1921-1963, Huntington, Cabell County
Described as “the man with 11-and-a-half yards of personality,” with a deep voice and a towering 6'6" frame, Harold Hawkshaw Hawkins was an immensely popular performer in country music for many years without the benefit of big record success. His first foray into performing came at the age of 15, when he won a talent contest at local radio station WSAZ. He then began working at the station, eventually moving to WCHS in Charleston by the end of the ’30s where he frequently sang with Clarence “Sherlock” Jack.
During 1941, he traveled the United States with a revue. The following year, he joined the military, where he was stationed in the Phillippines and, in Manila, sang on the local army radio. Following his discharge from the Army, he signed with King Records and scored a minor hit with “The Sunny Side of the Mountain,” the song that would eventually become his signature tune. In addition to recording for King, he was a regular on WWVA’s Wheeling Jamboree from 1946-1954. In 1948, he had his first hit single with “Pan American,” which climbed into the country Top Ten.
Over the next three years, he had four other Top Ten singles: “Dog House Boogie” (1948), “I Love You a Thousand Ways” (1951), “I’m Waiting Just for You” (1951), and “Slow Poke” (1951). In 1953, he left King and signed with RCA. In 1955, Hawkins became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Hawkins joined Columbia’s roster in 1959 and released the No. 15 single “Soldier’s Joy” later that year.
The following year, he married fellow country singer Jean Shepard, and they made their home on a farm outside of Nashville, where he bred horses. Hawkins re-signed to King in 1963, releasing “Lonesome 7-7203” as a comeback single early that spring. Though it became a No. 1 hit, Hawkins didn’t live to see it reach the top of the charts – on March 5, 1963, he died in an airplane crash that also killed Patsy Cline and Cowboy Copas. Shepard was pregnant with their first child at the time of the crash; the child was a son, and he was named after his father. Hawkins’s recorded legacy was treated haphazardly in the three decades after his death, but in 1991, Bear Family released a comprehensive, multi-disc overview of his RCA and Columbia Records recordings, called Hawk.