowboys such as Buck Jones and Tom Mix, Tubb first heard the recordings of Jimmie Rodgers in 1928 and became a huge fan of him and his work.

Both his first records—which were done very much in the Jimmy Rodgers vein— and the tour proved unsuccessful. Between 1937 and 1940 Tubb worked for radio stations and at day jobs in various Texas cities (Midland, San Angelo, and Corpus Christi). A 1939 tonsillectomy in San Angelo lowered his voice and effectively eliminated the Rodgers yodel, and hence the Rodgers song repertory, so Tubb became a more energetic and effective songwriter. In 1940 he got a second chance with a major record label, as Dave Kapp at Decca agreed to record Tubb during Houston sessions that spring: Of the four songs recorded on April 4, “Blue Eyed Elaine” and its flip side, “I’ll Get Along Somehow,” became his first success (the former was covered by Gene Autry).

In May 1947 Tubb opened the Ernest Tubb Record Shop at 720 Commerce Street in downtown Nashville, the first major all-country record store. Over the next year, The Midnight Jamboree show emerged as an outgrowth of the record store, broadcast there before a live audience immediately after the Grand Ole Opry and showcasing for the most part deserving young hopefuls and their latest record releases. The Midnight Jamboree continues to this day, WSM’s second-longest continuous broadcast.

Beneficiary of Mrs. Rodgers’s help early in his career, Tubb did all he could as a star to help others: carrying artists on tour with him, putting in a good word with Opry management or record producers, showcasing talent on his Midnight Jamboree shows, hiring some for his own Texas Troubadours, and always offering words of advice. The major stars whom Ernest Tubb boosted in these and other ways established his reputation as the industry’s most generous and selfless star. Hank Williams, Hank Snow, Carl Smith, Charlie Walker, Justin Tubb (his first child), Patsy Cline, the Wilburn Brothers, Johnny Cash, Stonewall Jackson, Skeeter Davis, George Hamilton IV, Loretta Lynn, Jack Greene, and Cal Smith were the main performers who owed various degrees of thanks to Ernest Tubb.

No artist toured as much for as long as Ernest Tubb, who worked 150 to 200 shows each year between the early 1960s (when he first turned his Texas Troubadours into a dance band and started playing the nightclub circuit) and 1982, at which time a long-standing battle with emphysema forced him to quit. No artist was better to his fans, and no fans were more loyal to their star: Ernest Tubb had one national fan club with a single president (Norma Winton Barthel) for its entire existence between 1944 and its deactivation in the early 1990s, a few years beyond Tubb’s death in September 1984. – Ronnie Pugh

– Adapted from the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum’s Encyclopedia of Country Music, published by Oxford University Press.

“I’ve never known a man that had such rapport with the audience. He had them in the palm of his hand.”

-Grant Turner, “Dean of the Opry announcers”


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