April 30, 2015 - September 24, 2015
Benjamin Francis “Whitey” Ford—known professionally as the Duke of Paducah—was a leading country comedian from the late 1930s to the mid-1950s.
Ford was born in Missouri, in 1901, and raised in Little Rock, Arkansas. In the 1920s, he joined a Dixieland jazz group as a banjoist. He began performing on Chicago radio station WLS, around 1929, and eventually toured with Gene Autry.
While broadcasting over St. Louis radio KWK in the mid-1930s, Ford acquired his Duke of Paducah stage name, earlier invented by humorist Irvin S. Cobb. By then Ford had developed his quick-witted comic rube character, begun to compile an enormous library of jokes, and adopted the famous tag line, “I’m goin’ back to the wagon, boys, these shoes are killin’ me!”
Ford teamed with Red Foley and John Lair in 1937 to organize the Renfro Valley Barn Dance. From 1943 to 1947, he appeared on the Grand Ole Opry’s NBC network segment, then starred in several popular, nationally syndicated radio series.
In the 1950s, Ford performed on the Opry and toured. In 1958, he began hosting the program Country Junction on Nashville’s WLAC-TV. Eventually many of the Duke’s jokes found their way to Hee Haw, after the producers bought Ford’s huge joke collection. Four months after his passing, in 1986, Ford was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. To learn more about the Duke, click here.