Country singer Tom T. Hall died on Friday, Aug. 20, at his home in Franklin, Tenn. Dean Hall, Tom’s son, announced the news on Twitter later that day but didn’t specify the 85-year-old’s cause of death. “Our family asks for privacy during this difficult time,” Dean added.
The Country Music Hall of Fame, which inducted Tom into its ranks in 2008, hailed him as a songwriting storyteller with songs “distinguished by their narrative quality, their rich detail, and their keen insight into the beauty of everyday life.”
Tom’s music career started when he was a child.
According to the Country Music Hall of Fame, Tom was born on May 25, 1936, in Olive Hill, Ky. He was a musical prodigy, writing his first song, “Haven’t I Been Good to You,” at age 9. And in his teen years, Tom played bluegrass with The Kentucky Travelers, his first band.
After his military service, Tom became a radio DJ in Virginia, and his music got the attention of a Nashville publisher who gave Tom’s song “D.J. for a Day” to Jimmy C. Newman, who made it a Top 10 track in 1964. The following year, Tom scored his first No. 1 hit with Johnnie Wright’s rendition of his song “Hello Vietnam.”
Songs like “The Year That Clayton Delaney Died” and “Harper Valley PTA” boosted Tom’s profile — and his net worth.
By the 1970s, Tom was singing his own music, and his No. 1 songs that decade included “A Week in a Country Jail,” “The Year That Clayton Delaney Died,” “(Old Dogs, Children and) Watermelon Wine,” “I Love,” “Country Is,” “I Care,” and “Faster Horses (the Cowboy and the Poet).”
With hits like these, Tom reportedly had a net worth of $5 million at the time of his death.
Tom even wrote songs for kids, including “Sneaky Snake” and “Let’s Play Remember.”
The Kentucky native’s music didn’t just appeal to adults: Tom also catered to the younger set with his 1974 album “Songs of Fox Hollow (for Children of All Ages),” which included tracks like “Sneaky Snake,” “How to Talk to a Little Baby Goat,” and “The Song of the One Legged Chicken.” And his 1995 album “Country Songs for Children” featured the songs “Randy Raccoon” and “Let’s Play Remember.”
He married another songwriter, Miss Dixie.
Tom met the late songwriter Dixie Hall at a BMI award banquet, where she was accepting an award for her work on the Dave Dudley song “Truck Drivin’ Son of a Gun.” After their 1968 wedding, Tom and Dixie and supported fellow bluegrass musicians, operating music publishing companies and a recording studio on their Nashville-area farm, Fox Hollow. And in 2004, the couple earned the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Distinguished Achievement Award. Dixie passed away in 2015 at age 80.
Tom “wrote without judgment or anger, offering a rhyming journalism of the heart.”
Country Music Hall of Fame CEO Kyle Young paid tribute to Tom on Friday in the wake of the songwriter’s death. “Tom T. Hall’s masterworks vary in plot, tone, and tempo, but they are bound by his ceaseless and unyielding empathy for the triumphs and losses of others,” Kyle said, per CNN.
“He wrote without judgment or anger, offering a rhyming journalism of the heart that sets his compositions apart from any other writer. He was a storyteller, a philosopher, a whiskey maker, a novelist, a poet, a painter, a benefactor, a letter writer, a gift giver, a gentleman farmer, and many more things.”