The Duke of Paducah: The country comedian ”The Duke of Paducah” was one of Gladys Presley’s favourite acts. He was born Benjamin Frances Ford on May 12, 1901 in DeSoto, Missouri and he was nicknamed ”Whitey” for his blonde hair. Whitey Ford was raised by his grandmother in Little Rock, Arkansas. He didn’t finish school and often joked he was a graduate of the ”University of Hard Knocks.”
He served in the U.S. Navy during World War I and during this time he learned to play the banjo. After he left the navy, he formed a musical group and performed across the vaudeville circuit. During the Great Depression he turned to working in radio as a comedian and emcee and took the stage name ”The Duke of Paducah,” developing a rube character whose suit was too small and who wore button shoes. His tag line for the end of his act became, ”I’m goin’ back to the wagon, boys, these shoes are killin’ me!”
In the 1940s he starred on the NBC segment of the Grand Ole Opry’s radio show. He toured throughout the 1950s, sometimes appearing on the same bill as Elvis, which allowed an opportunity for Gladys to meet him. At Elvis’s show in Little Rock, Arkansas on August 3, 1955 Gladys and Vernon Presley were in attendance to meet with Colonel Parker. Knowing that Gladys was a Whitey Ford fan and knowing that she was balking at approving a management contract with Parker for Elvis, who was still a minor requiring parental co-signing for contracts, Parker brought Whitey Ford along to this meeting to sing his praises. In an interview many years later Ford recalled that Gladys Presley was very reluctant to trust in Colonel Parker and indeed she and Vernon did not sign the contract that night, much to Elvis’s disappointment. The Colonel was not deterred and they would eventually sign with him.
Whitey Ford continued to tour until 1958 when he became the host of a Nashville TV show called ”Country Junction.” He recorded some of his comedy routines in the 1960s and often was asked to be a guest speaker for public functions. He published a book of his jokes in 1980. Unfortunately, he lost a long battle with cancer on June 20, 1986. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame four months after his death.