American honky tonk and rockabilly singer Johnny Horton created his name in the industry with his hit saga songs, beginning with his 1959 hit single “The Battle of New Orleans,” but there are only a few facts about him that people know. And with his amazing talent, he undeniably deserves the attention. Let’s scroll through the list to get to know him better – from his early life to his success until his unexpected death.
1. Johnny Horton was born in LA and was raised in East Texas.
Johnny Horton was born as John LaGale Horton on April 30, 1925 in Los Angeles to parents Ella Claudia Robinson and John Loly Horton as the youngest of five. He was raised in Cherokee County in East Texas, but his family often traveled to California as migrant fruit-pickers.
2. He attended different universities but never graduated.
In 1944, he graduated from high school in Gallatin, Texas and then he attended Lon Morris Junior College in Jacksonville through a basketball scholarship. He transferred and continued his studies at Seattle University and then went briefly to Baylor University in Waco. But Horton never graduated from any of these universities.
3. He tried to look for gold in Alaska, then returned to Texas and started a music career.
After his short stint studying geology in Seattle, he went to Alaska to look for gold. It was also during this period that Horton started writing songs. When he returned south to Henderson, Texas, he won a talent contest that encouraged him to pursue a music career in California.
4. Horton was dubbed as ‘The Singing Fisherman.’
From gold in Alaska to the palm trees of Pasadena, Horton moved to get a fresh start in life. And pursuing music proved to be a good choice for him. He first appeared as a guest on Cliffie Stone’s Hometown Jamboree on KXLA-AM, then, later on, became a regular. Then he got his own half-hour show called The Singing Fisherman, which then led to recording opportunities.
5. Horton appeared regularly in Louisiana Hayride and signed with Mercury Records.
From 1948 until 1960, Louisiana Hayride was a radio and TV country music show broadcasted from Shreveport, Louisiana that paved the way for the careers of some of the greatest names in American music, including Horton. After multiple appearances in different shows, he signed with Mercury Records.
6. He had a back-up band called the Rowley Trio.
When Horton first started touring, he had a back-up band called the Rowley Trio, who was composed of Jerry Rowley (fiddle) and his wife Evelyn (piano), and sister Vera (guitars). They were first known as The Singing Fisherman and the Rowley Trio before they changed to Johnny Horton and the Roadrunners.
7. He was an avid fisherman.
Ever since he was young, Horton had always enjoyed fishing (thus the name as well). That was why when his music career didn’t exactly went as planned, and his contract with Mercury expired, he found himself a job at a tackle shop. But it wasn’t long before he went back to singing and signed a one-year contract with Columbia Records.
8. He got his first international hit with “The Battle of New Orleans.”
The song, which was released in 1959, was awarded a Grammy for Best Country and Western Recording in 1960. In 2001, “The Battle of New Orleans” ranked at 333 of the RIAA’s Songs of the Century. He also had follow-up success with “Sink the Bismarck” and “North to Alaska,” which was used as opening credits to the same-titled John Wayne film.
9. He was married twice.
He was first married to Donna Cook, a secretary at the Selznick International Pictures studio. Sadly they ended up divorcing as his tours took a toll on their marriage. In 1953, he married his second wife, Billie Jean Jones, widow of country music singer Hank Williams. They had two daughters, Yanina and Melody, and Horton adopted Billie Jean’s daughter Jeri Lynn.
10. Horton died shortly after his breakthrough in the industry.
Unfortunately, Horton died in a traffic collision in November 1960. He was at the peak of his fame and just (less than) two years after his breakthrough.
Now that you know the facts about Johnny Horton, the next thing is to check out Johnny Horton songs! Take a listen and enjoy.