When George Strait was awarded CMA Entertainer of the Year in 2013, he became only the second artist to ever win that honor after having already been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. The first time it happened was in 1967, when Eddy Arnold won the first-ever Entertainer of the Year trophy. Arnold, who scored his first chart record in 1945, had been elected to the Hall of Fame in 1966, while he was still charting Number One records.
Eddy Arnold was born on May 15th, 1918, on a farm near Henderson, Tennessee, in the southwestern part of the state. In his teens, Arnold performed at radio stations from Jackson, Tennessee, to St. Louis, Missouri, before landing in Nashville to sign with RCA Records, and enlisting as his manager Colonel Tom Parker, who later managed Elvis Presley. Beginning in 1945, with “Each Minute Seems a Million Years,” and continuing until 1956, every Arnold record that hit the chart would land in the Top Ten, with 19 of them going all the way to Number One. Among his biggest hits were the now-standards “Anytime,” “Bouquet of Roses” and “I’ll Hold You in My Heart.”
With an astounding 92 Top Ten hits, out of just under 200 singles released in his lifetime, the singer nicknamed the “Tennessee Plowboy” is now only second to George Jones in terms of chart records. But Arnold’s smooth-as-glass delivery of a song not only led him to sell more than 85 million records worldwide; it also helped him feel just as at home on the Grand Ole Opry stage as he was standing alongside TV stars such as Dean Martin in the Sixties.
Also a popular TV star, his record sales would slump a bit with the onset of rock & roll in the mid-Fifties. Like his RCA label mate Jim Reeves, however, Arnold’s hits of the period were often laced with lush string arrangements, giving rise to the “Nashville Sound,” which was also a major component of Patsy Cline’s catalog. In 1955, a decade after he first cut it, he would re-record Tex Owens’ “The Cattle Call,” this time applying those “countrypolitan” touches. Although controversial with country purists, the single became one of Arnold’s biggest, topping the country charts and crossing over into pop’s Top Twenty.
Forty years later, Eddy Arnold joined 13-year-old Texan LeAnn Rimes on a version of “The Cattle Call” for her 1996 Curb debut album, Blue. Although not released as an official single from the Number One LP, the song was reached the Top Twenty on Billboard‘s Country Sales (Now titled Hot Country Songs) chart and quickly became a fan favorite, thanks, perhaps, to the yodeling from both singers throughout. It’s an element that might otherwise have come off as hokey and dated were it not for the pair’s skillful approach. This performance from the Nashville Network series, Prime Time Country earned Arnold and Rimes a well-deserved standing ovation. The song would mark Arnold’s last entry among the Top Twenty. In 2008, he scored his last-ever hit single, “To Life,” giving him a seven-decade reign on the charts.
On May 8th, 2008, one week before his 90th birthday, Arnold died of natural causes at a Nashville-area nursing home. Sally Arnold, his wife of 66 years had died two months earlier.