Eddy Arnold was the most successful country hit maker of all time, and played a crucial role in transforming what had long been considered "hillbilly music" from a rural phenomenon into music with broad-based national appeal.
He carved out an identity as an urbane crooner unrestricted by the trappings associated with country music stardom. He has been called "the Garth Brooks of his time" for creating the template still followed today by country singers who reach beyond a niche audience to capture a broad following, a move that angered many traditional country fans.
Arnold had a nine-year run of 57 consecutive Top 10 hits from 1945 to 1954, among them "I'll Hold You in My Heart (Till I Can Hold You in My Arms)," which spent more than five months at No. 1 in 1947, and “Bouquet of Roses,” which logged 19 weeks in the top spot the following year. Many of those songs, despite the twangy steel guitars and fiddles under his voice, appealed to large numbers of fans because of his mellow tenor, which was virtually free of a drawl.
Although Arnold's popularity dipped for a time in the late 1950s in the wake of rock 'n' roll's arrival, it rebounded in the 1960s after a crucial change in the people guiding him musically and professionally. That led to another run of hits that crystallized what became known as "the Nashville Sound," typified by swelling orchestral backgrounds and female choir voices behind songs such as “Make the World Go Away” and "I Want to Go With You," both No. 1 country hits.
As a boy he idolized "the Singing Cowboy," Gene Autry, as well as Bing Crosby, whose smooth, outwardly effortless style he would later emulate.
He landed a regular role on a radio show at WTJS in Memphis, and in 1940 was hired as a singer for Pee Wee King and His Golden West Cowboys, which had a reputation for a more debonair brand of country dance music and was featured frequently on the Grand Ole Opry broadcasts.
Arnold was hired by the Opry as a solo performer in 1943.
When television arrived, Arnold was virtually the only country performer who began appearing regularly on national programs with Milton Berle, Arthur Godfrey and later Ed Sullivan. He also performed in Las Vegas showrooms before nearly any other country act.
Arnold's career spanned seven decades, from the 1930s, when he hosted a radio show for five years in Memphis, Tenn., until 1999, when he last appeared on the country singles chart with a duet with then-teenage singer LeAnn Rimes in a new version of his 1955 yodel-laden western hit "Cattle Call."