In the summer of 1924, Chet Atkins was born in Luttrell, Tennessee. Starting out as a very young fiddler, Chet’s interest in the guitar soon won over. At age 9 he began playing the guitar and by the time he graduated high school, he had developed the skills that have since made him legendary.
Chet was a good networker and managed to get himself a spot on the Bill Carlisle Show, exposing himself to the radio public for the first time. He joined the Dixie Swingers who performed on the same radio station, WNOX of Knoxville, where he was working with Homer and Jethro.
1946 was a big year for Chet, as he performed at the Grand Ole Opry for the first time and made his first record for Bullet Records. He moved from Knoxville radio to Cincinnati radio and then to Richmond Virginia’s WRVA. However, he was repeatedly let go from engagements because his music wasn’t quite what the executives wanted.
RCA disagreed with those radio executives. Steve Sholes, the Nashville Division manager for RCA, heard a recording of Chet’s music and began trying to find the nomadic performer. He discovered him in Denver, playing with Shorty Thompson & His Rangers. Chet responded quickly to the call and moved to Nashville to record for RCA.
Once in Nashville, Chet quickly became a country music standard, signing on as a regular at the Grand Ole Opry, acting as a consultant to RCA’s Nashville division, and even developing guitar designs which are still popular today. Soon Chet took Sholes’ job as manager with RCA. All the while, his music was holding a top spot in listener popularity.
In the 1980’s, after Chet’s popularity in the country music arena had finally declined, he took off his cowboy hat and experimented with jazz, leaving RCA to record with Columbia Records. His bold jazz guitar playing was enjoyed by many, but he came back to his roots in country before the end.
In 2001, Chet passed away from brain cancer. Before he died, Chet had earned 9 CMA Instrumentalist of the Year Honors, a Lifetime Achievement Award from NARAS, and 11 Grammy Awards. He was a musician who left an enduring legend behind.
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