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Burl Ives

From Academic Kids

Burl Ives, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1955
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Burl Ives, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1955

Burl Icle Ivanhoe Ives (June 14, 1909April 14, 1995) was a successful folk singer, author and actor.

Born in Hunt City, Jasper County, Illinois, Ives is probably best remembered for his music. Carl Sandburg described him as "the mightiest ballad singer born in any century". He dropped out of college to travel about as an itinerant singer during the early 1930s, earning his way by doing odd jobs and playing his banjo. He was jailed in Mona, Utah for singing "Foggy Foggy Dew", which the authorities decided was a bawdy song.

In 1940 Ives began his own radio show, called The Wayfaring Stranger after one of his popular ballads. The show was very popular, and in 1946 Ives was cast as a singing cowboy in the movie Smoky. His first book, The Wayfaring Stranger, was published in 1948.

Other movie credits include East of Eden (1955), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) and The Big Country (1958), for which he won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, and Our Man in Havana (1959), based on the Graham Greene novel.

In the 1940s he popularized several very old folk songs, such as "Lavender Blue" (his first hit, a folk song from the 17th century), "Foggy Foggy Dew" (an English folk song), "Blue-Tailed Fly" (an old Civil War tune) and "Big Rock Candy Mountain" (an old hobo ditty).

Ives's reputation was tarnished in the eyes of some when he cooperated with the House Unamerican Activities Committee, and named fellow folk singer Pete Seeger and others as possible Communists. His cooperation with the HUAC ended his blacklisting, allowing him to continue with his movie acting.

In the 1960s he began singing country music. In 1962 he released three major hits, "A Little Bitty Tear," "Call Me Mr In-Between," and "Funny Way of Laughing", all three of which crossed over and topped the pop charts as well.

Possibly his most remembered role today is as narrator Sam the Snowman in the Rankin-Bass animated television special, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Ives performed in other television productions, most notably Pinocchio (1968) and Roots (1977).

Ives's most famous song, "Holly Jolly Christmas," is a very popular tune during the Christmas season, as it's frequently played on the radio. The song is also featured in the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer special.

During his lifetime, Ives and his wife lived with their children in a home located alongside the water in Anacortes, in the Puget Sound area of Washington State.

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