Stringbean: The Life and Murder of a Country Music Legend
Many bluegrass fans and scholars mark the beginning of bluegrass music, as we know it today, from the date in late 1945 when Earl Scruggs joined Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys. However, the band had been active on the Grand Ole Opry, in various configurations, since 1939. During those first six years, Monroe was experimenting with his sound and instrumentation. Part of that experimentation included bringing a banjo into the band and the first banjo player to join Monroe was David “Stringbean” Akeman (1926-1975). So, although Stringbean was a Blue Grass Boy prior to Scruggs, he is an important part of the history of bluegrass music because he introduced the banjo to Monroe’s sound. Although Akeman’s two-finger and clawhammer styles didn’t provide the excitement and drive of Scrugg’s three-finger approach, it was a stepping stone.
In this new book, Taylor Hagood provides a detailed and thorough account of Stringbean’s life and tragic death. Stringbean, a banjo player and entertainer in the vein of his hero and mentor Uncle Dave Macon, was an extremely popular performer on the Grand Ole Opry for over thirty years. He was also a regular on the popular television show Hee Haw.
In the pages of this book you will learn that Stringbean—like his best friend, hunting and fishing buddy, and neighbor Grandpa Jones—stayed true to his music and his musical persona through all of the many changes that came to pass in the world of country music between the 1930s and 1970s. Hagood does an excellent job of presenting Stringbean’s career through the backdrop of these changes. It is as much a history of country music, and country music personalities, during this era as it is a biography of David Akeman, especially as it pertains to the music presented on the Grand Ole Opry during those years.
All totaled, this book is about 250 pages in length. Subtracting the acknowledgements, endnotes, bibliography, and index, Stringbean’s story is told in 196 pages (with eight pages of photos in the middle). Of that 196 pages, sixty pages are dedicated to the story of the murder of Stringbean and his wife, Estelle, including the trail and conviction of the murderers.
During the mid-1970s the murder of Stringbean, the beloved member of the Grand Ole Opry and Hee Haw, stunned and shocked the country music world. This story about the life of the man and the details of his life’s tragic end is expertly covered in this new book. To me, the measure of a great biography is the degree to which I feel I know the subject and his or her story after reading it. After reading this book, I feel as though I got to know David “Stringbean” Akeman, and his story, very well. Highly recommended!
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Great write-up, Dan. Made me want to read the book even more.