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Nashville pioneer Ray Price dead at 87

By Matt Smith, CNN
updated 8:17 PM EST, Mon December 16, 2013
Ray Price was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Ray Price was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The 1956 song "Crazy Arms" introduced what's now dubbed the "Ray Price beat"
  • Price died Monday at age 87 after battling cancer
  • He started singing during veterinary school; Hank Williams took him on tour in 1951

(CNN) -- Ray Price, the Nashville star whose trademark "shuffle" beat became a country music staple, has died at age 87, his agent said Monday.

Price's 1956 single "Crazy Arms" spent 20 weeks atop the country charts and introduced a bass-driven, four-four rhythm that became a touchstone of the Nashville sound -- a rhythm later dubbed the "Ray Price beat."

"Ray expanded country music to the masses," Bobby Roberts, Price's agent, said in a written statement. "He was a true gentleman that absolutely cared about his fans."

He had started singing while in veterinary school, after coming back to Texas from World War II. His first records drew little notice, but he caught the attention of Hank Williams, who took Price on tour with him in 1951 and brought him to Nashville, where he began to sing with the Grand Ole Opry.

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Price "had one of the greatest voices in country music history as well as a great sense of humor," Roberts said. His other hits included "Heartaches by the Number" in 1959, a heavily orchestrated 1967 version of the traditional "Danny Boy" and the Kris Kristofferson-penned "For the Good Times" in 1970.

Price was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in November 2012, according to the Country Music Hall of Fame, which inducted him in 1996. He died Monday afternoon, Roberts said.

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CNN's Carolyn Sung contributed to this report.

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