|Born||in Annville, Kentucky, USA|
|Died||in Ridgetop, Tennessee, USA (murdered by burglars)|
|Birth Name||Dave Akeman|
|Height||6' 5" (1.96 m)|
Mini Bio (1)
David Akeman, the country musician known as "Stringbean," was a legend at the Grand Ole Opry and one of the stars of television's Hee Haw (1969). Along with his long-time partner and Hee Haw (1969) co-star Grandpa Jones, he was one of the premier traditional-style banjo players in country music. Though Stringbean primarily performed as either a sideman or as part of a comedy duet, he began recording his own records in the 1960s and had achieved superstar status by the time the decade of the '60s closed.
Born on June 17, 1915, to a farm family in Annville in Kentucky's Jackson County, it was natural for Akeman to become a musical prodigy as his family loved and lived music. His father was a banjoist who played at local dances, but more importantly, Annville was full of talented musicians possessed of considerable skill, all of whom, including his father, helped the young David him master the instrument. When he was seven years old, David Akeman reputedly crafted his first banjo out of a shoe box strung with thread. Five years later, he bartered a pair of chickens for a real banjo, with which he began playing gigs at local dances, earning himself a reputation as a virtuoso on the instrument, which was an adaptation of a gourd-based string instrument introduced to America in pre-colonial times by African slaves. The banjo, as adapted and played by white folk, became one of the central instruments of country music before the 20th century.
During the Depression, when money was scarce and jobs were hard to come by, Akeman joined the Civilian Conservation Corps, where he was engaged in road-building and tree-planting. As a musician, he was discovered by country singer-guitarist Asa Martin, who was the judge at a talent contest Akeman had entered. Martin awarded the contest to Akeman, who thereupon joined Martin's band. It was Martin who gave Akeman his moniker, when during one performance, he forgot the banjoist's name and introduced him as "String Beans," a reference to his lanky, 6'5" physique. The name stuck.
Akeman went from a sideman who only played banjo to a leading performer, doubling as a singer and engaging in comic repartee. His comedic shtick became popular and he began dividing his time between musicianship and comedy. He also played some semi-pro baseball player in sandlots throughout the South, which he toured with various bands throughout 1930s. Akeman also was broadcast over the radio. "Stringbeans" and his future partner Grandpa Jones were two of the relatively few banjo players in mainstream country music during the '30s, as the instrument by that time had virtually disappeared from the repertoire.
It was Stringbean's association with country legend Bill Monroe that made his reputation. Monroe, who fielded his own semi-pro baseball team, discovered Stringbean on the playing field, and the banjo player became a member of Monroe's band in 1943. Stringbean stayed with the band for two years as Monroe's first banjo player, playing in the traditional claw-hammer style, as well as engaging in two-finger picking. It was with Bill Monroe who he first appeared on records. In this period, Akeman had additional gigs, teaming up with Willie Egbert Westbrook as "String Beans and Cousin Wilbur," a comedy duo that worked on the same bills with Monroe's band. He also played on one recording session as a Blue Grass Boy, laying down eight tracks in February 1945.
Stringbeans left Monroe's band in the fall and was replaced by another legendary banjo player, the great Earl Scruggs, who had a radically different technique than the old-style favored by Akeman and Grandpa Jones. Stringbean, who married Estelle Stanfill in 1945, first began working with Grandpa Jones, another comic-banjo player, in 1946. He later teamed up with Lew Childre to create a comedy-musical duo act in the late 1940s, and they became regulars at the Grand Old Opry. At the Opry, Akeman became a protégé of Uncle Dave Macon, a fellow banjo-player/comic who was well-loved by Opry audiences. After Macon's death in 1952, Stringbean as he now was known, became one of the Opry's biggest stars.
By the early 1960s, Earl Scruggs had become the most influential and popular banjo player in country music, and it was at this time that Stringbean first decided to record on his own, signing with the Starday label. There was still an audience for his traditional style of banjo playing and his admixture of comedy and song, best exemplified by the title of his first album: "Old Time Pickin' and Grinnin' with Stringbean," which was released in 1961. The album featured folk songs, particularly humorous ditties about animals, and jokes and tall tales. He would release a total of seven albums all together from the early 60s through 1972, and had country hits with "Chewing Gum" and "I Wonder Where Wanda Went."
In 1969, Stringbean and Grandpa Jones became part of the original cast of the country-flavored TV show _"Hee Haw" (1979)_ which made him famous outside of the country music niche. Just like at the Grand Old Opry, Stringbean became one of the most beloved of the show's stars.
Dave Akeman lived an extremely modest, simple life. Remembering the hard times of the Depression, Stringbean and his wife lived in a tiny cabin near Ridgetop, Tennessee, approximately 20 miles outside of Nashville, near his friend Grandpa Jones. Their only luxury was a Cadillac.
Stringbean did not trust banks due to the multiple bank failures of the Hoover years, and he kept thousands of dollars on his person, which he was known to flash around. It was rumored in nearby Nashville that Stringbean had a fortune in cash stashed at his house. It was these rumors that led two cousins, John and Marvin Brown, on the night of November 10, 1973, to break into the Akemans' cabin.
Returning from a performance at the Grand Old Opry, the burglars shot Stringbean dead after he entered his house, then ran down and killed Estelle. By immediately murdering Stringbean, they had no chance to question him on the whereabouts of any hidden monies, which they were unable to find. They managed to steal some firearms and a chainsaw, all at the cost of two lives. Stringbean and Estelle's neighbor Grandpa Jones discovered his slain friends the next morning, a Sunday.
The murders of the beloved Stringbean and his wife shocked the Nashville music community. Some of the less ethical members of the press tried to implicate Grandpa Jones in the slayings, intimating that he had been having an affair with Estelle. The charges were preposterous and hurtful towards Jones, who had lost his dear friends, but they helped sell papers.
Police work finally led to the capture of John and Marvin Brown. During the trial, Grandpa Jones identified one of the firearms the cousins had stolen from the Akeman cabin as one he had given Stringbean as a gift. The cousins, it was revealed, had ransacked the cabin and ambushed Stringbean and Estelle when they returned home. They were convicted of the double homicide and burglary and sentenced to life-in prison. (Ironically, a decomposed wad of about $20,000 in cash was discovered behind a brick in the cabin's chimney nearly a quarter century later, in 1996.)
David "Stringbean" Akeman and his wife Estelle were buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Gardens in Goodlettsville, Tennessee. The Stringbean Memorial Bluegrass Festival is held annually in Jackson County, Kentucky. The festival raises funds for Stringbean Memorial, Inc., a non-profit corporation that organizes, plans and hosts traditional music and heritage festivals in Jackson County to honor the memory of Stringbean and to preserve and promote traditional bluegrass and mountain music as well as support musical education and opportunities for area youth.
- IMDb Mini Biography By: Jon C. Hopwood
|Estelle Stanfill||(1945 - 10 November 1973) ( his death)|