Ernie Ashworth, country music crossover star, dies

Tue Mar 3, 2009 1:43pm EST
 
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NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Reuters) - Grand Ole Opry member Ernie Ashworth, whose 1963 smash hit "Talk Back Trembling Lips" was one of the first country tunes to cross over into pop, has died, hospital officials said on Tuesday.

Ashworth, 80, died on Monday at Trousdale Medical Center in Hartsville, Tennessee. Hospital officials did not give the cause of death but the singer-songwriter had recently undergone heart bypass surgery.

A native of Huntsville, Alabama, Ashworth listened to the Opry on radio broadcasts and joined a band named the Tunetwisters. He later fulfilled a dream by joining the Opry in 1964.

Ashworth wrote songs in the 1950s for the Acuff-Rose publishing house that were recorded by country singers including Little Jimmy Dickens, Carl Smith and Johnny Horton, and wrote "I Wish," which was recorded by pop crooner Paul Anka.

Ashworth signed on with the MGM label in 1955, but his songs failed to catch on and he returned to Alabama to work in an Army missile plant.

He took his reedy tenor to Decca Records in 1960 and scored with the hits "Each Moment" and "You Can't Pick a Rose in December." Moving over to Hickory Records in 1962, he recorded "Everybody But Me" and a year later scored his only No. 1 hit, "Talk Back Trembling Lips."

The song spent 36 weeks on the country music charts and crossed over to the pop charts -- making it one of the first crossover successes.

Ashworth continued to write and record songs, perform, and appear on the Opry. He bought a pair of Tennessee radio stations and his traditional style found favor among European country fans. He lived in semi-retirement on his farm in Lewisburg, near Nashville.

(Reporting by Pat Harris; Editing by Eric Walsh)