The tune “16 Tons,” written by Merle Travis, is undeniably a part of American musical history; its themes of economic hardship and hard work still permeate our daily lives. Tennessee Ernie Ford’s version made the song famous and it has been covered by countless others including Johnny Cash, B. B. King, Big Bill Broonzy, and even the punk band This Bike Is A Pipe Bomb.
Now is your chance to add to that legacy by recording your own cover of “16 Tons.” This competition complements our special exhibit “Tennessee Ernie Ford: A Life on Stage,” which opened on October 24, 2015 and runs through February 14, 2016. Your rendition of “16 Tons” can be a faithful rendering or you can drastically reimagine the tune: what would it be like as a flamenco tune? A free jazz chart? A bubblegum pop song?
The submitted renditions will be judged by a panel of Birthplace of Country Music Museum staff and members of the Paramount Chamber Players, as well as representatives from Tennessee Ernie Ford Enterprises and the children of Ernie Ford and Merle Travis. The cover versions will be judged on the quality of the performance as well as their musical creativity and originality.
The first-place winner will have the chance to perform their version of “16 Tons” at the exhibit’s closing concert, co-produced by the Paramount Chamber Players, on February 13, 2016 at the Paramount Center for the Arts. First-, second-, and third-place winners will receive a copy of River of No Return: Tennessee Ernie Ford and the Woman He Loved by Jeffrey Buckner Ford and a Birthplace of Country Music Museum mug. First- and second-place winners will also receive their choice of either five free passes to the Birthplace of Country Music Museum or a one-year individual museum membership.