Hank Thompson R.I.P.

Country Music Hall of Famer Hank Thompson passed away at his residence in Keller, Texas, on Tuesday, November 6, 2008.

"He was battling aggressive lung cancer," Thompson spokesman and Heart of Texas Records President Tracy Pitcox said. "He remained conscious until the last couple of hours and passed away peacefully at about 10:45 PM on Tuesday night surrounded by his friends and family."

Thompson was born on September 2, 1925, in Waco, Texas. He grew up idolizing musicians like Jimmie Rodgers, Gene Autry, the Carter Family and Vernon Dalhart. Thompson began playing the guitar and working local talent shows as a teenager. His first radio program was on WACO where he was featured as "Hank The Hired Hand."

"I had a local morning program on WACO," Thompson recalled in the book 'Legendary Conversations'. "It was for a grocery store and flour company there in town. It was just me and my guitar. I would pick and sing and then go back on Saturday afternoons and sing for the folks down at the store. I got in the professional part of the business at a very early age."

After graduating from high school, Thompson joined the Navy as an electrical engineer which he would continue to study at Princeton after the service. In 1946, he formed his first band The Brazos Valley Boys.

"I did not use the band on my radio broadcast," Thompson said. "We would go out and work some of the schoolhouses together. After I left Waco and moved to Dallas, I formed a more permanent group around 1950. We started with the heavy emphasis on Western Swing and what we kidn of call the Honkytonk Swing." People liked that kind of music because they could dance to it."

In 1946, he recorded his first single, "Whoa Sailor" for Globe Records. He then recorded for Bluebonnet before catching the attention of Tex Ritter. Ritter helped Hank to obtain a recording contract with Capitol Records in 1947. He would remain on their roster for over eighteen years.

Thompson's first major hit for Capitol was the nursery rhyme influenced "Humpty Dumpty Heart" in 1949 followed by his signature song "The Wild Side of Life." That song inspired an answer song in the form of "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" recorded by Kitty Wells. It became the first number one song by a female in Country Music.

"I had no idea that the 'Wild Side of Life' would become a hit record" Thompson said. "I really wasn't that excited about the song. It actually came out as the B side of the record. We recorded it because it had been popular by Jimmie Heap and the Melodymasters in Taylor, Texas. After the A side made a little splash, the disc jockeys turned it over and it became a smash hit."

Thompson was the first country entertainer to travel with his own light and sound system, the first to have a corporate sponsor, the first to record in high fidelity stereo and the first to broadcast his television show in color.

In 1961, Thompson recorded the historic album "Live At The Golden Nugget" which would become the first live album every recorded.

Thompson would also help several fellow musicians begin their career in Country Music including Jean Shepard, Wanda Jackson, Billy Walker, Merle Travis and Little Joe Carson.

Thompson recording career would continue to flourish with staple songs including "Blackboard of My Heart" "Green Light" "On Tap In The Can or In The Bottle" "King of Western Swing" and "A Six Pack To Go."

He recorded twenty one songs that reached the Top Twenty on the charts and sold over sixty million records during his career. Thompson became the first Country entertainer to record in seven different decades.

After leaving Capitol in 1965, Thompson would go on to record projects for Warner Brothers, ABC Dot, MCA, Curb, Hightone and his last project "My Personal Favorites" on his own independent label.

The last performance that Thompson made was in Waco, Texas, on October 8. It was declared Hank Thompson Day in the state of Texas. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1989. "I guess that is the single most important thing that has ever happened in my career," Thompson said. "I don't think there is anything that actually epitomizes an industry any more that to be put into a very select group of your peers like the Hall of Fame."

"Mr. Thompson requested that he not have a traditional funeral service," Pitcox said. "He wanted a 'Celebration of Life' ceremony. We are currently in the planning stages of that event and it will be open to Mr. Thompson's many fans and friends in the Ft. Worth area."

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