Country star Eddy Arnold dies

Was pioneer of 'the Nashville Sound'

NASHVILLE -- Eddy Arnold, the influential singer who had more than two dozen No. 1 country hits, including two of the six biggest in the history of Billboard's singles chart, and is one of the genre's most successful acts ever, died Thursday at a care facility near Nashville. He was 89.

His wife of 66 years, Sally, died in March, and in the same month, Arnold fell outside his home, injuring his hip. He would have turned 90 next week.

Joel Whitburn's "Top Country Songs, 1944-2005" ranks Arnold as country's all-time No. 1 singles artist; the book is dedicated to him. Arnold's mellow baritone made him the king of the chart beginning in 1945 with his first hit, "Each Minute Seems a Million Years." Counting double-sided singles, he hit the top 10 more than 90 times during the next 35 years, including 28 No. 1s. From 1947-68, Arnold's singles spent a total of 145 weeks at No. 1.

One of those, 1947's "I'll Hold You in My Heart (Till I Can Hold You in My Arms)," spent a record 21 weeks atop the chart, a mark that was tied twice in the 1950s. Less than a year later, Arnold's "Bouquet of Roses" had a 19-week run at No. 1 -- tied for sixth-longest in country history -- and spent 54 weeks on the Billboard chart, a record that still stands.

His other chart toppers include "Anytime," "Just a Little Lovin' (Will Go a Long, Long Way)," "Don't Rob Another Man's Castle," "There's Been a Change in Me," "I Wanna Play House With You" and "I Want to Go With You."

Most of his hits were done in association with famed guitarist Chet Atkins, the producer on most of the recording sessions.

His biggest pop single was "Make the World Go Away," which hit No. 6 in 1965.

Folksy yet sophisticated, Arnold became a pioneer of the "Nashville Sound," also called "countrypolitan," a mixture of country and pop styles.

"I sing a little country, I sing a little pop, and I sing a little folk -- and it all goes together," Arnold said in 1970.

He was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1966. The following year he was the first person to receive the entertainer of the year award from the Country Music Assn.

The late Dinah Shore once described his voice as like "warm butter and syrup being poured over wonderful buttermilk pancakes."

Reflecting on his career, Arnold said he never copied anyone.

"I really had an idea about how I wanted to sing from the very beginning," he said.

Arnold revitalized his career in the 1960s by adding strings, a controversial move for a country artist back then.

"I got to thinking, if I just took the same kind of songs I'd been singing and added violins to them, I'd have a new sound," he told the Associated Press in 2002. "They cussed me, but the disc jockeys grabbed it. ... The artists began to say, 'Aww, he's left us.' Then within a year, they were doing it."

Arnold was born May 15, 1918, on a farm near Henderson, Tenn., the son of a sharecropper. He sang on radio stations in Jackson, Tenn., Memphis and St. Louis before becoming nationally known.

Early in his career, his manager was Col. Tom Parker, who later managed Elvis Presley.

His image was always that of a modest, clean-cut country boy.

"You cannot satisfy all the people," he once said. "They have an image of me. Some people think I'm Billy Graham's half brother, but I'm not. I want people to get this hero thing off their mind and just let me be me."

Erik Pedersen contributed to this report.