Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b Richard Edward Arnold, 15 May 1918, nr Henderson TN; d 8 May 2008, near Nashville) Country singer who became one of the most popular recording artists of all. His father died when he was 11 years old; the family lost their farm and became sharecroppers, and he left high school to help out, later accurately billed as 'The Tennessee Plowboy'. He made his radio debut in 1936 in Jackson TN, then to Memphis and St Louis. He became the lead singer with Pee Wee King's band in 1940 and travelled with the Grand Ole Opry's Camel Caravan '41-2 entertaining servicemen. He was back in Jackson in '42, formed his own band the Tennessee Plowboys, and had an RCA record contract by '44.

His first manager was the infamous Col. Tom Parker, later Elvis Presley's manager; whether Parker had anything to do with Arnold's becoming the first and biggest crossover success from country to MOR crooner, Arnold seems to have known what he was doing. To begin with, unlike many untrained country singers, he sang not through his nose but from his diaphragm. He was influenced by crooners like Bing Crosby, and did not see why he should not sing the kind of romantic ballads that then dominated the pop chart, making him a precurser of the 'countrypolitan' style that began to dominate in the 1960s, leading to the reactions of 'outlaw' music and redneck rock (see the entry for Country Music). 

Arnold's hits began in 1946, in '48 alone including 'Texarkana Baby', 'Any Time' (covered in 1952 for a no. 2 pop hit by Eddie Fisher), 'A Heart Full Of Love' and 'Bouquet Of Roses'. He had 70 top 20 entries in the Billboard country chart '49-69, including 57 consecutive top tens from '46-54; 37 of his hits crossed over to the pop chart. The number one country hits included 'Don't Rob Another Man's Castle' and 'I'm Throwing Rice At The Girl That I Love' '49; 'There's Been A Change In Me', 'Kentucky Waltz' and 'I Want To Play House With You' '51; 'Easy On The Eyes' '52; 'Eddy's Song' '53; 'Cattle Call' '55; 'What's He Doing In My World' and 'Make The World Go Away' '65 (the last was a top ten pop hit: he was heard on the radio alongside the Beatles and the Supremes); 'I Want To Go With You' and 'Somebody Like Me' '66; 'Lonely Again' and 'Turn The World Around' '67; and 'Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye' '68. 

In his book It's A Long Long Way From Chester County '69 Arnold said that his 1954 version of 'I Really Don't Want To Know' (song by Don Robertson) with just two guitars and bass came closest to his own stylistic ideal. He co-wrote many songs; he left the Opry in 1948 because he had already outgrown it. The crossover hits began in 1948 when 'Bouquet Of Roses' made top 40 in the pop chart; other big pop crossovers as well as some of those named above were 'One Kiss Too Many' '49, 'I Wouldn't Know Where To Begin' '56 and 'The Last Word In Lonesome Is Me' '66. Three singles charted in the UK in '66. RCA said in 1947 that 2,700,000 Eddy Arnold records had been sold; by 1970 sales were 60 million; ten years later, 70 million. Of dozens of albums in the '50s-60s, many were top ten hits; in 1967 Billboard named him the no. 1 country-album artist, with five LPs in the chart at once; the following year he was tied with Glen Campbell. He left RCA for MGM in the mid-'70s but came back in '76 and the hits continued.

He was good at showcasing himself on TV: he guested on Milton Berle's Texaco Star Theater, the biggest thing on TV in the early '50s; he hosted the Kraft Music Hall many times, as well as the summer series Country Fair for Kraft; he had his own TV series on NBC, then ABC, then a syndicated show; later he was a guest host on the Johnny Carson show (then a mark of show-biz success in the USA) and co-hosted the Mike Douglas show. He played Carnegie Hall twice and often performed with symphony orchestras. He was among the first country singers to perform in the casino rooms in Las Vegas, appearing at the Sahara as early as 1953, and announcing his retirement from performing in Las Vegas 46 years later, at the Orleans Hotel Casino, the same year that, at the age of 81, he had his last chart hit, a remake of the 'The Cattle Call' (a duet with LeAnn Rimes, then a teenager).

When he was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame '66 there were grumbles; with the perversity endemic in the music business, Arnold was accused of selling out: in fact he made friends for the values in country music. The following year he won the Country Music Association’s first Entertainer of the Year award. He was married to Sally Gayhart Arnold for 66 years (she died on 11 March 2008, aged 87). There were two biographies published in 1997: I’ll Hold You in My Heart by Don Cusic, and Eddy Arnold: Pioneer of the Nashville Sound by Michael Streissguth.