Stringbean Biography

David Akeman, 17 June 1914, Annville, Jackson County, Kentucky, USA, d. 10 November 1973. Akeman was raised on a farm and received his first banjo by trading a pair of his prized bantams. Between 1935 and 1939 he worked with several bands including that of local celebrity Asa Martin, who, because of his gangling appearance, first gave him the nickname of String Beans. Akeman’s baseball pitching attracted the attention of Bill Monroe, who signed him for his private team, not knowing that he was also a banjo player. During his time with Monroe, Akeman also worked with Willie Egbert Westbrooks as String Beans And Cousin Wilbur. In 1945 he left Monroe, being replaced by Earl Scruggs and for three years worked with Lew Childre, the two becoming a popular Grand Ole Opry act. Akemen, now known as Stringbean, also adopted a strange stage attire, probably based on an outfit worn by old-time comedian Slim Miller, which gave the effect of a tall man with very short legs. He married Estelle Stanfill in 1945, who shared his love of the outdoor life and acted as his chauffeur (Akemen had two cars but never learned to drive). In 1946, he formed a lasting friendship with Grandpa Jones and by 1950 was an established solo star of theOpry, which he remained to his death. Akeman recorded for Starday in the 60s, achieving success with songs such as ‘Chewing Gum’, ‘I Wonder Where Wanda Went’ and ‘I’m Going To The Grand Ole Opry And Make Myself A Name’. In 1969, along with Jones, he also became a regular on the network television show Hee Haw.

His love of the quiet country life and his distrust of banks had fatal consequences when, on returning to their farm at Goodlettsville after hisOpry performance on 10 November 1973, the Akemans surprised two intruders. Stringbean was shot on entering the house and his wife, then parking the car, was pursued and shot down on the lawn. The killers fled with $250 leaving the bodies to be discovered early next morning by Grandpa Jones. Brothers Douglas and John Brown were arrested, charged with murder and in spite of the public outcry for the death penalty, were sentenced to life imprisonment. Douglas Brown died 8 January 2003 in Brushy Mountain State Prison, Tennessee at the age of 53.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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