Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Conway Twitty, born Harold Lloyd Jenkins, (September 1, 1933 - June 5, 1993) was America's most successful hit maker of the 20th century, in that he had the most singles (55) reach Number 1. Conway Twitty's totals were greater than that of Elvis, Frank Sinatra, the Beatles and Garth Brooks. Most notably known as a country music singer, Twitty also enjoyed success in early Rock and Roll, R&B, and Pop music (among others).
Twitty was born in the small town of Friars Point, Mississippi. His family moved to Helena, Arkansas when he was 10, and there he put together his first band, the "Phillips County Ramblers". Two years later, he had his own local radio show every Saturday morning. While in Arkansas, Twitty indulged his second passion, baseball. He received an offer to play with the Philadelphia Phillies after high school but he joined the United States Army instead.
After his discharge from the Army, Twitty again pursued a music career. After hearing Elvis Presley's "Mystery Train," he began writing original rock 'n' roll material. As a matter of course, he headed for the Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee, and worked with the likes of Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and many others. He changed his name in 1957, looking at a map, he selected Conway, Arkansas and Twitty, Texas. The character of Conrad Birdie in the musical Bye Bye Birdie is said to be based loosely on a combination of Twitty and Presley.
Twitty's fortune changed when he joined MGM records. He had all but given up hope when news came from a DJ in Ohio that he was very popular. The single "I'll Try" had failed, but the DJ flipped the single over and began playing "It's Only Make Believe". The song was an instant hit and for a brief period, some believed that it was Elvis recording under a different name. Conway Twitty became an overnight success thanks to the B side of his single. The song didn't take long to record and never was thought to have been anything but a filler until that day in 1958. The song went on to sell over 8 million records and to No. 1 on the Billboard pop music charts in the U.S. as well as No. 1 in 21 different nations. Twitty would go on to enjoy rock-n-roll success with a hard rock song like, "Danny Boy" and "Lonely Blue Boy".
Conway Twitty always wanted to record country music and in 1965 he did just that. His first few country albums were met with country DJs refusing to play them by the count that he was well-known as a rock-n-roll singer. He finally broke free with his first number one country song, "Next In Line" in 1967. In 1970, Conway would record and release his second signature song, "Hello Darlin'". He had accomplished something that most singers never do, twice. He scored two signature songs. One Rock, one country. Up till the time of his death, Conway opened his concerts with one and closed with the other.
In 1971, he released his first hit duet with Loretta Lynn, "After the Fire Is Gone," followed by "Lead Me On" (1971), "Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man" (1973) and "As Soon As I Hang Up the Phone" (1974). Together, they won four consecutive Country Music Association awards for vocal duo (1972 - 1975).
Twitty lived for many years in Hendersonville, Tennessee, just north of Nashville, where he built a country music entertainment complex called Twitty City . Its lavish displays of Christmas lights were a famous local sight. It has since been sold to the Trinity Broadcasting Network and converted to a Christian music venue.
Twitty never won a solo CMA award. Yet, by the end of his tenure at MCA in 1981, he had accumulated 32 No. 1 hits. Another 15 had reached the Top 5. Twitty became ill while performing in Branson, Missouri, and he died from an abdominal aneurysm. Shortly before he died, he had recorded a new album, suitably called Final Touches . Twitty was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1999.
Conway Twitty married three times. And after his death the widow, Dee Henry Jenkins, and his four grown children from the previous wives, Michael, Joni, Kathy and Jimmy Jenkins, fell into a very public dispute over the estate. His will had not been updated to account for the third marriage, but Tennessee law reserves one third of any estate to the widow. A public auction of much property and memorabilia had to be held due to the inability of the heirs to agree on a division of the assets.
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