Burl Ives

  • Folk and country singer, banjo and guitar player, born in 1909 from Hunt City Illinois. Died in 1995 of mouth cancer.
  • Ives traveled the country in the 1930s, singing and playing the banjo at various venues and events. By the late 30s, he had performed on Broadway and on radio programs. In 1940, he was given a radio show of his own, which he named The Wayfaring Stranger, after the 19th century folk song of the same name. Soon, Ives himself used the title as his moniker. His earliest album, released in 1941, was titled Okeh Presents The Wayfaring Stranger, and he used it for 5 more albums released between 1944 and 1955.
  • By 1948, he had his first charting single, Blue Tail Fly, sung with The Andrews Sisters. Between 1948 and 1957, he had 7 songs chart on the Billboard Hot 100, with his version of the traditional folk song On Top of Old Smoky reaching #10 in 1951. Another traditional song he recorded, Lavender Blue, was used in the film So Dear To My Heart, where it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song.
  • Ives moved to more of a country music style in the 60s. His highest charting single was A Little Bitty Tear in 1961 – it reached #2 on the country charts, #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart, and #9 on the Hot 100. In 1962, he won his only Grammy award, for Best Country & Western Recording, for Funny Way of Laughin’. 
  • He performed in nearly 30 films in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. He won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in the 1958 film The Big Country. He is best known for his voice-role of Sam the Snowman in the classic television special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in 1964. Watch the show – Ives obviously was the model for Sam, complete with goatee and girth. In the show, Ives sang 3 songs – Silver and Gold, A Holly Jolly Christmas, and the title track. All 3 were released as singles, with A Holly Jolly Christmas peaking at #21 on the Hot 100.
  • Ives had a long career in radio, films, television, theater, writing and music. He released over 100 albums – compilations, folk music, country music, children’s music, Christmas music, and gospel music. His film career spanned over 40 years. He frequently performed benefit concerts, for causes ranging from American Indians, to Boy Scouts, to environmental causes, to children’s medicine.
  • Here’s a clip of Ives singing A Little Bitty Tear, followed by several other old folk songs, sung with Johnny Cash. Cash credits Ives as one of the first artists that he learned to sing from, listening to old Burl Ives records.

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