I’m Going Back To Old Kentucky #42

From October 1, 2010 through to the end of September 2011, we will, each day, celebrate the life of Bill Monroe by sharing information about him and those people who are associated with his life and music career. This information will include births and deaths; recording sessions; single, LP and CD release dates; and other interesting tidbits. Richard F. Thompson is responsible for the research and compilation of this information. We invite readers to share any tidbits, photos or memories you would like us to include.

  • November 11, 1973 David ‘Stringbean’ Akeman died, murdered, along with his wife, Estelle, by burglars at his rural Davidson County home near Nashville, Tennessee. Since the time when their bodies were discovered is uncertain, it is possible that they died on November 10. *
  • November 11, 1973 Randy Chapman played his last date, filling in on banjo, with the Blue Grass Boys.
  • November 11, 1996 Don Stover died at his Maryland home, after being diagnosed as having a brain tumour two years earlier.  He was 68. **

Dave Akeman a.ka. StringbeanAkeman was the first banjo player that Monroe employed joining in July 1942. He played on one session as a Blue Grass Boy, recording eight tracks in February 1945. Akeman left the band in the fall of 1945 to form a comedy duet with Lew Childre. They appeared regularly on the Grand Old Opry. Stringbean was later a regular on the television variety show Hee Haw.

Stellar newgrass mandolin player Sam Bush recently recorded a tribute to Akeman and his wife; The Ballad of Stringbean and Estelle on his latest album Circles Around Me (Sugar Hill SKU SUG-CD-4055).

Most reports relating the circumstances surrounding the deaths of David and Estelle Akeman follow a consistent pattern.

Dave Akeman lived an extremely modest, simple life. Remembering the hard times of the Depression, Stringbean and his wife lived in a tiny cabin near Ridgetop, Tennessee, approximately 20 miles outside of Nashville, near his friend Grandpa Jones. Their only luxury was a Cadillac automobile.

Stringbean did not trust banks due to the multiple bank failures of the Hoover years, and he kept thousands of dollars on his person, which he was known to flash around. It was rumoured in nearby Nashville that Stringbean had a fortune in cash stashed at his house. It was these rumors that led two cousins, John and Marvin Douglas, on the night of November 10, 1973, to break into the Akemans’ cabin.

Returning from a performance at the Grand Old Opry, the burglars shot Stringbean dead after he entered his house, then ran down and killed Estelle. By immediately murdering Stringbean, they had no chance to question him on the whereabouts of any hidden monies, which they were unable to find. They managed to steal some firearms and a chainsaw, all at the cost of two lives. Stringbean and Estelle’s neighbour Grandpa Jones discovered his slain friends the next morning, a Sunday.

A police investigation into the double homicide resulted in the conviction of cousins John A. Brown and Marvin Douglas Brown, both of whom were 23 years old at the time of the murders. At trial, it was revealed that the two had ransacked the cabin and then killed Stringbean. Estelle shrieked when she saw Stringbean hit with the bullets. A few moments later, she was gunned down as well. The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals described the scene, “Upon their return, Mr. Akeman spotted the intruders in his home and evidently offered some resistance. One of the Brown cousins fatally shot Mr. Akeman, then pursued, shot and killed Mrs. Akeman. At their trial, each defendant blamed the other for the homicides.”

Brown v. State, (unpublished decision at 1991 WL 242928)

* Stover played banjo with Bill Monroe for about six months in 1957, recording eleven tracks with him including a remake of Molly and Tenbrooks.

He is mostly known for his long association with the Lilly Brothers, the house band at Boston’s Hillbilly Ranch from 1952 until 1970. Together they helped to spread bluegrass music in the northeast. Except for the short stint with the Blue Grass Boys, Stover performed with The Lilly Brothers at the club six shows a week, 50 weeks a year, as well as on a daily radio show broadcast by WCOP.

Although the group disbanded in 1970, Stover continued to influence a new generation of bluegrass players. In addition to forming a new band, The White Oak Mountain Boys, Stover recorded a brilliant solo album, Things in Life, featuring mandolin player David Grisman. The title song, which Stover wrote, has become something of a standard in bluegrass music.

In the mid-1970s, Stover relocated to Maryland.

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.