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Snow, Hank (9 May 1914–20 December 1999)

Guitarist and singer-songwriter from Brooklyn, Nova Scotia, who sought refuge in music as a lad as an escape from an unhappy home life.  After his parents divorced when he was eight he was the victim of an abusive grandmother who forbade him to visit his mom and beat him frequently.  Eventually he moved in with his mom and his step-dad and was abused by him, as well.

At the age of twelve, he escaped to the sea and went to work on fishing boats, where he would sing and play the guitar and harmonica.  Jimmie Rodgers was his idol, and he fashioned his style after him.  Rodgers was signed by RCA Victor, which inspired Hank, and his cohorts encouraged him to audition for a radio program on CHNS in nearby Halifax.  He aced the audition and performed his first broadcast on the very same day.

This eventually led to an audition with RCA Victor, and they inked him to a deal that would span forty-seven years, the longest such tenure in recording history.  Some of his early releases on RCA’s Bluebird label include “Blue Velvet Band”, “Galveston Rose”, “Lonesome Blue Yodel”, “My Blue River Rose” and “Prisoned Cowboy”.  In all, he cut about ninety records for Bluebird in between 1936 and 1949, but few of these were released stateside.

In 1949, Hank cracked the American market with his first U.S. tour, in support of his first American recording.  A trick horse rider to boot, he had a gimmick that immediately attracted attention and set him apart from the rest of the field.

After a successful show in Dallas, Texas, he sought and received an audience with Ernest Tubb, who lobbied for him to get a spot on the Grand Ole Opry.  Hank’s coming out party was on 7th January 1950, and although his first handful of performances garnered tepid reviews, his tenure at the Opry would last almost as long as his time with RCA.

His big break came in 1950 when he topped the charts with “I’m Movin’ On”, a song his producer had dissuaded him from recording.  It stayed on the country chart for a total of forty-four weeks, twenty-one of them at #1, a record that stands to this day.  Proving he was no flash in the pan, Hank followed this up with a pair of number-one records, “The Golden Rocket” and “Rhumba Boogie”.

Another one of his big hits was the musical travelogue, “I’ve Been Everywhere”, which is famous for its rapid-fire delivery of a map full of American cities.  (Johnny Cash’s remake of this song recently turned up on a series of television commercials.)  In 1954, Hank struck gold again with “It Don’t Hurt Anymore”, which was the #1 country and western song of the year.

He is also credited with discovering Elvis Presley and getting him onto the Grand Ole Oprystage for the first time.  It did not take long for Colonel Tom Parker to muscle in and commandeer Elvis’s career, however.

In 1958, Hank achieved another milestone in his life by becoming a U.S. citizen.  He is considered to be one of the first artists to delve into concept albums.  A good example of this is his valentine to his home province, My Nova Scotia Home.  Making good use of his U.S. citizenry, he performed in at least one presidential campaign and overseas to entertain the troops in Germany, Korea, Norway and Vietnam.

In April 1974, he scored his seventh and last #1 hit with “Hello Love”, and at age fifty-nine became the oldest artist to do so.  (The record has since been surpassed by Kenny Rogers, who was sixty-one when he topped the charts with “Buy Me a Rose” in 2000.)  In 1977, Hank released Still Moving On, his 104th album on RCA.

A year later, he was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.  In 1979, similar kudos followed from the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, the Country Music Hall of Fame, and the Nova Scotia Music Hall of Fame.  He has also been honored by heads of state like President Jimmy Carter and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.  In 1985, he was enshrined in the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame.  He is also the recipient of an Honorary Doctorate from St. Mary’s University in Nova Scotia.

In 1994, he published his autobiography, simply titled The Hank Snow Story.  A music center in Nova Scotia also bears his name.  In 1997, The Essential Hank Snow was released on CD.  It is an aptly titled work that serves as a good introduction to those unfamiliar with his music.

An entrepreneur and philanthropist, he has run a music school and a publishing company, owned a pair of radio stations, and established the Hank Snow International Foundation for Prevention of Child Abuse.

On 20th December 1999, Hank shuffled off his mortal coil and was placed to rest in Nashville’s Spring Hill Cemetery.  He has left behind a staggering discography that boasts about 840 recordings, resulting in more than seventy million sales.  (Some put the number at eighty million.)

In May 2009, one of Hank Snow’s songs was misconstrued as a Bob Dylan poem.  Christie’s was planning on auctioning the document, written in Robert Zimmerman’s hand, when a Reuters reader recognized it as the Hank Snow song, “Little Buddy”.  It will still fetch a fool’s ransom, as it is believed to be the first thing ever “written” by Bob Dylan.  Ten years after his death, Hank Snow’s music is still money.

A Smoky Montgomery recordings
(Faded Petal From) A Beautiful Bouquet (C. E. “Hank” Snow)