The man who penned the massively popular 1967 hit "Gentle on My Mind," bluegrass eccentric John Hartford would refine his multilingual musician skills and love of music to become one of country music's most fascinating and talented performers.
Born in New York City in 1938 and raised in St. Louis, MO, Hartford began to harbor a love for bluegrass and riverboats after following local musicians and spending his time near the Mississippi throughout his childhood. An accomplished fiddler and five-string banjo plucker by 13, Hartford studied art at St. Louis' Washington University before playing with local bands in the early '60s and moving to Tennessee to become a disc jockey. Signed to RCA by Chet Atkins in 1966 and gaining exposure after Glenn Campbell recorded a cover of "Earthwords and Music" in 1967, Hartford won two Grammys for "Gentle on My Mind" the same year and paved the path for the song that would eventually be recorded by over 200 country music artists. Hartford hosted his own television show in the early '70s after popular appearances on The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, though he would soon return to Nashville to stay focused on music following a tempting offer from CBS to star in another television series. Writing books and providing voiceovers for such projects as Ken Burns's Civil War series, Hartford kept busy and eventually recorded almost 40 records. Hartford made contributions to the soundtrack of Joel and Ethan Coen's O Brother Where Art Thou (2000) shortly before his death from cancer in June of 2001. He was 63.