Ernest Tubb, country singer and bandleader, was born in Crisp, Texas, on February 9, 1914. He was the son of Calvin and Ellen Tubb. He was reared by other relatives in Ellis County. As a teenager, Tubb took a job in San Antonio as a soda jerk, learned the guitar on his own, and landed an unpaid job at KONO radio station. During this time he was befriended by Carrie Rodgers, widow of Jimmie Rodgers, a major influence on Tubb's singing. She helped Tubb obtain a recording contract with RCA Victor in 1936. In 1940 Tubb signed with Decca Records and began commercially promoting himself and his records through association with a flour company.
Known as the "Gold Chain Troubador," Tubb was earning only $75 a week in salary and not selling many records. He was almost ready to leave the music scene and take a job in the defense industry when he recorded "Walking the Floor Over You," a million-record seller that paved the way to Hollywood. He made several movies, joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1943, and remained a regular performer there for over forty years. With his band, the Texas Troubadors, Tubb began a performance schedule that eventually took a serious toll on his health and his personal life as well. He was married to Lois Elaine Cook on May 26, 1934; they had three children. They divorced in 1948, a year when Tubb had three songs on the Billboard Top 10 charts. By 1949 the hits numbered seven: "Blue Christmas," "Don't Rob Another Man's Castle," "Have You Ever Been Lonely," "I'm Bitin' My Fingernails and Thinking of You," "Slipping Around," "Tennessee Border No. 2," and "Warm Red Wine." Tubb married Olene Adams Carter ("My Tennessee Baby") in June 1949. They had five children.
During his career Ernest Tubb recorded more than 250 songs and sold 30 million records. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1965 and the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970. He owned a record store in Nashville and was known for his generosity to unknown artists who later became famous, including Hank Williams, Hank Snow, and Loretta Lynn. As a singer, Tubb was unique but not necessarily great, perhaps because of his change in voice from the tenor yodels of Jimmie Rodgers to a granite baritone not always on key. "I don't care whether I hit the right note or not. I'm not looking for perfection of delivery—thousands of singers have that. I'm looking for individuality," he told an interviewer. A Tubb concert or dance in his later years would include "Waltz Across Texas," "There's a Little Bit of Texas," "Filipino Baby," "Let's Turn Back the Years," "Little Ole Band of Gold," and "Thanks (Thanks a Lot)." He traveled in a customized bus and always ended a performance by flipping his insignia, THANKS, on the back side of his guitar. His fan club was in attendance in most Texas cities, and Tubb knew many families personally. "To me, country music is from your heart and soul. It's your LIFE," he said in 1980.
He was often credited with the electric amplification of instruments, which he was not the first to try, but when he did go electric he soon personified the folksy and rowdy music, known as Texas honky-tonk, that was beginning to sell records and attract people to dance halls in the 1940s. He seldom varied from a basic ensemble for his touring band, which always featured guitars. "Keep it low to the ground," he would tell the band, and he delivered all the vocals. He never appeared in public without a tailored Western suit and ten-gallon hat, a feature that helped erase "hillbilly" from "country and western." He has been credited as being a major influence to both his musical peers and younger players. He played himself in the 1980 movie Coal Miner's Daughter.
Tubb died on September 6, 1984, in Nashville, and was buried in Hermitage Memorial Gardens. He has continued to receive accolades as a country legend. "Walking the Floor Over You" received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1998. In 1999 Tubb was inducted into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame, and in 2003 CMT ranked him number twenty-one among its forty "Greatest Men of Country Music." He is also a member of the West Texas Music Hall of Fame. His Ernest Tubb Record Shop in Nashville has remained a Mecca for both stars and fans of country music.
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Austin American–Statesman, September 7, 1984. Bill C. Malone, Country Music U.S.A. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1968). 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.
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Phillip L. Fry,
“Tubb, Ernest Dale,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed August 14, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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