Did you grow up watching the country music variety show Hee Haw? You may remember the singer and musician Stringbean, who was one of the many performers on the show.
Many would argue he really took the show miles ahead because of his exceptional talent. Before Stringbean, he Hee Haw was good but perhaps not great. But after Stringbean, Hee Haw just wasn’t the same.
Hee Haw lost one of its greatest stars when Stringbean was murdered in 1973. The tale is tragic and one that’ll give you pause…
Join FactsVerse to look back at before and after the death of Stringbean from Hee Haw…
David Akeman was born on June 17, 1915, in Annville, Kentucky. His father, James, was an accomplished banjo player and passed on this skill to his young son. David grew up loving the banjo and had every desire to pursue a career as a musician and singer – and nothing else really.
However, he came of age during the Great Depression and though he was now playing in local venues and earning a few dollars here and there, he had to find another method for making money.
He worked a variety of odd jobs and eventually became part of the Civilian Conservation Corps. With the organization, he helped build roads and plant trees across Kentucky.
However, he never gave up on his musical and singing talents. In fact, he even expanded onto performing stand up comedy. He was determined to become a big star.
David’s big break came when he participated in a talent contest that was hosted by the prominent musician and singer Asa Martin. Asa was impressed by David’s talent and invited him to join the band.
It’s around this time that he also got the nickname “Stringbean” because of his skinny body. It stuck with him and this is how he would be known for the rest of his life.
He began performing at nightclubs and would play music, sing, and even perform stand up comedy. He would also appear on the radio – most notably WLAP-AM in Lexington and would perform as a solo artist as well as several different bands.
In 1945, when he was 30 years old, he was invited to join the Grand Ole Opry – the biggest venue for country musicians. This is what made him a star and after that he received gig after gig after gig.
He was now one of the biggest country music stars in the country.
A mention should be made that at this time he was also a semiprofessional baseball player – joining a team after being introduced to Bill Munroe, the prominent bluegrass player.
His next big step was to appear on Hee Haw. But before we get into Stringbean on Hee Haw, let’s learn about how Hee Haw came to be…
Hee Haw was first released on June 15, 1969 – two days before Stringbean’s 54th birthday.
The show was a variety show that had a Western theme to it and featured many performances by the most prominent country music stars of the time.
Stringbean joined the show shortly after it premiered and without a doubt it was he and Grandpa Jones that made him a huge star. Apart from his singing he also acted on the show. One of his most popular segments was called “Letter from Home.”
There was also another segment where he would play a scarecrow and make one-liner jokes when no one noticed!
He continued to appear in the show until his death and even after his death many episodes that were previously taped were aired on television. No doubt, the show received even more viewers following his tragic death.
Even if you hadn’t heard of Stringbean, you knew about him and his performances on Hee Haw after he died.
THE MURDER OF STRINGBEAN
As one would expect for a country performer who was from a humble place like Annville, Stringbean was a simple being who didn’t care to flaunt his success or wealth. He was a modest man who enjoyed the simpler things in life even after receiving acclaim and fame.
As a result, no one would ever think that he of all people would ever be a target. No one would expect that someone would want to kill Stringbean.
He and his wife Estelle had grown up in humble surroundings and had to struggle financially during the Great Depression. The necessary frugality needed to survive during those times was something he carried with him even when he became a huge star.
He and his wife lived in a cabin in Tennessee. He kept most of his cash in his house as he distrusted banks. While he was certainly wealthier than when he grew up he wasn’t the richest person in show business – so once again, he was an unlikely target.
On the night of November 10, 1973, Stringbean and his wife returned back to their cabin after a performance at the Grand Ole Opry.
A group of unknown men had been waiting for them for hours.
Upon their return, Stringbean and his wife were shot and killed. Stringbean was 58 years old.
It wasn’t until next morning that their bodies were discovered. Their neighbor was Grandpa Jones, Stringbean’s friend and fellow musician discovered them.
An investigation immediately began following the murder of Stringbean and his wife.
Eventually, it was found that the murderers were two young men, both cousins. John Brown and Marvin Brown were only 23 years old when they murdered Stringbean.
Both men had robbed the cabin and took a few belongings – not that Stringbean had too many luxuries to his name. They killed Stringbean when he spotted them and then killed his wife even as she was begging for her life.
Both men blamed each other for the murders. They both admitted to burglary but none wanted to admit that they had fired the shots that killed Stringbean and his wife.
Eventually, Marvin was found guilty of murder and died in 2003 while serving time in prison. John Brown served 41 years of prison – with his original sentence being 198 years! He was released in 2014.
There doesn’t seem to be a specific reason as to why Stringbean’s cabin was broken into. Perhaps because he didn’t live in Beverly Hills surrounded by armed guards and high gates, he became an easier target. Perhaps we’ll never know why he was a target – even though he was a man who was loved by all and had no enemies.
Stringbean’s murder sent shockwaves throughout the industry. Both the Hee Haw cast and crew and its fans were shocked at what had happened.
On one episode of Hee Haw, released posthumously, the scarecrow was seen standing still in a still frame – as a tribute to Stringbean who played the character. The show continued for several seasons and over several episodes after his death and was a success. But the fact was, it just wasn’t as popular without Stringbean.
The murder of Stringbean really was traumatic for the country music industry. Unlike other musical genres, this genre was wholesome, family-friendly, and sweet. It had innocence and one couldn’t expect why anyone would want to murder a country star who lived in the woods with a small group of close neighbors.
This culture was one of trust and old-fashioned values found in many American small towns. This carried over to the big cities such as Nashville which is the heartland of the country music industry.
Yet, Nashville and her people were traumatized following the murder of Stringbean.
People felt less safe and now country stars no longer felt they could be down to earth like their fellow Americans. Rather, they had to live behind high gates, have bodyguards, and pack pistols on their own.
The singer Sam Bush even recorded a song about the murder of Stringbean and his wife. The murder was truly traumatizing and is still discussed as the beginning of the end of the age of innocence in the country music industry.
While his shocking murder is still discussed, we haven’t forgotten about Stringbean’s incredible talent.
He’s one of the best-selling country singers and musicians of all time. He was also remembered for his acting skills and despite over 600 episodes, we can all agree that the best episodes of Hee Haw are the ones in which we saw Stringbean.
Stringbean’s style of music also represent what country music was. It was more earthy and more focused on speaking to everyday people. It was more about playing in the local pub than playing in large concert venues and trying to appeal to a wider audience.
One can also remember Stringbean’s incredible work ethic. While we have all gotten used to celebrities being pretentious and almost living in a bubble of their own – Stringbean was among the last of his generation.
He was born into humble surroundings and had to struggle to succeed as an entertainer. He also had to take on ordinary jobs and work his way throughout one of the toughest times in America’s history.
His life is an inspiration to us all. While we likely will never forget about the trauma of his death we must also celebrate the warmth of his life.
Now, let’s hear from you:
Are you a fan of Stringbean? Did you watch him perform on Hee Haw?
In fact, here’s what we’d like to know:
Do you think that the entertainment industry is still just as dark and dangerous?
Or is it unlikely that we’ll see something as shocking as murder happen to today’s artists?