2008 Country Music Hall of Fame Inductee: Ernest V. "Pop" Stoneman

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Ernest V. "Pop" Stoneman was born May 25, 1893 in Carroll County, Va.,
near the communities of Iron Ridge, Monorat and Fries to a lay preacher and
his wife. His mother passed away when he was just three years old, leaving
the young Stoneman and his brothers to be raised by his father and three

The family bonded together through music, especially the traditional
songs of the Blue Ridge Mountain inhabitants. Music was an important part
of Stoneman's life, and he was always writing and performing songs. He
learned to play every instrument on hand at family musical gatherings and
became proficient on the harmonica, guitar, mouth harp and clawhammer
banjo. The autoharp, however, was his best known instrument. When he
couldn't afford to buy one out of the Montgomery Ward catalogue, the
industrious Stoneman built his own with parts salvaged from an old piano.

While working as a sweeper at a cotton mill in Fries in 1914, Stoneman
recorded a song on a home recording machine owned by a friend. This
experience would be his first step toward a career in music.

In addition to being a sweeper, Stoneman worked a variety of odd jobs
as a young man, including serving as a farm hand and carpenter, while also
performing music at local dances. In 1918, he married Hattie Frost, who was
also a musician and played both the banjo and fiddle. Through the course of
their marriage, the Stonemans became the parents of 23 children, 13 of whom
survived to adulthood.

After listening to a record by singer Henry Whitter in 1924, Stoneman
was convinced he could deliver a better performance. Going to New York City
that year, he cut two songs on the Okeh label. His first single "The
Sinking of the Titanic," which he also wrote, charted at No. 3 on the
Billboard and Variety charts and remained there for 10 weeks. The song was
one of Country Music's earliest records to sell more than a million copies
and became one of the biggest hits of the 1920s.

During this time producer and future Country Music Hall of Fame member
Ralph Peer guided him through many studio sessions for several record
labels, including Okeh and Victor. Between 1924 and 1929, he recorded more
than 200 songs. In 1926, Stoneman added his wife and adult family members
to his band, giving him a full string band sound and establishing a
precedent of working with his family that would continue throughout his

Stoneman convinced Peer to travel to the Bristol, Tenn. area and
audition talent in 1927. This led to the historic Bristol recording
sessions, arguably the most important event in the history of Country
Music. These sessions featured future Country Music Hall of Fame members
Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family making their debut commercial
recordings, which launched their careers on a national scale. Stoneman and
his wife Hattie were the first artists to be recorded at these sessions.

When the Great Depression hit, Stoneman lost everything. In 1932, he
and his wife moved their children (who were performing with their parents
and in their own groups) to Washington, D.C., where Stoneman worked odd
jobs while suffering extreme poverty. He eventually gained employment at
the Naval Gun Factory in 1941 and bought a lot in Carmody Hills, Md., where
he built a house for his family.

During this time he continued to perform as he worked to revive his
musical career. After years of struggling, the Stoneman Family won a talent
contest in 1947 hosted by local radio and television personality (and
future Country Music Hall of Fame member) Connie B. Gay at Constitution
Hall in Washington, D.C. First prize was six months of appearances on Gay's
Country Music television program, which was broadcast in eight states in
the region.

1956 proved to be the turning point. That year, Stoneman, known by then
as "Pop," won $10,000 on the NBC television quiz show "The Big Surprise"
and the producers allowed him to perform on the broadcast. Around the same
time, the Blue Grass Champs (a band featuring three of his children: Scott,
Donna and Jimmy) won "Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts" on CBS. After that,
folk musician/folklorist Mike Seeger recorded Stoneman, his wife Hattie and
their children for the Folkways label.

Stoneman's retirement from the Naval Gun Factory in the late '50s
allowed him to be fully devoted to the music career he shared with his
children. The Stoneman Family recorded several albums in the early '60s for
the Starday and World Pacific labels. They toured extensively across the
nation, including performances at folk festivals and Disneyland, while
making occasional appearances on network television shows that included
"The Jimmy Dean Show" and "The Hollywood Palace," both on ABC.

The Stoneman Family debuted on the Grand Ole Opry in 1962, and moved to
Nashville in 1965. Soon after they signed with MGM Records and hosted a
syndicated television series, "Those Stonemans." The group achieved their
first Top 40 hit with "Tupelo County Jail" in 1966, followed one year later
by the Top 30 hit "The Five Little Johnson Girls."

In 1967, the Stoneman Family was the first recipient of the CMA Vocal
Group of the Year Award. That same year they also appeared in two movies:
"The Road to Nashville," alongside other Country Music artists and
personalities that included future Country Music Hall of Fame members Bill
Anderson, Mother Maybelle Carter (of the Original Carter Family), Johnny
Cash, Ralph Emery, Waylon Jennings, Webb Pierce, Marty Robbins, Hank Snow,
Porter Wagoner, Kitty Wells and Faron Young; and "Hell on Wheels," again
with Robbins.

In the middle of all this success, Stoneman's health began to fail. He
continued to record and perform through the Spring of 1968, but passed away
on June 14, 1968 at the age of 75.

Just as he would have wanted, his children continued his musical
legacy. His daughter Patsy re-joined the Stoneman Family and the group
carried on, charting a Top 50 hit with "Christopher Robin" in 1968. The
band was nominated for the CMA Instrumental Group of the Year Award that
same year. A few years later, the group recorded several songs for the
soundtrack to "The Country Bear Jamboree" attraction at Walt Disney World
in Orlando, Fla. Throughout the '70s and '80s, the Stoneman Family
underwent several personnel changes before easing into retirement. Group
member (and Stoneman's youngest daughter) Roni Stoneman also became
well-known, as a banjo player and as a regular performer on the successful
syndicated television series "Hee Haw." The remaining Stoneman children
still perform individually and together on occasion. The Stoneman Family
remains the longest continually performing family act in Country Music and
the proud legacy of Ernest V. "Pop" and Hattie Stoneman.

--From The CMA Press Release