Burl Ives sang folk songs from a young age, first learning from his grandmother. In 1930, Ives dropped out of college and hitchhiked across the country learning folk songs from cowboys, hoboes, miners, and others.
In 1937, Ives settled in New York. The following year, he appeared in the musical, "The Boys from Syracuse." In 1940, CBS gave Ives his own radio program "The Wayfaring Stranger." It was during that period that many of his songs became popular, including "The Blue Tail Fly," "Foggy, Foggy Dew," "Big Rock Candy Mountain," and "I Know an Old Lady (Who Swallowed a Fly)."
Ives' movie credits include "East of Eden," "Desire Under the Elms," "The McMasters," "The Brass Bottle," "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," "Green Grass of Wyoming," "Ensign Pulver," and "The Big Country."
Ives produced seventy-four records, starred in twelve Broadway musicals, appeared as a regular on numerous television shows, and guest starred on ten television specials. His 1962 rendition of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" still airs every year.
The honors, awards, and recognition that Ives received throughout his eighty-year career are too numerous to list. Highlights include The National Cowboy Hall of Fame's "Trustee's Gold Award," the State of Illinois' "Lincoln Laureate," the J.F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts' "Arts and Entertainment Award," television's coveted "Emmy Award", the Boy Scouts' of America "Silver Buffalo Award," the United States' "National Award of Merit," presented by President Gerald R. Ford, and the Academy of Motion Pictures' "Oscar" for Best Supporting Actor. Even with all these honors to his credit, his wife Dorothy described him as a surprisingly shy man.
Ives was initiated into George N. Todd Chapter DeMolay in Charleston, Illinois, in 1927. He was a 33rd Degree Mason. In 1986, he received the DeMolay Legion of Honor. Ives was inducted into the DeMolay Hall of Fame on June 24, 1994.
"I was fortunate to be born into a family of Masons. Indeed, my older sister, Audrey was Grand Matron of the Order of Eastern Star in Illinois. My DeMolay experience came very naturally because of my father and brothers. Thus was my youth enhanced."