\"Mister Guitar,\" Chet Atkins, W4CGP, SK

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  1. Guest

    Guest Guest

    NEWINGTON, CT, Jul 2, 2001--Guitar picker, music legend and Amateur Radio operator Chester B. "Chet" Atkins, W4CGP, of Nashville, Tennessee, died June 30. He was 77. Atkins reportedly died of cancer complications.



    Known as "Mister Guitar," Atkins hailed from East Tennessee. He began his musical career playing fiddle, but later earned his reputation as a guitarist. He went on to become the most-recorded solo instrumental musician in history.



    Formerly WA4CZD, Atkins, a General licensee, obtained the vanity call sign W4CGP in 1998--the suffix standing for "certified guitar picker." He was an ARRL member. He won 14 Grammy awards during his career and was elevated to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1973. He was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993 by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences in part to recognize his guitar-picking technique as well as his wide influence on music. He had more than 100 albums to his credit.



    Atkins began his musical career as a youngster in the 1930s. He said he developed his unique guitar style by listening to radio broadcasts of Merle Travis. Following high school he worked as a musician for WNOX in Knoxville, playing the fiddle. But when his boss, Bill Carlisle, heard his guitar playing, he was put on the station's mid-day barn dance show. Atkins also moonlighted as a jazz guitarist. He later moved to WLW in Cincinnati and worked briefly on the "National Barn Dance" show on WLS in Chicago. When Red Foley left WLS for Nashville's Grand Ole Opry, he took Atkins along.



    Atkins recorded his first tune, "Guitar Blues," while in Nashville. He was signed to an RCA Records contract in the late 1940s, but bounced around among several radio stations before returning to "Music City USA" to stay in 1950. He went on to become one of Nashville's top session musicians, playing on recordings by such greats as Hank Williams, The Everly Brothers and Elvis Presley. He also appeared solo on The Grand Ole Opry. Later he became an RCA Records executive and producer, where he played a role in developing the careers of Roy Orbison, Charley Pride, Jerry Reed, Dolly Parton, Waylon Jennings and others.



    Atkins produced hits by Parton and Jennings, as well as by Don Gibson, Eddy Arnold, and Skeeter Davis among others. He also performed at the Newport Jazz Festival and entertained at the Kennedy White House.



    The appeal of Atkins' music extended beyond the boundaries of the country music world, and he is considered the primary architect of the more lush and uptown "Nashville Sound" that drew on his country music roots. Some country music purists accused Atkins of selling out, but the sound proved popular. Later, some would claim, the "Nashville Sound" saved country music at a time when the world was shifting to rock and pop.



    Atkins stepped down as a record company executive in the 1970s to again concentrate on performing. He was signed by Columbia Records in 1982, and dubbed himself "certified guitar picker" the following year. In his later years of performing, he sometimes paired up with musicians from the pop and jazz worlds and was a frequent guest on the radio program "A Prairie Home Companion," hosted by Garrison Keillor.



    Nashville has continued to recognize Atkins' contributions with an annual "Chet Atkins' Musician Days" festival, which benefits the Chet Atkins Music Education Fund. A Nashville street in the Music Row area also is named for him, and a statue of Atkins was erected last year in downtown Nashville. The Chet Atkins Appreciation Society holds a four-day convention each year.



    A funeral service for Chet Atkins will be held July 3 in Nashville's Ryman Auditorium, which formerly served as the home of The Grand Ole Opry. Atkins is survived by his wife of more than 50 years, Leona, a daughter Merle, a sister and two grandchildren.



    For more information on Chet Atkins, visit the Chet Atkins, Mister Guitar Web site.
     
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