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Country Music Hall of Famer and Grand Ole Opry member Charlie Daniels, most famous for the good-vs.-evil fiddle epic “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” died Monday morning at Summit Medical Center in Hermitage, Tenn., from a hemorrhagic stroke, according to his publicist. He was 83.
Daniels was born Oct. 28, 1936, in Wilmington, N.C., and by the time he finished high school he was proficient in guitar, fiddle, banjo, and mandolin. Along with pursuing his own musical career with his band, he worked behind the scenes, playing for the likes of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Ringo Starr, Hank Williams Jr., and the Marshall Tucker Band, and producing the Youngbloods’ 1969 album Elephant Mountain. Daniels scored his first top 10 hit with "Uneasy Rider" in 1973, followed by the minor hits "The South's Gonna Do It Again" and "Long Haired Country Boy.” However, it was “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” — a bluegrass/rap hybrid jam that told the dramatic tale of Beelzebub’s attempt to possess an intrepid young virtuoso’s soul through a winner-takes-all fiddle-playing contest — that became Daniels’s signature song.
In 1979, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” won a Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance and a Country Music Association Award for Single of the Year; it went to No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and spent 14 weeks on the Hot Country Singles charts, peaking at No. 1. The following year, the blazing track crossed over to pop and rock radio after Daniels memorably performed it in the John Travolta/Debra Winger box office smash Urban Cowboy and the story-song was included on that film’s triple-platinum soundtrack. Daniels joined forces with fiddler Mark O'Connor in 1993 to record a sequel, "The Devil Came Back to Georgia,” which featured vocals by Johnny Cash, Marty Stuart, and Travis Tritt.
Daniels was politically vocal throughout his career, leaning towards conservatism although was an early supporter of Democrat Jimmy Carter's presidential campaign and performed at Carter’s inauguration in 1977. Daniels’s politically charged songs included "In America" (about the Iran Hostage Crisis), "Simple Man" (which was interpreted by many listeners as pro-vigilantism), and "The South's Gonna Do It Again.” In 2003, he published the commentary book Ain't No Rag: Freedom, Family, and the Flag, and the Charlie Daniels Band's website featured a "Soap Box" section where he would regularly blog about his social and political views. Daniels’s final Soap Box post was on July 3, when he wrote, “This year, as we celebrate the 244th birthday of the greatest nation the world has ever known, we are beset with many problems, some of our making and some we have no control over. But, be that as it is, America is still the greatest and I want to express my personal feelings about our beloved country, its magnificence, its beauty and its diverse population.” His statement was accompanied by the full lyrics to his 2003 song “My Beautiful America.”
Daniels is survived by his wife of 55 years, Hazel, and their son, Charlie Daniels Jr.
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