Burl Ives (June 14, 1909 - April 14, 1995) was an acclaimed folk music singer, author and actor.
Born in Jasper County, Illinois, Ives is probably best remembered for his music. Carl Sandburg described him as "the mightiest ballad singer born in any century". He dropped out of college to travel about as an itinerant singer during the early 1930s, earning his way by doing odd jobs and playing his banjo. He was jailed in Mona, Utah for singing "Foggy Foggy Dew", which the authorities decided was a bawdy song.
Ives graduated in 1931 from Eastern Illinois University. During college he was a member of the Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity.
In 1940 Ives began his own radio show, titled The Wayfaring Stranger after one of his popular ballads. The show was very popular, and in 1946 Ives was cast as a singing cowboy in the film Smoky. His first book, The Wayfaring Stranger, was published in 1948.
Other movie credits include East of Eden (1955); Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958); The Big Country (1958), for which he won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor; and Our Man in Havana (1959), based on the Graham Greene novel.
In the 1940s Ives popularized several traditional folk songs, such as "Lavender Blue" (his first hit, a folk song from the 17th century), "Foggy Foggy Dew" (an English folk song), "Blue Tail Fly" (an old Civil War tune) and "Big Rock Candy Mountain" (an old hobo ditty).
Ives's reputation was tarnished in the eyes of some when he cooperated with the House Unamerican Activities Committee, and named fellow folk singer Pete Seeger and others as possible Communists. His cooperation with the HUAC ended his blacklisting, allowing him to continue with his movie acting.
In the 1960s Ives began singing country music. In 1962 he released three major hits, "A Little Bitty Tear," "Call Me Mr In-Between," and "Funny Way of Laughing", all three of which crossed over and topped the pop charts as well.
Possibly his most remembered role today is as narrator Sam the Snowman in the Rankin-Bass animated television special, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964). Ives performed in other television productions, most notably Pinocchio (1968) and Roots (1977).
Ives's "A Holly Jolly Christmas" is a very popular tune during the Christmas season, as it's frequently played on the radio and was featured in the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer special. Frank Black of The Pixies is a contemporary fan of Ives according to Apple's iTunes Music Store. In a contribution to "Celebrity Playlists", Black includes no less than 15 of Ives' hits in his playlist.
The Ren and Stimpy Show's first season episode "Stimpy's Invention" featured a record, "Happy Happy Joy Joy," which contained a variety of spoken-word segments meant to parody some of Ives' albums from the 1960s. When Ives saw the episode, he contacted Ren and Stimpy Show creator John K. and said that he would have been willing to do the voice-over work for it.
Ives is known to Star Wars fans for his role as the narrator in the 1984 made-for-TV film Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure.
During his lifetime, Ives and his wife lived with their children in a home located alongside the water in Anacortes, in the Puget Sound area of Washington, where he died of cancer of the mouth at the age of 85. Burl Ives is interred in Mound Cemetery in Jasper County, Illinois.