Conway Twitty (September 1, 1933 – June 5, 1993), born Harold Lloyd Jenkins, was one of the United States' most successful country music artists of the 20th century. He also enjoyed success in early rock and roll, R&B, and pop music. He held the record for the most number one singles of any act with 55 No. 1 Billboard country hits until George Strait broke the record in 2006. From 1971–76, Twitty received a string of Country Music Association awards for duets with Loretta Lynn. A former member of the Grand Ole Opry, he was inducted into both the Country Music and the Rockabilly Halls of Fame.
Conway Twitty was born Harold Jenkins on September 1, 1933 in Friars Point, Mississippi. He was named by his great uncle after his favorite silent movie actor, Harold Lloyd. The Jenkins family moved to Helena, Arkansas when Jenkins was 10 years of age, and it was in Helena that he put together his first singing group, the Phillips County Ramblers.
Two years later, he had his own local radio show every Saturday morning. Jenkins also practiced his second passion, baseball. He received an offer to play with the Philadelphia Phillies after high school, but he was drafted into the US Army. He served in the Far East and organized a group called The Cimmerons to entertain fellow GIs.
After his military discharge, Jenkins again pursued a music career. After hearing Elvis Presley's song, "Mystery Train", he began writing rock and roll material. He headed for the Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee and worked with Sam Phillips, owner and founder of Sun Studios, to get the "right" sound.
Twitty's fortunes changed in 1958, while he was with MGM Records, under the name Conrad. An Ohio radio station did not play "I'll Try", an MGM single that went nowhere in terms of sales, radio play, and jukebox play; instead playing the B side, "It's Only Make Believe", a song written between sets by Twitty and drummer Jack Nance when they were in Hamilton, Ontario playing at the Flamingo Lounge. The record took nearly one year to reach and stay at the top spot on the Billboard pop music charts in the U.S., as well as No. 1 in 21 other countries. It became the first of nine Top 40 hits for Twitty. That same year, country singer Tabby West of ABC-TV's Ozark Jubilee heard Twitty and he was booked to appear on the show.
For a brief period, some believed he was Elvis Presley recording under a different name. This was largely the case with "It's Only Make Believe". Twitty would go on to enjoy rock and roll success with songs including "Danny Boy" (pop No. 10) and "Lonely Blue Boy" (pop No. 6). "Lonely Blue Boy", originally titled "Danny", was recorded by Presley for the film King Creole but was not used in the soundtrack.
In 1960, he appeared in three feature films, College Confidential, Sex Kittens Go to College and Platinum High School.
Twitty always wanted to record country music and—beginning in 1965—he did just that. His first few country albums were met with some country DJs refusing to play them because he was known as a rock-n-roll singer. However, he finally broke free with his first top five country hit, "The Image Of Me", in July 1968, ensued by his first number one country song, "Next In Line", in November 1968. Few of his singles beginning in 1968 ranked below the top 5.
In 1970, Twitty recorded and released his biggest hit ever, "Hello Darlin'" (which spent four weeks at the top of the country chart). In 1971 he released his first hit duet with Loretta Lynn, "After the Fire Is Gone". It was a success, and many more followed, including "Lead Me On" (1971), "Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man" (1973), "As Soon As I Hang Up the Phone" (1974), "Feelins'" (1975), "I Still Believe In Waltzes", "I Can't Love You Enough" and many others. Together, Conway and Loretta (as they were known in their act), won four consecutive Country Music Association awards for vocal duo (1972-75) and a host of other duo and duet awards from other organizations throughout the 1970s.
In 1973, Twitty released "You've Never Been This Far Before", which was not only No. 1 in country for three weeks that September but also reached No. 22 on the pop charts. Some disc jockeys refused to play the song because of its suggestive lyrics.
In 1978 he issued the single "The Grandest Lady of Them All" honoring the Grand Ole Opry, but for the first time since 1967, a single of his failed to reach top-10 status as some radio stations refused to play a song honoring the property of a competitor (broadcast by WSM-AM). Nevertheless, the single reached the top 20 but it peaked well below expectations, and this set in motion the changes that were to take place in his career, including a new hairstyle, changing from the slick-back pompadour style to the curlier style he would keep the rest of his life.
In 1985, going by all weekly music trade charts, the song "Don't Call Him a Cowboy" became the 50th single of his career to achieve a No. 1 ranking. He would have five more through 1990, giving him a total of 55 number 1 hits. George Strait eclipsed the feat of 50 number 1 hits in 2002 with his single "She'll Leave You With a Smile" and then reached No. 1 for the 56th time in 2007 with the single "Wrapped".
Throughout much of his country music career his home was Decca Records, later re-named MCA. He signed with the label in late 1965 but left in 1981 when it appeared Decca was marketing and promoting newer acts, plus management at the label had changed and other factors brought on the decision. He joined Elektra/Asylum in 1982. That label merged with its parent company, Warner Bros. Records in 1983. He stayed on with Warner Bros. Records through early 1987 but then went back to MCA to finish out his career. In 1993, shortly before he died, he recorded a new album, Final Touches.
Twitty lived for many years in Hendersonville, Tennessee, just north of Nashville, where he built a country music entertainment complex called Twitty City. The address was 1 Country Music Blvd. Its lavish displays of Christmas lights were a famous local sight. Conway Twitty and Twitty City were once featured on the TV series Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. A popular tourist stop throughout the 1980s and into the early 1990s, it was shut down in 1994 following a year-long tribute show called Final Touches, when fans and peers in the music business dropped by. The complex was auctioned off and bought by the Trinity Broadcasting Network for its religious programs.
Twitty became ill while performing in Branson, Missouri, and was in pain while he was on the tour bus. He died in Springfield, Missouri, at Cox South Hospital from an abdominal aortic aneurysm.
Since his death, his son Michael and grandson Tre have been carrying on the legacy of Twitty's music. His most recent chart appearance on the country charts was a duet with Anita Cochran, "I Want to Hear A Cheating Song" (2004). Twitty's voice was electronically recreated based on one of his hits from the 1980s.
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