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Tennessee Ernie Ford Collection

The Tennessee Ernie Ford Musical Archives have a home at Virginia Intermont in the J.F. Hicks Library.

Best known for the 1955 pop hit “Sixteen Tons,” Ford is Bristol’s most famous native and is a part of Virginia Intermont’s history. After graduating from high school, he took private music lessons here, and his teacher and her husband helped him break into radio. Ford left radio to study classical music and voice at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and then served in World War II. After the war, he returned to radio, creating the character “Tennessee Ernie” while on air in San Bernardino, Calif. By 1961, he had earned three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame – one for radio, one for television and another for records. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1984 and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1990. He was added posthumously to the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1994.

Ford received an honorary doctorate of fine arts from Virginia Intermont during graduation ceremonies May 4, 1991.

Upon his death in 1991, his music director Lloyd Wells, donated his musical archives to his alma mater, the University of Southern Mississippi.  In 2009, it was decided that Virginia Intermont would be a more appropriate home due to Ford’s connections to the college and Bristol – the “Birthplace of Country Music.”

Virginia Intermont is proud to have the archives and to make them available for research and viewing by academic professionals, historians and music lovers. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please contact Library Director Jon Tallman at (276) 466-7959 or jontallman@vic.edu.