Ten facts about "Whisperin' Bill" Anderson on his 75th birthday
Photo by Dennis Carney
Born on this day in 1937, country singer-songwriter Bill Anderson unexpectedly became a Nashville success when he was just 19. He was studying journalism at the University of Georgia, planning to become a sportswriter, when while working for a local radio station he wrote a tune called "City Lights." Country legend Ray Price picked up the demo and in 1958, made it a hit.
Within two years, Anderson himself hit the Top Ten with a recording of "The Tip of My Fingers." In the next year he joined the Opry, and in the next, he earned his first Number One single, a recitation song called "Mama Sang a Song." But it would be a later song that would earn him the kinda-creepy nickname, "Whisperin' Bill," a moniker a comedian teasingly gave him thanks to his hushed vocal delivery on songs like "Golden Guitar."
Now, 75 years later, we look back at the man's career, which has ne'er been close to quiet.
Shhhhhh Bill don't wake the children... Now before you get too creeped out, consider these other totally cool reasons to become acquainted with "Whisperin' Bill" Anderson. Totally cool, so long as you don't count #2, his Country's Family Reunion series, noting that anytime you catch it on TV, you're basically seeing a bunch of now-dead country stars, post-plastic surgery, waxing philosophic about the good ol' days. Read on:
10. Connie Smith!!!
Let's lead off with Connie Smith, because everyone loves Connie Smith, and because Anderson wrote several of her greatest hits: "Once a Day," "Cincinatti, Ohio," "Nobody But a Fool," "Then and Only Then," and "Tiny Blue Transistor Radio." Her 1967 album, Connie Smith Sings Bill Anderson spawned her Number Four song "Cincinatti, Ohio," while the rest appeared on other records.
9. Grand Ole Opry
Every country singer worth his or her salt is a member of the Opry (though the disbarred Hank Williams may beg to differ); Anderson has been a member since 1961, and continues to appear on its stage on a regular basis. For a time, he also hosted an interview show called Opry Backstage.
8. Bill's songwriting prowess
In 1995, Billboard magazine named four of Anderson's compositions among the top twenty country songs of the previous 35 years: "City Lights," "Once a Day," "Still," and "Mama Sang a Song". In 2002, BMI named him its first country Songwriting Icon, placing him in the company of Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and James Brown. Additionally, Anderson has been voted Songwriter of the Year six times. In 1975, he was inducted to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and in 2001, he joined the Country Music Hall of Fame. While his whisper-voice takes a little getting used to, he's also made it big as a vocalist, scoring some thirteen Top Ten albums and thirty-plus singles.
7. Po' Folks
Did we say "every country singer worth his salt is a member of the Opry?" Oh, well what we meant to say was "every country singer worth his salt pitches for sausage or fried chicken." Like Minnie Pearl, Jimmy Dean and others in his company, Bill Anderson was for a time the spokesman for the casual dining chain inspired by his 1961 hit "Po' Folks," a questionable name for a restaurant, which may explain whyfew of them exist
6. Game show host
When he wasn't shilling for affordable dining options, Anderson was the first country artist to host a network game show, starring on ABC's The Better Sex, and later, hosting TNN's Fandango.
5. Soap star
...Aaaaaand when he wasn't hosting game shows, he was in soap operas, appearing for several years during the 1980s on ABC's One Life to Live.
4. I hope you're living as high on the hog as the pig you turned out to be.
Whoa. Worst insult ever. Anderson published his first book in 1989, an autobiography entitled Whisperin' Bill, but we prefer the title of his second book, a humorous look at the music business published in 1993 called I Hope You're Living as High on the Hog as the Pig You Turned Out to Be. If you can remember all the words, it makes for one hell of a snub.
3. How married are you, Mary Ann?
Another thing we'd love to say to someone, someday, in this case the name of a song from Anderson's 1978 album, Love and Other Sad Stories.
2. Country's Family Reunion
For over a decade, Anderson has been hosting Country's Family Reunion, a series featuring performances and reminiscences by country legends from the 1950s on up, often recorded on the stage of the Ryman Auditorium. Since the series started, over thirty of the stars who have appeared on the show have passed away.
1. Other people's songs
In addition to his own hits, he's written a number of hits for other artists:
"Joey" - Sugarland
"Whiskey Lullaby" - Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss
"Our Hearts are Holding Hands" - Ernest Tubb and Loretta Lynn
"Saginaw, Michigan" - Lefty Frizzell
"Slippin' Away" - Jean Shepard
"The Lord Knows I'm Drinking" - Cal Smith
"Cold Hard Facts of Life" - Porter Wagoner
"I'll Go Down Swinging" - Porter Wagoner
"Face to the Wall" - Faron Young
"Give It Away" - George Strait
"Must You Throw Dirt In My Face" - Louvin Brothers
"I Don't Love You Anymore" - Charlie Louvin
Bonus: Ladies, he's single
At least, his website indicates that "He is not married at the present time." Elbow, elbow. Nudge, nudge.
Happy birthday, Whisperin' Bill!
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