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Country Singer Eddy Arnold Dies at 89

Singer and songwriter Eddy Arnold, known as the "ambassador of Country music," died Thursday in Nashville. He was 89. At the height of his career, Arnold was among the top recording artists of all time, with record sales of more than 85 million. VOA's Mary Morningstar tells us more about singer Eddy Arnold's 60-year career.

Known primarily as a Country music star, Eddy Arnold considered himself an all-around performer. He touched the hearts of his Country fans, while proving himself as a smooth, pop balladeer.

Born Richard Edward Arnold near Henderson, Tennessee, the son of sharecroppers, he had to leave school to help on the family farm. As Arnold grew up listening to blues and mountain music, his mother taught him to play guitar and sing. He soon became an entertainer at local dances and gatherings near his home. After making his Jackson, Tennessee radio debut in 1936, Arnold performed in Memphis, and played in nightclubs in St. Louis.

His big break came in 1940, when he landed a job as vocalist with "Pee Wee" King and His Golden West Cowboys. Arnold joined the Grand Ole Opry's Camel Caravan in 1941 and 1942, where he entertained servicemen, and was made a full-fledged member of the Opry in 1943.

As a tribute to his rural heritage, he was billed as the "Tennessee Plowboy." Eddy Arnold was offered a recording contract with RCA Records in 1944, and had his first hit in 1945 with a yodeling tune titled "Cattle Call."

Over the years, Eddy Arnold had 91 tunes in Billboard magazine's Top 10. Twenty-eight of those reached Number One on the Country chart.

When guitarist Chet Atkins became president of RCA's Country division, he guided Arnold toward the "Nashville Sound" of lush, polished orchestral arrangements. His smooth, vocal style seemed a perfect match for the softer Country approach. Arnold once said he wanted his music to be as acceptable to the public as Frank Sinatra's or Tony Bennett's, but he also thought of himself as an artist who helped Country music reach a broader audience.

"I'm a country boy who sings everything," he said. "I'm an entertainer, as opposed to just singing. When you do that kind of performing, you have to sing all kinds of songs. I love Country songs, but I love pretty, popular songs, too. I just like a pretty song. I don't look at a song and say, 'Hey, that's Country, I'm going to sing it because it's Country.' I sing it because I like it."

In 1965, Eddy Arnold's Number One Country hit "Make The World Go Away," crossed over to the pop charts, where it landed in the Top 10. One year later, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. In the 1970s, Eddy Arnold became the first Country star to have his own network television show. Twice in his career, he brought Country music to New York City's famed Carnegie Hall and often performed with symphony orchestras. He explained that playing with a symphony wasn't much different than his usual stage show.

"I do the same thing with them that I do anywhere else," Arnold said. "I don't change my songs or my performance one iota [one bit]. We expand the arrangements so that the symphony can perform with me. And I take in my conductor, my drummer - I make the symphony swing - my guitar player, and we add them to the symphony and we go [swing]."

Eddy Arnold had some chart success in the 1980s, and continued his career after heart surgery in 1990. In 1993, RCA Records released Last Of The Love Song Singers, a double album of classic hits and new material. His 100th album, After All This Time, was released in 2005.

Over the years, Eddy Arnold became a respected businessman, investing in real estate, an auto dealership and a music publishing company. He gave one of the reasons why he had been able to maintain his popularity for more than 60 years.

"Being a record artist, being a performer, I have treated it as a business," he said. "I've never walked on a stage drunk in my life. I've never missed a performance. I try never to be late. I've always wanted to give them [the audience] everything I had when I arrived to perform. I've just treated my business as a business, and I think that has helped me to live."

Although both major political parties tried to encourage Eddy Arnold to run for governor of Tennessee, he once remarked that if he won the election, he wouldn't have time to sing anymore.

Sally Arnold, Eddy's wife of 66 years, died on March 11.