is a country singer, guitarist, songwriter, and entertainer. A large man (6'6") with a deep singing voice,
was an immensely popular performer in country music for many years without the benefit of big record success. He started on radio, becoming a regular on WWVA's Wheeling Jamboree by 1946 and making his first records for the King label around that time. By 1953 he signed with RCA Victor and became a regular member of the Grand Ole Opry by 1955. Described as "the man with 11-and-a-half yards of personality,"
was a warm and engaging performer both on stage and on records, able to pull off a wide variety of material from maudlin weepers to up-tempo novelties. His label-jumping from Columbia by the late '50s and back to King by the early '60s moved his material closer to commercial mainstream country, but his time in the spotlight ran out when he perished in the same plane crash as
(born Harold Franklin Hawkins, December 22, 1921; died March 5, 1963) was born and raised in Huntington, WV. His first foray into performing came at the age of 15, when he won a talent contest at a local radio station, WSAZ. Following his win, he began working at the station, eventually moving to WCHS in Charleston by the end of the '30s; at WCHS, he frequently sang with Clarence "Sherlock" Jack. During 1941, he traveled the United States with a revue. The following year, he joined the military, where he was stationed in the Phillippines; in Manila, he sang on the local army radio.
Following his discharge from the Army, Hawkins
signed with King Records, releasing the minor hit -- and the song that would eventually become his signature tune -- "The Sunny Side of the Mountain." In addition to recording for King, he was a regular on WWVA's Wheeling Jamboree between 1946 and 1954. In 1948, he had his first hit single with "Pan American," which climbed into the country Top Ten. Over the next three years, he had four other Top Ten singles -- "Dog House Boogie" (1948), "I Love You a Thousand Ways" (1951), "I'm Waiting Just for You" (1951), and "Slow Poke" (1951). In 1953, he left King and signed with RCA, but he had no hits for the label. In 1955, Hawkins
became a member of the Grand Ole Opry.Hawkins
joined Columbia's roster in 1959, releasing the number 15 single "Soldier's Joy" later that year. The following year, he married fellow country singer Jean Shepard
, and they made their home on a farm outside of Nashville, where he bred horses. Hawkins
re-signed to King in 1963, releasing "Lonesome 7-7203" as a comeback single early that spring. Though it became a number one hit, Hawkins
didn't live to see it reach the top of the charts -- he tragically died in the same airplane crash that killed Cline
on March 5, 1963. Shepard
was pregnant with their child at the time of the crash; the child was a son, and he was named after his father.Hawkins
' recorded legacy was treated haphazardly in the three decades after his death, but in 1991, Bear Family released a comprehensive, multi-disc overview of his RCA and Columbia Records called Hawk