Happy Birthday greetings go today to Grand Ole Opry star Stonewall Jackson, who on Sunday November 6 will be celebrating his 79th birthday. And along with the birthday wishes, congratulations also go to Stonewall, who tonight will be celebrating his 55th year as a member of the Grand Ole Opry.
From the Country Music Encyclopedia, I offer to you this biography of Stonewall:
"Stonewall Jackson is known as a longtime star of the Grand Ole Opry and as a staunchly hard country singer. Jackson's father, Waymond, claiming to be a descendant, had planned to name his third son after Confederate general Thomas "Stonewall". The elder Jackson, a railroad engineer, became injured in a work-related accident and died shortly before the birth of young Stonewall. Nearly destitute, his mother took her family and hitchhiked to Georgia to work on a brother-in-law's farm. After she remarried, Stonewall suffered years of physical abuse at the hands of his stepfather. At fifteen Jackson ran away to enlist in the army, lying about his age. The truth surfaced and he was discharged. At seventeen he enlisted in the navy for four years. In 1954 he returned to Georgia to work as a sharecropper, saving some $350 of his pay to finance a move to Nashville.
His career got off to a storybook start. Two days after his twenty-fourth birthday, Jackson drove his gray 1955 Chevrolet pickup into Nashville and walked uninvited that day into the offices of Acuff-Rose Publications. His singing and songwriting impressed Wesley Rose enough that Rose helped Jackson gain an audition the following day for the Opry's George D. Hay and W. D. Kilpatrick, who gave him a contract without the benefit of a label or hit record. On his third day in Nashville, November 9, 1956, he appeared on the Opry's Friday Night Frolics program and became a member of the cast.
Ernest Tubb, who met Jackson onstage at that first Friday night broadcast, took the young singer under his wing, buying his first stage clothes, giving him the opening berth on his road show, and steering him to Columbia Records. His first hit came in 1958-59 with 'Life to Go' written by George Jones, with whom he was then touring. His next hit, 'Waterloo' was a #1 country hit for five weeks in the summer of 1959 and crossed over into the Billboard pop charts (#4), generating bookings on such pop TV programs as Dick Clark's American Bandstand. Hot on the heels of his successes 'Life to Go' and 'Waterloo', Stonewall Jackson was named Most Promising Country Male Star by Cash Box. Other Top Ten hits in the sixties include 'A Wound Time Can't Erase' (#3, 1962), 'B.J. the DJ (#1, 1964), 'Don't Be Angry' (#4), and 'I Washed My Hands in Muddy Water (#8, 1965). He's also known for his pro-Vietnam War hit 'The Minute Men (Are Turning in Their Graves)'. He left Columbia in 1973 for MGM Records, where he logged his final chart hit, 'Herman Schwartz,' that year. Jackson and his Minute-Men band (including son Turp on drums) occasionally tour and still keep their weekend Opry appearances. His autobiography, 'From the Bottom Up' was published by L. C. Parsons in 1991."
In 1977 Stonewall was presented the Ernest Tubb Memorial Award for his contributions to country music. By the end of his charted recording career, Stonewall had placed 44 singles on the Billboard country charts.
When Stonewall joined the Opry, he was part of the youth movement that was started by Opry manager Dee Kilpatrick. Others who joined the Opry during the same time period were Porter Wagoner and the Everly Brothers.
Stonewall was one of the Opry artists who were fired from the Opry on December 6, 1964 for failing to meet the Opry's appearance requirements. Stonewall was gone from the Opry for almost four and a half years, rejoining the show on May 10, 1969.
Stonewall made news in 2006 when he sued the Grand Ole Opry for $10 million in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages, claiming age discrimination. As a member of the Opry for over fifty years, he believed that management was reducing his appearances in favor of younger artists. In his court filing, Jackson claimed that Opry general manager Pete Fisher stated that he did not "want any gray hairs on that stage or in the audience, and before I'm done there won't be any." Fisher was also alleged to have told Jackson that he was "too old and too country." The lawsuit was settled on October 3, 2008 for an undisclosed amount and Stonewall returned to performing on the Opry.
On the night that Stonewall Jackson returned to the Opry, on May 10, 1969, he was on the 7:00 segment hosted by Roy Acuff. Others on that segment included Jean Shepard and Leroy Van Dyke. Stonewall sang "Don't be Angry" and "Angry Words" during that half hour. On the 2nd show that night, he appeared in the 10:15 segment, again hosted by Roy Acuff and sang "Angry Words".
If there was ever a country singer, it was Stonewall Jackson. He had a distinctive voice and you knew a Stonewall song the minute it came on. Many of his songs had a honky-tonk beat to them. Pete Fisher was right was he said Stonewall was "too country."
I could never understand, with the number of hit records that Stonewall had, why he never received more recognition in Nashville, or on the award shows. And with his career accomplishments, in the opinion of this writer, Stonewall should have been in the Country Music Hall of Fame long ago. Yet, he has never received even serious consideration. Some of it could be that he was not a trailblazer in music and outside of his first few hits, he never had any crossover appeal. I think the other more recent reason is because of the lawsuit against the Opry. Gaylord is a big supporter of the Hall of Fame and I think people remember. Politics is in play many times with Hall of Fame voting and with the lawsuit, I think any chance Stonewall had pretty much went out the window.
But in my opinion, Stonewall was one of the great classic country music singers of all time and I am glad he is back on the Opry, although with reduced appearances, and I congratulate him on 55 years of Opry membership and send along my best wishes on his 79th birthday.