(Part 2 of 2) David Akeman affectionately known as “Stringbean” was born on June 17, 1915 to a farm family in Annville, Kentucky. Anneville is a small town in Jackson County, Kentucky. Stringbean’s love for music began at an early age. Before he was 8 years old, he built his first instrument out of a shoebox and thread. He most likely developed his early love for music from his father who was a successful banjo player who often played throughout the community. By the time Stringbean was 12, he bought his own banjo and then began playing at local dances and built a reputation as an excellent musician.
While working construction type work building roads and planting trees, he continued playing his banjo with a goal of making it big in the music business. His career began when he entered a contest being judged by singer-guitarist-musical saw player Asa Martin. After impressing Martin, he soon joined Martin’s band.
During a performance, Martin had forgotten David Akeman’s name. So he just introduced Akeman as “String Beans” The nickname was given to him based on his tall lanky frame. Apparently, the name stuck and David Akeman would become known simply as String Bean.
Not only did Stringbean become known for his musical abilities, he also became known for being a funny guy. Stringbean became known as a comedian musician. He also broadcast on WLAP out of Lexington, Kentucky, and played with different groups during the late 1930s. Strange enough, old country music back in the 30s didn’t include much banjo playing. However, Stringbean was able to keep banjo playing relevant in country music.
Interesting enough, Stringbean was also a decent semi pro baseball player. His baseball playing skills became known to Bill Monroe, who had his own semi pro club. Monroe was so impressed with Stringbean that he added Stringbean to his band. He played in Monroe’s band from 1943 until 1945.
After Stringbean left Monroe in 1945, he was replaced by another popular banjo player named Earl Scruggs, who had a different sound than Stringbean. Stringbean would also go on marry his sweetheart Estelle Stanfill in 1945. The following year he would begin working with another banjo player named Louis Marshall Jones, affectionately known as Grandpa Jones. The two men would both be together doing comedy in the television program Hee Haw. Grandpa Jones was a WWII veteran and would become Stringbean’s closest friend. The men also became neighbors in Goodlettsville, Tennessee.
Akeman was one of the Opry's top stars throughout the 1950s. Oddly enough, he didn't begin recording on his own until the early '60s, when he signed to the Starday label. He had hits with "Chewing Gum" and "I Wonder Where Wanda Went," and recorded seven albums between 1961 and 1972.
His first album was titled Old Time Pickin' and Grinnin' with Stringbean which was released in 1961. His music was considered folk stories with a taste of comedy. At the time, Stringbean and his buddy Grandpa Jones became the two biggest old time banjo players of their era.
In 1969, a country style comedy would come to television. The program would be called Hee Haw and was on television from 1969 to 1993. The program lasted for 26 seasons and recorded 655 episodes. Any popular country musician who was anybody appeared on the show.
Unfortunately, Stringbean and his wife Estelle would be tragically murdered on November 10, 1973. After the couple returned home from a performance at the Grand Ole Opry, they walked in on a robbery by two men. Stringbean was shot to death in front of his fireplace and his wife Estelle was shot to death outside their home while trying to flee the robbers.
It would be Grandpa Jones who would find the bodies of his beloved friends the next day. Grandpa Jones had plans to pick Stringbean up the next day for a a planned hunting trip. Grandpa Jones would learn the sad truth when he pulled up to his friend’s cabin at 2308 Baker Road near Ridgetop, Tennessee. According to author Taylor Hagood, Stringbean and Estelle didn’t believe in using banks. Both were alive during the Great Depression when many people who had money in their banks lost it all.
Stringbean was known to keep thousands of dollars in cash laying around his house. Grandpa warned him many times to not keep his money in the house. He told Stringbean that one day, keeping that cash around the house would get him killed. When Grandpa found the bodies of his murdered friends, he knew the day he worried about had finally come. The murders shocked Nashville residents. Author Taylor Hagood would write a book about Strinbean's life and death.
For his book about Stringbean, Hagood interviewed one of the lead investigators in the case, surviving members of Stringbean’s family and fellow musicians who knew Stringbean personally. He then compiled his findings into the book titled Stringbean: The Life and Murder of a Country Legend.
If you enjoy reading. True crime books. then I highly recommend that you purchase a copy of Taylor's book and add it to your collection. The book takes you from String Bean's humble beginnings as a child who loved music to becoming a country music legend. You can get your own copy of Stringbean: The Life and Murder of a Country Legend written by Taylor Hagood on Amazon.com or wherever else you purchase your favorite books. And if you would like to contact Taylor about his book, please visit www.Taylorhagood.com.
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