Country singer Eddy Arnold, May 8 Eddy Arnold, the most successful country hit maker of all time, who played a crucial role in transforming what had long been considered "hillbilly music" from a rural phenomenon into music with broad-based national appeal, died Thursday, May 8, 2008, at a long-term care facility near Nashville. He was 89, a week short of his 90th birthday. His wife of 66 years, Sally, had died in March and Arnold had broken his hip the same month in a fall at his home. He has been called "the Garth Brooks of his time" for creating the template still followed today by country singers who reach beyond a niche audience to capture a broad following, a move that angered many traditional country fans. He sold 80 million records, had his own TV show, filled in for Johnny Carson as a Tonight Show host. Arnold also had a nine-year run of 57 consecutive top 10 hits from 1945 to 1954. Although Arnold's popularity dipped for a time in the late 1950s in the wake of rock 'n' roll's arrival, it rebounded in the 1960s, after a crucial change in the people guiding him musically and professionally. That led to another run of hits that crystallized what became known as "the Nashville Sound," typified by swelling orchestral backgrounds and female choir voices behind songs such as Make the World Go Away and I Want to Go With You, both No. 1 country hits. He's shown here in 1992 with Chet Atkins, left and Vince Gill during a one-hour musical tribute on TNN, "A Celebration of Eddy Arnold."
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