Roy Clark

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Roy Clark
Roy Clark a conversation with OETA (cropped).jpg
Roy Clark on the set of A Conversation With Oklahoma Educational Television Authority, Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 2014
Background information
Birth nameRoy Linwood Clark
Born(1933-04-15)April 15, 1933
Meherrin, Virginia, U.S.
DiedNovember 15, 2018(2018-11-15) (aged 85)
Tulsa, Oklahoma, U.S.
Genres Country
Occupation(s)Singer, musician, TV host
InstrumentsGuitar, banjo, violin, vocals
Years active1947–2018
Associated acts Hee Haw

Roy Linwood Clark (April 15, 1933 – November 15, 2018) was an American singer and musician. He is best known for having hosted Hee Haw , a nationally televised country variety show, from 1969 to 1997. Clark was an important and influential figure in country music, both as a performer and in helping to popularize the genre.

<i>Hee Haw</i> television series

Hee Haw was an American television variety show featuring country music and humor with the fictional rural "Kornfield Kounty" as a backdrop. It aired first-run on CBS from 1969 to 1971, in syndication from 1971 to 1993, and on TNN from 1996 to 1997. RFD-TV began airing reruns in 2008, where it currently remains.

Country music, also known as country and western, and hillbilly music, is a genre of popular music that originated in the southern United States in the early 1920s. It takes its roots from genres such as folk music and blues.


During the 1970s, Clark frequently guest-hosted for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show and enjoyed a 30-million viewership for Hee Haw. Clark was highly regarded and renowned as a guitarist, banjo player, and fiddler. He was skilled in the traditions of many genres, including classical guitar, country music, Latin music, bluegrass, and pop. He had hit songs as a pop vocalist (e.g., "Yesterday, When I Was Young" and "Thank God and Greyhound"), and his instrumental skill had an enormous effect on generations of bluegrass and country musicians. He became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1987, and, in 2009, was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. He published his autobiography, My Life in Spite of Myself, in 1994. [1]

Johnny Carson American talk show host and magician

John William Carson was an American television host, comedian, writer, and producer. He is best known as the host of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1962–1992). Carson received six Emmy Awards, the Television Academy's 1980 Governor's Award, and a 1985 Peabody Award. He was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1987. Carson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1992 and received a Kennedy Center Honor in 1993.

<i>The Tonight Show</i> American late-night talk show

The Tonight Show is an American late-night talk show currently broadcast from the NBC Studios in Rockefeller Center in New York City, the show's original location and airing on NBC since 1954. The series has been hosted by six comedians: Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien, and Jimmy Fallon, and had several recurring guest hosts including Ernie Kovacs during the Steve Allen era and Joan Rivers, Garry Shandling and Jay Leno during Johnny Carson's stewardship, although the practice has been abandoned since Carson's departure, with hosts preferring reruns to showcasing potential rivals. The Tonight Show is the world's longest-running talk show, and the longest-running, regularly scheduled entertainment program in the United States. It is the third-longest-running show on NBC, after the news-and-talk shows Today and Meet the Press.

Banjo musical instrument

The banjo is a four-, five-, or six-stringed instrument with a thin membrane stretched over a frame or cavity as a resonator, called the head, which is typically circular. The membrane is typically made of plastic, although animal skin is still occasionally used. Early forms of the instrument were fashioned by Africans in the United States, adapted from African instruments of similar design. The banjo is frequently associated with folk, Irish traditional, and country music. Banjo can also be used in some rock songs. Many rock bands, such as The Eagles, Led Zeppelin, and The Allman Brothers, have used the five-string banjo in some of their songs. Historically, the banjo occupied a central place in African-American traditional music and the folk culture of rural whites before entering the mainstream via the minstrel shows of the 19th century. The banjo, along with the fiddle, is a mainstay of American old-time music. It is also very frequently used in traditional ("trad") jazz.

Early life

Clark was born April 15, 1933, in Meherrin, Virginia. [2] He was one of five children [3] born to Hester and Lillian Clark. [4] His father was a tobacco farmer. [4] He spent his childhood in Meherrin and New York City, his father having moved the family to take jobs during the Great Depression. [5] When Clark was 11 years old, his family moved to a home on 1st Street SE in the Washington Highlands neighborhood of Washington, D.C., [6] after his father found work at the Washington Navy Yard. [7] Clark's father was a semi-professional musician who played banjo, fiddle, and guitar, [5] and his mother played piano. [4] The first musical instrument Clark ever played was a four-string cigar box with a ukelele neck attached to it, [4] which he picked up in elementary school. [8] Hester Clark taught his son to play guitar [4] when Roy was 14 years old, and soon Clark was playing banjo, guitar, and mandolin. [7] [lower-alpha 1] "Guitar was my real love, though," Clark later said. "I never copied anyone, but I was certainly influenced by them; especially by George Barnes. I just loved his swing style and tone." [9] Clark also found inspiration in other local D.C. musicians. "One of the things that influenced me growing up around Washington, D.C., in the '50s was that it had an awful lot of good musicians. And I used to go in and just steal them blind. I stole all their licks. It wasn't until years later that I found out that a lot of them used to cringe when I'd come in and say, 'Oh, no! Here comes that kid again.'" [8] As for his banjo style, Clark said in 1985, "When I started playing, you didn't have many choices to follow, and Earl Scruggs was both of them." [8] Clark won the National Banjo Championship in 1947 and 1948, [9] and briefly toured with a band when he was 15. [9]

Meherrin, Virginia Unincorporated community in Virginia, United States

Meherrin is a small unincorporated community in Lunenburg and Prince Edward counties in the U.S. state of Virginia. It is approximately 18.6 miles by road south of Farmville.

Washington Navy Yard former shipyard and ordnance plant of the United States Navy

The Washington Navy Yard (WNY) is the former shipyard and ordnance plant of the United States Navy in Southeast Washington, D.C. It is the oldest shore establishment of the U.S. Navy.

Violin bowed string instrument, usually with four strings tuned in perfect fifths

The violin, sometimes known as a fiddle, is a wooden string instrument in the violin family. Most violins have a hollow wooden body. It is the smallest and highest-pitched instrument in the family in regular use. Smaller violin-type instruments exist, including the violino piccolo and the kit violin, but these are virtually unused. The violin typically has four strings tuned in perfect fifths with notes G3, D4, A4, E5, and is most commonly played by drawing a bow across its strings, though it can also be played by plucking the strings with the fingers (pizzicato) and by striking the strings with the wooden side of the bow.

Clark was very shy, and turned to humor as a way of easing his timidity. Country-western music was widely derided by Clark's schoolmates, leaving him socially isolated. Clowning around, he felt, helped him to fit in again. Clark used humor as a musician as well, and it was not until the mid 1960s that he felt confident enough to perform in public without using humor in his act. [8]

The D.C. area had a number of country-western music venues at the time. Duet acts were in favor, and for his public performance debut Clark teamed up with Carl Lukat. Lukat was the lead guitarist, and Clark supported him on rhythm guitar. [8] In 1949, at the age of 16, Clark made his television debut on WTTG, the DuMont Television Network affiliate in Washington, D.C. [5] At 17, he made his first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry [7] for having won his second national banjo title. [9] By this time, he had begun to play fiddle and twelve-string guitar. [10] He toured the country for the next 18 months playing backup guitar for David "Stringbean" Akeman, Annie Lou and Danny, Lonzo and Oscar, and Hal and Velma Smith during the week, working county fairs and small town theaters. On weekends, these acts usually teamed up with country music superstars like Red Foley or Ernest Tubb and played large venues in big cities. He earned $150 a week ($1,562 in 2018 dollars). [8]

WTTG Fox television station in Washington, D.C.

WTTG, virtual channel 5, is a Fox owned-and-operated television station licensed to the American capital city of Washington, District of Columbia. The station is owned by the Fox Television Stations subsidiary of Fox Corporation, as part of a duopoly with MyNetworkTV owned-and-operated station WDCA. The two stations share studios, offices and transmitter facilities on Wisconsin Avenue in the Friendship Heights neighborhood in the northwest quadrant of Washington.

DuMont Television Network television station

The DuMont Television Network was one of the world's pioneer commercial television networks, rivalling NBC and CBS for the distinction of being first overall in the United States. It was owned by DuMont Laboratories, a television equipment and set manufacturer, and began operation on August 15, 1946.

<i>Grand Ole Opry</i> radio program

The Grand Ole Opry is a weekly American country music stage concert in Nashville, Tennessee founded on November 28, 1925, by George D. Hay as a one-hour radio "barn dance" on WSM. Currently owned and operated by Opry Entertainment, it is the longest running radio broadcast in US history. Dedicated to honoring country music and its history, the Opry showcases a mix of famous singers and contemporary chart-toppers performing country, bluegrass, Americana, folk, and gospel music as well as comedic performances and skits. It attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world and millions of radio and internet listeners.

At the age of 23, Clark obtained his pilot's certificate and then bought a 1953 Piper Tri-Pacer (N1132C), which he flew for many years. This plane was raffled off on December 17, 2012, to benefit the charity Wings of Hope. [11] He owned other planes, including a Mitsubishi MU-2, Stearman PT-17 [12] and Mitsubishi MU-300 Diamond 1A business jet. [13] After the tour, Clark returned to performing at local country-music venues. He recorded singles for Coral Records and 4 Star Records. [8]

Piper PA-20 Pacer

The PA-20 Pacer and PA-22 Tri-Pacer are a family of four-place, strut braced, high-wing light aircraft that were built by Piper Aircraft in the post-World War II period.

Wings of Hope (charity) non-profit organisation in the USA

Wings of Hope is an aviation nonprofit organization which helps communities worldwide become more self-sufficient through improved health, education, economic opportunity, and food security. It was founded in 1962 in St. Louis, Missouri, and currently conducts operations in 11 countries, including the United States. The organization was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 and 2012, holds a 4-Star rating on Charity Navigator and is a GuideStar Gold Participant. In 2015, 92.3% of the organization's budget was spent on its program services.

Mitsubishi MU-2 Utility transport aircraft

The Mitsubishi MU-2 is a Japanese high-wing, twin-engine turboprop aircraft with a pressurized cabin manufactured by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. It made its maiden flight in September 1963 and was produced until 1986. It is one of postwar Japan's most successful aircraft, with 704 manufactured in Japan and San Angelo, Texas, in the United States.



Clark (right) as "Myrtle Halsey" on The Beverly Hillbillies, 1968. Buddy Ebsen Roy Clark Hillbillies 1968.JPG
Clark (right) as "Myrtle Halsey" on The Beverly Hillbillies , 1968.

Rising country music star Jimmy Dean asked Clark to join his band, the Texas Wildcats, in 1954. [14] Clark was the lead guitarist, [2] and made appearances on Dean's "Town and Country Time" program on WARL-AM and on WMAL-TV (after the show moved to television from radio in 1955). [15] [16] Clark competed in 1956 on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts , a variety show airing on CBS. It was his first network television appearance, and he came in second. [8] Dean, who valued punctuality among musicians in his band, fired Clark for habitual tardiness in 1957. [17] Clark left D.C. and never lived there again. [7] During his D.C. years, Clark said he never intended to be a country guitarist. Rather, he played when he liked and what made him feel good, and never intended to begin a recording career or to perform on television. [9] In the spring of 1959, Clark appeared regularly on George Hamilton IV's short-lived television series in Washington, D.C. [18]

In 1960, Clark went out to Las Vegas, where he worked as a guitarist in a band led by former West Coast Western Swing bandleader-comedian Hank Penny. During the very early 1960s, he was also prominent in the backing band for Wanda Jackson known as the Party Timersduring the latter part of her rockabilly period. [19]

During Jack Paar's temporary absence from The Tonight Show in early 1960, Jimmy Dean was asked to guest-host the program. Dean asked Clark to appear on the last night of his guest-host stint, and showcased Clark in two songs. [18] Clark made his solo debut on The Tonight Show in January 1963. [10]

Subsequently, Clark appeared on The Beverly Hillbillies as a recurring character — actually two, as he played businessman Roy Halsey and Roy's mother, Myrtle. Once, in an episode of the Sunday evening Jackie Gleason Show dedicated to country music, Clark played a blistering rendition of "Down Home". Later, he appeared in an episode of The Odd Couple , where he played "Malagueña". [20]

In the mid-1960s, he was a co-host (along with Molly Bee and Rusty Draper) of a weekday daytime country variety series for NBC entitled "Swingin' Country", which was cancelled after two seasons. In 1969, Clark and Buck Owens were the hosts of syndicated sketch comedy program Hee Haw, which aired from 1969 until 1997 and propelled Clark to stardom. During its tenure, Clark was a member of the Million Dollar Band and participated in a host of comedy sketches. In 1983, Clark opened the Roy Clark Celebrity Theatre in Branson, Missouri, which was the "first venue linked permanently to a widely known entertainer" in the resort town. [21]

Clark frequently played in Branson during the 1980s and 1990s. He sold the venue (now owned by the Hughes Brothers and renamed the Hughes American Family Theatre) and went back to a light touring schedule, which usually included a performance with Ramona Jones and the Jones Family Band at their annual tribute to Clark's former Hee Haw co-star Grandpa Jones in Mountain View, Arkansas. [22]


Roy Clark performing onstage in New York, late 1980s or early 1990s Roy Clark onstage.png
Roy Clark performing onstage in New York, late 1980s or early 1990s

In 1960, [8] Clark began touring with rockabilly star Wanda Jackson, and playing backup instrumentals on several of her recordings. [10] Through Jackson, Clark met Jim Halsey. Clark signed with the Halsey Agency, which represented him for the remainder of his career. [8] During this period, Jackson performed at the Golden Nugget casino in Las Vegas. Within two years, Clark had become a headliner in Vegas, [8] and he made numerous appearances there in the 1960s and 1970s. [10]

Clark's backup work for Jackson brought him to the attention of Capitol Records. He signed with Capitol and in 1962 released his first solo album, The Lightning Fingers of Roy Clark. The album won solid critical praise, and "above-average" notice from fans. [10] By the early 1970s, Clark was the highest-paid country music star in the United States, earning $7 million ($45,200,000 in 2018 dollars) a year. [8]

He switched to Dot Records and again scored hits. He later recorded for ABC Records, which had acquired Dot, and MCA Records, the latter of which then was allowed to absorb the ABC label.[ citation needed ]


Clark endorsed Mosrite, Gretsch, and Heritage guitars, the latter which produced a signature model. [23] In the 1980s, he served as a spokesman for Hunt's ketchup [24] , and Wyler's Lemonade.[ citation needed ]

Personal life and death

Clark married Barbara Joyce Rupard on August 31, 1957, [4] and they had five children. [25] He made his home in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where the Roy Clark Elementary School was named in his honor in 1978. [8] [26]

Clark died on November 15, 2018, at 85 at his Tulsa home due to complications of pneumonia. [25] [27]


By the early 1970s, Clark had been named "Entertainer of the Year" three times by the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association (CMA) . The Academy also named him "Best Lead Guitar Player" and "Best Comedy Act", while the CMA named him an "International Friendship Ambassador" in 1976 after Clark toured the Soviet Union. [8]

On August 22, 1987, Clark was made a member of the Grand Ole Opry. [28] [29] He played an annual benefit concert at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia, the proceeds of which went to fund scholarships for aspiring musicians. [30]

Clark was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2009. [31] On April 12, 2011, Clark was honored by the Oklahoma House of Representatives. He was honored by the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame as Oklahoma's Music Ambassador for Children and presented with a commendation from Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin. [32] In 2007, he was inducted into the Cheyenne Frontier Days Hall of Fame. [33]

Selected filmography

Film and Television




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  1. A brother and a sister also both played guitar and mandolin. [5]
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  2. 1 2 Current Biography Yearbook 1979, p. 83.
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  5. 1 2 3 4 Kingsbury 2005, p. 95.
  6. Clark & Eliot 1994, p. 84.
  7. 1 2 3 4 Lornell 2012, p. 369.
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  15. Larkin 1995, p. 829.
  16. The Comprehensive Country Music Encyclopedia 1994, p. 99.
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  23. book|title=Starmaker: How to Make it in the Music Business|first=Jim|last=Halsey|authorlink=Jim Halsey|date=2010|publisher=Tate Publishing | page=387|isbn=1607995417}}
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  32. "Cheyenne Frontier Days Hall of Fame Inductees". Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum. Retrieved 9 October 2018.
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