Frizzell, William Orville R. C. [Lefty] (1928–1975)

By: Phillip L. Fry

Type: Biography

Published: January 1, 1995

Updated: July 29, 2020

Lefty Frizzell, country musician, was born William Orville Frizzell in Corsicana, Texas, on March 31, 1928. He was the son of Naamon Orville R. C. and Adie (Cox) Frizzell. His father's occupation was listed as "roustabout" on Lefty's birth certificate, and the family lived in Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas as they followed the oilfields. In the late 1930s Lefty had a featured spot on a children's radio program broadcast from KELD. In his teens he worked country fairs, dances, bars, and clubs throughout North Texas. He also married a girl named Alice. By the time he was sixteen, he was making frequent appearances in the area of Eldorado, Arkansas, and he was only twenty-two when he made his first recordings for Columbia Records in 1950.

By 1951 Frizzell was an established recording star with four songs on Billboard's Top 10 chart. Jimmie Rodgers was an early and lasting influence even though Frizzell did not imitate him. He did, however, record an album in tribute called Lefty Frizzell Sings the Songs of Jimmie Rodgers. After 1952 Frizzell's career hit a slump due to the emergence of rock-and-roll. His lack of hit records during this time did not hurt him, however, on the country-fair and package-show circuit, where he remained a popular attraction well into the 1960s.

In 1953 he moved to Los Angeles and became a regular on Town Hall Party, a radio and TV show produced in Los Angeles. He got on the charts again with the single "Long Black Veil" in 1959. In 1964 Frizzell recorded "Saginaw, Michigan," another Number 1 national hit. His career total of Top 10 songs was thirteen, three of which made Number 1. His most successful recordings include "If You've Got the Money, I've Got the Time," "I Love You in a Thousand Ways," "Always Late," and "I Want to Be With You Always." His unique style and musical phrasing carried Frizzell's popularity into the decades following his death, and his influence can be heard in the inflections of such singers as George Jones and Willie Nelson, whose album To Lefty From Willie (1977) contained covers of Frizzell’s songs as a tribute to the country music star.

Frizzell was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1972. He died on July 19, 1975, in Nashville, Tennessee, and was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Gardens in Goodlettsville, Tennessee. In 1982 he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and in 1999 his song “If You’ve Got the Money, I’ve Got the Time” was honored with a Grammy Hall of Fame Award. He is a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, and in 2003 he was inducted into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame. The Lefty Frizzell Country Museum in Corsicana honors Frizzell’s achievements.

Bill C. Malone, Country Music U.S.A. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1968). Bob Millard, Country Music: 70 years of America's Favorite Music (New York: Harper Perennial, 1993). Irwin Stambler and Grelun Landon, Encyclopedia of Folk, Country and Western Music (New York: St. Martin's, 1969; 2d. ed., 1983). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

  • Music
  • Genres (Country)

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Phillip L. Fry, “Frizzell, William Orville R. C. [Lefty],” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 10, 2022,

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January 1, 1995
July 29, 2020

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