Ernie Ashworth: Country singer and member of the 'Grand Ole Opry'

Wednesday 11 March 2009 01:00 GMT

A long-time member of Nashville's Grand Ole Opry country music radio show, the singer Ernie Ashworth was best known for his 1963 chart-topper, "Talk Back Trembling Lips". Written by the veteran songwriter John D. Loudermilk, it spent over 30 weeks in the charts and remains one of the most enduring country hits of its era.

A native of Huntsville, Alabama, Ashworth began his professional career as a member of a local band called the Tune Twisters, and from 1948 he could be heard singing on the city's WBHP radio station. In 1949 he headed to Nashville, where he gained work broadcasting on both WLAC and WSIX, and signed with Acuff-Rose, the first specialist country music publishing house. His songs were recorded by a number of established stars, including Little Jimmy Dickens, Carl Smith and Paul Anka.

In 1955 he made his recording debut, under the name of Billy Worth, for MGM. The half-dozen singles he cut for the label, however, failed to chart. Disenchanted, in 1957 he returned to Alabama where he worked with the military, before returning to Nashville and signing with Decca. His first disc for the label, "Each Moment (Spent With You)" (1960), broke into the country Top Five and was followed by a Top Ten hit "You Can't Pick a Rose in December" (1960) and then another chart entry "Forever Gone" (1961).

In 1962 he began to record for Acuff-Rose's own label, Hickory, and quickly gained two substantial hits: "Everybody But Me" (1962) and "I Take the Chance" (1963). It was, however, his next single, "Talk Back Trembling Lips", that would prove his signature record. It landed him awards from industry publications such as Cashbox and Record World and, in 1964, led to an invitation to join the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. This was the fulfillment of a life-long dream for Ashworth; he remained a popular fixture on the show, as well known for his taste in gaudy stage attire – his suits were characteristically adorned with embroidered lips – as he was for his slightly nasal, if sincere, vocals.

He continued his chart run with "A Week in the Country", "I Love to Dance with Annie" and "Pushed in a Corner" (all 1964). In 1965 he appeared in the little-seen movie The Farmer's Other Daughter, the same year in which he enjoyed his final Top Ten hit, "The DJ Cried". Although he released further singles, his chart career effectively ended in 1970 with "The Look of Goodbye".

Ashworth's traditionalism inevit-ably appealed to many country fans on this side of the Atlantic and ensured that he continued to receive airplay in Europe while struggling to do so at home. More recently he focused increasingly on his business interests – he owned a pair of radio stations in Tennessee – while continuing to tour and appearing regularly on the stage of the Opry. Last year he was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame.

Paul Wadey

Ernest Bert Ashworth, singer, guitarist and songwriter: born Huntsville, Alabama 15 December 1928; married (three sons, one daughter); died Hartsville, Tennessee 2 March 2009.

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