Legacy: Roy Acuff | EW.com

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Legacy: Roy Acuff

Legacy: Roy Acuff -- The country music legend dies at age 89

Legacy: Roy Acuff

Long before Garth Brooks was an Oklahoma toddler, Roy Acuff was known around the world as the ”King of Country Music.” In 1945, when the Japanese attacked the Marines at Okinawa, a banzai battalion yelled, ”To hell with President Roosevelt, to hell with Babe Ruth, and to hell with Roy Acuff!”

Acuff, who died of heart failure on Nov. 23 at age 89, was the most revered star of the Grand Ole Opry and the personification of its strong rural spirit. Born in Maynardville, Tenn., he debuted at the Opry in 1938. Acuff sang about subjects that helped define country — trains (”Wabash Cannon Ball”), disasters (”Wreck on the Highway”), and religion (”Great Speckle Bird”) — and delivered his songs in a high, emotional tenor that was later imitated by Hank Williams and George Jones.

Never an accomplished musician — he balanced his fiddle bow on the tip of his nose better than he coaxed melodies out of the instrument itself-Acuff enjoyed financial rewards far beyond most country performers, earning $200,000 a year by the early ’40s. He also helped to make Nashville a center of music publishing by cofounding the successful Acuff-Rose Publishing Co. in 1942. Acuff once said, ”I’m a seller, not a singer.” His true talent, actually, was the way he combined the two.

If you could buy only one of his albums, it would have to be The Essential Roy Acuff 1936-1949 (Columbia/Legacy). With songs such as ”Great Speckle Bird,” ”The Prodigal Son,” and ”Wabash Cannon Ball,” it’s a classic of bedrock country music. A