Today is the birthday of David “Stringbean” Akeman (1916-1973).
Stringbean was one of the key performers on the syndicated country variety show Hee Haw from 1969 until his death in 1973. A top notch banjo player and comedian, he’d gotten his professional start playing barn dances and the like in the 1930s, until he worked his way up to Bill Munroe’s band (1943-1945) and the Grand Ole Oprey (of which he was a fixture until his death).
His nickname of course came from the fact that he was so tall, thin and lanky. His most memorable recurring bit on Hee Haw was as a scarecrow with a cawing crow on his shoulder.
Another recurring bit was a humorous “letter from home” which he would keep “close to his heart” (which would turn out to be his back pocket).
In 1973 the world was shocked to hear that Stringbean and his wife had been violently murdered by a couple of lowlife thugs who’d gone in to rob him at his rural Tennessee farm house. In tribute, his friend and co-star Grandpa Jones recorded this little segment. It’s a little unfortunate, in that we are primed to laugh at Grandpa Jones; the producers ought to have trusted that seeing him out of costume would be a more fitting tone for the eulogy. It’s still pretty moving though:
To find out about the history of variety performance, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous