Stringbean: The Life and Murder of a Country Legend

Univ. of Illinois. May 2023. 272p. ISBN 9780252087110. pap. $19.95. BIOG
Hagood (English, Florida Atlantic Univ.; Secrecy, Magic, and the One-Act Plays of Harlem Renaissance Women Writers) centers his book on David Akeman (1915–73), known by the stage name “Stringbean.” He was a cast member on the TV show Hee Haw, a Grand Ole Opry regular, and the first banjo player hired by legendary bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe. At age 12, Akeman bought his first banjo in exchange for a couple of chickens. He eventually became one of the country’s best-known exponents of the clawhammer style of playing. He appeared weekly on national television, while maintaining a quiet country life of farming and fishing. Akeman lived frugally and distrusted banks. Rumors of hidden wealth in his rural cabin might have led to his and his wife’s brutal murders in 1973. It was a moment that Hagood posits as the end of the innocence for the Nashville scene. The author fills in the blanks with a fair amount of speculation, but the narrative is believable.
VERDICT This tale will appeal to readers curious about the formative years of the United States’ country-music scene.
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