David “Stringbean” Akeman was born July 4, 1916 in Annville, Kentucky and died in Ridgetop, Tennessee on November 10, 1973. His friend and co-star of Hee Haw Grandpa Jones found him and Stringbean’s wife Estelle murdered the next morning. Stringbean had been shot and killed inside the house, while his wife was found dead outside.
Stringbean acquired his nickname when the star of a show he was in introduced him as Stringbean and he has been known as Stringbean ever since.
He made a homemade banjo as a child out of a shoebox and thread. Then later he would barter two chickens, for a real banjo and then really began to learn how to play the banjo in the old style.
The Depression would cause Stringbean to find work, with the Civilian Conservation Corps and he built roads and planted trees, as part of that work.
Signs With Bill Monroe’s Band
Bill Monroe signed Stringbean as one of the Bluegrass Boys. Monroe had discovered Stringbean when he was playing semi-pro baseball. Earl Scruggs would later replace Stringbean as the banjo picker in the Bluegrass Boys band.
He married Estelle Stanfill in 1945.
Even though he had been playing music and singing since the 1930’s he didn’t record his first album till the 1960’s.
Started Sagging Britches Fad
Stringbean might have been an inspiration for the sagging britches fad, as can be seen in the photo on the right. The only difference was that Springbean wouldn’t wear that outfit once he stepped off the stage. That outlandish outfit by itself was enough to draw laughs from the audience.
He never did learn to drive a car so his wife Estelle did all the driving. Grandpa Jones had to clean his guns for him, since he didn’t know how.
First Television Appearance
His first television appearance was when he appeared on the Porter Wagoner Show in 1963 and was on another show in 1970. He made one appearance on the Johnny Cash Show in 1971. His big break came when he started appearing on Hee Haw and would be seen in 92 episodes from 1969-1974. The 1974 shows had been filmed previously, before his tragic death in November of 1973.
There were rumors that Stringbean didn’t believe in keeping his money in banks, since he grew up in depressions and saw how many had lost their life savings, when the banks failed. He was known to flash his cash around and apparently John and Marvin Brown, who were 23 year old cousins decided to try finding that money, while Stringbean and his wife were at the Opry.
Stringbean Surprised Burglars
Apparently, they didn’t time it right and the Akemans returned from the Opry, on the night of November 10, 1973, before they thought they would or perhaps they were laying in wait for them, so they could rob them of more cash and both Stringbean and his wife Estelle were shot by the intruders. Ironically, they found only $250 and also stole only a chain saw and some firearms. Stringbean probably drew his gun, but was shot before he could shoot the intruders. By shooting him they didn’t have a chance to question Akeman, about where the money was being hid.
They didn’t notice the $3,000 in his overalls pocket or the $20,000 hidden in a chimney. The $20,000 wouldn’t be found till 23 years later. The money had deteriorated so badly, that it was unusable.
Grandpa Jones would find Stringbean’s wife outside and he found Stringbean also dead inside the house. Stringbean was only 57 at the time of his death. Archie Campbell another co-star, from Hee Haw said that he never heard Stringbean say an unkind word about anyone.
To make things worse for Grandpa Jones the tabloids insinuated that Jones had been having an affair with Stringbean’s wife.
Murderers Sentenced To 198 Years
John and Marvin Brown, who committed the murders of Stringbean and his wife were each sentenced to 198 years in prison. Marvin Brown died in Brushy State Prison in Petros, Tennessee in 2003, which was 30 years after the murders. John Brown has served 41 years of his sentence. He applied for parole in 2011 and won’t be able to apply again till 2017.
This is what John Brown had to say about the murders: He has a devoted wife who had married him shortly before he was arrested, and she says, “John says that he hopes David and Estelle are in heaven, looking on his life and saying that something good did come of this.”
Country music fans have lost an icon in Stringbean. He grew up dirt poor during the Depression and had to struggle to make it in the world of country music. Then when he finally makes the big money he can’t help but show it off. He had come a long way from having nothing in the 30’s to living comfortably in the 70’s, but his life came to a tragic halt on November 10, 1973. He died at 57 which is young for country music performers, who sometime perform into their 80’s like the great Ray Price who recently died.
City Confidential television show filmed an episode in 2003 about the murders of Stringbean and his wife.
The world of country music lost one of its biggest stars on November 10, 1973, but his memory will live on for years to come among fans of country music.