July 4

Banjo Player & Comedian David Akeman, His Music and Legacy

One of the most notable banjoists and comedians in country music history is Stringbean. He was known for his performances at the Grand Ole Opry and his comic acts at Hee Haw, a hit television show. Apart from this, country music fans may have already forgotten  about him. Let us know more about the legendary Stringbean and what he contributed to the entertainment industry.

Banjo Player & Comedian David Akeman, His Music and Legacy 1
David Akeman |Photo Credits: tennessean.com

Humble Beginnings

Born in Annville located in Jackson County, Kentucky, David Akeman, more popularly known as Stringbean (or String Bean), first saw the light of the world on June 17, 1916. As early as his childhood days, Akeman started playing the banjo thanks to his father, James Akeman, who taught him every day. At the age of 12, he obtained his first real banjo in exchange for a  pair of prize bantam chickens. His music career began as early as his teenage years playing at local dances. With this, he immediately gained a reputation as a musician. However, the money that he was getting from his performances was not enough to live on. Hence, he decided to join the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps, building roads and planting trees.

Later, he took part in a contest in which American old-time musician, singer and guitarist Asa Martin was a judge. Akeman eventually won the said competition and was later invited by Martin to join his band. In one occasion, Martin forgot Akeman’s name when he introduced him to the crowd. Martin called him “Stringbean” because of his tall, thin physique. This nickname would later be used by Akeman for the rest of his life.

Music Career

Originally, Akeman was only a musician, playing the banjo in concerts and in other performances. However, there were times that other performers failed to show up. As requested, he would then step up and was used as a singer and a comedian. This led to a wonderful career. He then pursued both music and comedy, which eventually boosted his career and became his trademark all his life.

In the 1940s, Akeman met baseball player and bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe. For two years, 1943-1945, he played the banjo for Monroe’s band. His most notable performance was the recording of “Goodbye Old Pal.” In addition, he collaborated with Willie Egbert Westbrook. Their tandem was called String Beans and Cousin Wilbur. It was a comedy duo who appeared on the same bill as Monroe’s band.

The year 1945 changed his life. Akeman married her would-be longtime wife, Estelle Stanfill. In the same year, he and Westbrook teamed up again and formed a comedy duet outside of Monroe’s band. Later, they were invited and performed on the Grand Ole Opry. It was the time when he experienced the peak of his stardom.

The following year, he worked with another old-time banjo player and comedian, Grandpa Jones. Together, they performed at the Opry until joining the television series, Hee Haw.

Banjo Player & Comedian David Akeman, His Music and Legacy 2
Stringbean (R) appearing on Hee Haw |Photo Credits: pinterest.com.au

The Death of an Icon

David Akeman and wife Estelle Stanfill lived a frugal and simple life in their house at the city of Ridgetop in Tennessee. Failures of the Depression-era bank caused Akeman not to trust banks with his money. Rumors around Nashville said he kept his money on hand.

On November 10, 1973, he and his wife returned home after a performance at the Grand Ole Opry. In an immediate turn of events, they were shot dead shortly after their arrival. They were murdered at their house. The following morning, their neighbor, Grandpa Jones, found them dead.

A series of police investigation deemed two 23-year-olds as the culprit of the incident. Cousins John A. Brown and Marvin Douglas Brown were convicted of murder and burglary. They had ransacked the couple’s house and killed both of them. Akeman died at the age of 58.

Although Akeman met an unprecedented death, he definitely lived a short but worthwhile life. He was more than a banjoist and a comedian, rather, he was a man who amplified the spirit of traditional country music that will live on forever.

WATCH: David “Stringbean” Akeman performs “It’s Mighty Dark to Travel” live in 1947.

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birthday, David Akeman

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