b. Benjamin Francis Ford, 12 May 1901, DeSoto, Missouri, USA, d. 20 June 1986, Nashville, Tennessee, USA. Ford, in his alter ego role as the Duke Of Paducah, became something of an American institution with his homespun humour and banjo playing. He was raised in Little Rock, Arkansas, by his grandmother but ran away to join the navy at the age of 17. He served for four years, during which time he learned to play the banjo and began to develop his comedy routines. In 1924, after playing banjo for a time in dancehalls with a dixieland band, he appeared on KTHS, Hot Springs and fronted Benny Ford And His Arkansas Travellers. He later worked the vaudeville circuit and tent, medicine and burlesque shows, before joining Otto Gray’s Oklahoma Cowboys. After leaving Gray, he joined Gene Autry in Chicago and acted as MC of Autry’s show for nine years. During this time, he became a member of the original cast of the WLS National Barn Dance and it was here that he acquired his stage name. He later had his own network show, Plantation Party, on WLW Cincinnati. In 1937, he worked with John Lair and Red Foley to establish the Renfro Valley Barn Dance. In the early 40s, Ford, as the Duke Of Paducah, joined the Grand Ole Opry, where he soon became a favourite on thePrince Albert Show segment. Following a disagreement with the sponsors in 1948, he was replaced on that show by Rod Brasfield but he remained anOpry regular, on other segments, until 1959, although he then continued to make guest appearances for many more years. In the early 60s, he acted as ringmaster for his own circus but in later years, he worked with Hank Williams Jnr.’s touring show. He appeared in various television programmes and was always popular on chat shows, where he related tales from his years in showbusiness. He played in several films, includingCountry Music On Broadway, and also delivered serious lectures at colleges. His famous closing line was: ‘I’m going back to the wagon, boys, these shoes are killing me.’ It was, however, not the shoes but cancer that killed the Duke of Paducah, when he lost his long battle against it in 1986.
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