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Jimmy Dean was a Grammy Award-winning country musician, actor, television host and entrepreneur. He owned a hog-butchering company that he sold to Sara Lee.
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Jimmy Dean was born on August 10, 1928, in Olton, Texas. He first performed publicly with a band called the Tennessee Haymakers. While with the Texas Wildcats, he scored a record deal with Four Star records and, in 1953, his first single became a Top 10 hit. Dean became a co-star in several film and television vehicles. He likewise continued to pursue music, opening a hog-butchering business as well. He died on June 13, 2010, in Varina, Virginia.
"I think the kids in school that laughed at the clothes that we wore and the house that we lived in and then my mother had to cut hair ... I think that was a good motivator. Every time they laughed at me, they just built a fire and there was only one way to put it out—to try and show 'em I was as good as they were."
Famed country singer and entrepreneur Jimmy Ray Dean was born on August 10, 1928, in Olton, Texas, to working-class parents. Raised in Plainview, Texas, Dean's Depression-era upbringing saw him experience abject poverty. His father floated in and out of Jimmy's early life, once slaughtering the young boy's pet goat in order to put food on the table. His mother sewed clothes for Dean and his siblings using sugar sacks—clothes that brought Dean heavy ridicule from his peers. Dean later credited this hard-knock upbringing with giving him his entrepreneurial spirit, and burning desire to succeed. "I think the kids in school that laughed at the clothes that we wore and the house that we lived in and then my mother had to cut hair ... I think that was a good motivator," Dean later told reporters. "Every time they laughed at me, they just built a fire and there was only one way to put it out—to try and show 'em I was as good as they were."
Dean's only refuge from his difficult life was music. Strict Southern Baptists, Dean's family attended church every week, where Jimmy began singing in the choir. His mother also taught him to play piano at the age of 10, and Dean picked up other instruments along the way, including accordion, guitar and harmonica.
In 1946, when he was only in ninth grade, Dean dropped out of school to help provide for the family. He joined the Merchant Marines at age 16, and two years later he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. During his time as a serviceman, Dean also continued to perform music in Washington, D.C., nightclubs. He first performed publicly with a band called the Tennessee Haymakers and, after his discharge from the military in 1948, remained in the area to form the band the Texas Wildcats. He eventually scored a record deal with Four Star records and, in 1953, his first single, "Bummin' Around," became a Top 10 hit. His charming, folksy personality and business-savvy then helped him land his own radio show on WARL, in Arlington, Virginia, where he performed music and interviewed music stars.
Dean turned his successful radio hour into a CBS television show in 1957. Called The Jimmy Dean Show, Dean helped give exposure to then-unknown country stars including Patsy Cline and Roy Clark. Dean continued to experience his own musical successes, as well. In 1961, he released the single "Big Bad John," a song about a brave coal miner who saves his fellow workers during a mine tragedy. The single hit No. 1 on both the country and pop charts, earned Dean a Grammy Award, and put the singer firmly into the mainstream music business.
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