Wednesday, June 17, 2009
a.k.a. David Akeman (6/17/15 – 11/10/73)
In my last post, I paid tribute to television's HEE HAW.Today I will remember an individual member of the cast--a great man, who met a tragic and untimely death.
Stringbean, was a banjo player and comedy musician.He is best known for his role on the hit television show Hee Haw, but his work also goes back to the 1940s and a three-year stint with Bill Monroe.Oddly, it was as a ballplayer -- not a banjo player -- that Akeman first came to the attention of Monroe, who fielded a private semi-pro team.It was during this period that Akeman teamed with Willie Egbert Westbrook as "String Beans and Cousin Wilbur," a comedy duo, who often worked on the same bills with Monroe's Blue Grass Boys.
Stringbean would leave Monroe's group in 1945.
David Akeman was born to a farming family in Annville, KY. He built his first homemade instrument (at age seven) out of a shoe box and thread borrowed from his mother.
During the Depression-era, Akeman spent time working for the Civilian Conservation Corps, building roads and planting trees ("shovel-ready" projects?).
One day he entered a talent contest that was being judged by singer-guitarist-musical saw player Asa Martin, and won. He joined Martin's band, and during one performance the bandleader stumbled over Akeman's name and, unable to remember it, introduced him to the crowd as "String Beans." With his tall, lanky frame, the name was a natural and it stuck.In 1946, he first began working with Grandpa Jones (Louis Marshall Jones), a fellow old-time banjo player with a penchant for comedy.During the late '40s, Akeman also formed a team with Lew Childre and became a regular performer on the Grand Ole Opry.It was also around this time that he became a protégé of Uncle Dave Macon, a banjo-player/comic and one of the Opry's most beloved performers.
It was in 1969 that Stringbean and Grandpa Jones became founding members of the cast of Hee Haw. Stringbean became an instant hit, his lanky figure and bewildered expression, coupled with self-deprecating one-liners, made Akeman one of the most popular members of the cast.One of his regular routines was to read a "letter from Home" to his friends.He was also known for being the "Scarecrow" in the cornfield, who would shoot off one liners before being shouted down by the "crow" on his shoulder (The Scarecrow would remain in the Cornfield as a silent tribute after his untimely death).
Akeman lived an extremely modest, simple life. Remembering the hard times of the Depression, Stringbean and his wife lived in a tiny cabin near Ridgetop, Tennessee, approximately 20 miles outside of Nashville. Their only luxury was a Cadillac.
Stringbean did not trust banks due to the multiple bank failures of the Hoover years, and he kept thousands of dollars on his person, which he was known to flash around. It was rumored that Stringbean had a fortune in cash stashed at his house. It was these rumors that led two cousins, John and Marvin Douglas, on the night of November 10, 1973, to break into the cabin.
Returning from a performance at the Grand Old Opry, the burglars shot Stringbean dead after he entered his house, then ran down and killed Estelle. By immediately murdering Stringbean, they had no chance to question him on the whereabouts of any hidden cash, which they were unable to find. They managed to steal some firearms and a chainsaw, all at the cost of two lives. Stringbean and Estelle's neighbor Grandpa Jones discovered his slain friends the next morning.
David and Estelle Akeman are buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Gardens in Goodlettsville, Tennessee.
Jackson County, Kentucky now hosts the annual Stringbean Memorial Bluegrass Festival.
Below, Grandpa Jones pays tribute.