Merle Haggard once said, “There were a lot of years when nobody in the business could follow Ferlin Husky. He was the big live act of the day. A great entertainer."
Husky charted more than 50 country hits over nearly a quarter of a century from the 1950s into the '70s, the biggest of which, the heartache classic “Gone” and the gospel-driven “On the Wings of a Dove,” each kept him at the top of the chart for 10 weeks during his heyday.
The Missouri-bred singer began his career in St. Louis, before joining the Merchant Marines after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. His stint in the service fed into his breakthrough hit, “A Dear John Letter,” in which he recited the contents of a missive to a soldier in which his girlfriend back home, whose lines were sung by Jean Shepard, breaks the news that she’s going to marry his brother. With the U.S. involved in the Korean War when the song came out in 1953, it gave Husky his first hit, and a No. 1 record at that.
He moved to Bakersfield, Calif., and joined the burgeoning country music scene there, helping to blaze a path between the oil and agriculture hub and Hollywood, where Capitol Records was building its West Coast country music division. Husky played as a studio musician, and helped discover new talent on a career track soon followed by other stars out of Bakersfield, including Haggard and Buck Owens.
Husky remained a regular presence on the country charts through 1975, became a favorite guest of TV show hosts such as Steve Allen, Johnny Carson and Merv Griffin and also landed roles in several movies in the 1950s and '60s. On his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame this year — 50 years after he got a star on Hollywood Boulevard — Husky said, "The main thing I'm proud of, this is for my family and for the many people who want to see me go in there before I die. It's a great honor."
Husky died March 17, 2011 at his home in Hendersonville, Tenn. He was 85.