George Morgan was a singing sensation in the privacy of his car. He could drive to work in the predawn gloom and warble to his heart’s content.
Humming along to the engine one dreary morning in 1947, the Barberton man felt particularly inspired. A bittersweet song began to unfold in his mind as he thought about the girlfriend who had just broken up with him.
“Candy kisses, wrapped in paper,” he crooned. “Mean more to you than any of mine.”
Within 20 minutes, he had roughed out a song that would become a smash hit and catapult him to international fame.
Morgan had been a fan of country music for as long as he could remember. One of six siblings, he was born in 1924 to Zachariah and Ethel Morgan in Waverly, Tenn., near Nashville. He was 3 years old when the family moved to Barberton, where his father found a job at Seiberling Rubber Co.
The Magic City was 500 miles from Music City, but the magic of radio helped bridge the distance. On Saturday evenings, the family nestled into their home at 453 W. State St. and tuned in to the Grand Ole Opry broadcast on 50,000-watt station WSM in Nashville.
“I grew up listening to country music because to my folks, it was something from down home,” Morgan later recalled.
As a boy, he learned to play harmonica and guitar, composing songs, singing his heart out and dreaming of performing on the radio. He received a public education, but dropped out of Barberton High in the 11th grade. Morgan enlisted in the U.S. Army during World War II, only to be released months later on a medical discharge.
Working odd jobs in a restaurant, bakery and rubber shop, he began to think that music might be a better career path. He sang to customers at Benny Katz’s barbershop at Kenmore Boulevard and Wooster Road North. He also booked his first professional gig, earning $5 a night to sing at boxer Chet O’Kelley’s cocktail lounge at 140 Second St. NW.
At 6-foot-1 and rail thin, Morgan stood out in a crowd. He had slicked hair, a mischievous smile, a smooth voice and earnest delivery, sounding like a country Bing Crosby.
He was thrilled to perform live “hillbilly music” — that’s what they called it then — as an amateur act on WAKR radio’s Pal Time program on Saturday evenings in Akron. The act was so good that Wooster radio station WWST hired Morgan as an early morning talent in 1947 to sign on the air each day.
Commuting to work at WWST changed Morgan’s life — as he told interviewer Peggy Robbins at the Nashville Tennessean Magazine in 1949.
“I was crazy about a girl,” Morgan explained. “We had an argument and she wouldn’t let me kiss her. No matter how hard I tried to make up with her, I couldn’t get her back into a kissing mood.
“One day while I was driving to station WWST in Wooster, where I had a program, I got to thinking about the candy kisses my mother used to bring me from town when I was a kid. Suddenly, I said to myself, ‘That girl of mine would take a candy kiss instead of mine any old time.’
“I was practically heartbroken about my smoochless romance, but I wasn’t so completely in shreds that I failed to recognize the song possibilities in the idea. Twenty minutes later, over WWST, I was strumming a new tune on my guitar and singing a new song, Candy Kisses.”
He took his theme song with him in 1948 when he landed a job at WWVA radio in Wheeling, W.Va. After several months, he moved on to WSM in Nashville, the station that he listened to as a boy. Morgan lived in a room at the YMCA in case the job didn’t pan out.
Making it big
Things happened pretty fast after that. Columbia Records signed him to a deal in September. Two weeks later, the Grand Ole Opry hired Morgan to replace vocalist Eddy Arnold, who had announced he was stepping down from the Nashville institution.
On the night of Morgan’s debut Sept. 25, 1948, he got lost and nearly missed the show.
“I was walking along a dark street, getting more frantic by the minute, when I saw these two fellows talking near a street light,” he recalled years later. “Walking up to them, I timidly asked, ‘Could you tell me where the Ryman Auditorium is?’ I looked closer and identified that one of the men was Eddy Arnold. Simultaneously, he recognized me.”
Morgan needn’t have worried. The show was a big success. The Barberton crooner remained a popular star at the Opry for the next 27 years.
Morgan, 24, recorded the classic Candy Kisses for Columbia in January 1949. By early April, the song soared to No. 1 on the country chart and remained there for three weeks, earning its crooner the nickname “The Candy Kid.” That month, Morgan’s songs Rain in My Heart, Please, Don’t Let Me Love You and Room Full of Roses also clogged the Top 10.
Candy Kisses went on to sell more than 2 million copies. Singers Elton Britt, Red Foley and Cowboy Copas had Top 10 cover versions — all in 1949. Over the decades, it was recorded by such artists as Tony Bennett, Dean Martin, Jerry Lee Lewis, Danny Kaye, Kitty Wells, Ernest Tubb and Bill Haley and the Comets.
Old flame moves on
What happened to the ex-girlfriend who inspired it?
“Oh, she finally married another fellow,” Morgan said. “But I’m sure glad we courted long enough to argue!”
In 1949, Morgan returned to Ohio to marry Anastasia “Anna” Paridon, a Doylestown native whom he met at a Marshallville dance. The couple wed at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Doylestown. They named their first daughter Candy, naturally. Over the next decade, the Morgans welcomed four more children: Beth, Liana, Marty and Lorrie.
Summit Beach Park held “George Morgan Day” in 1949. He was the headliner with opening acts Hank Williams and Little Jimmy Dickens.
Morgan returned often to Barberton to visit his parents at their new home at 934 Brady Ave. In the early 1950s, he was a featured entertainer for a talent show at Barberton High School and played with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra in Centennial Park.
Over the years, he enjoyed several more hit songs, including Almost, A Lover’s Quarrel, There Goes My Life, I’m in Love Again, You’re the Only Good Thing and One Dozen Roses.
The Candy Kid had become a silver-haired crooner by the late 1960s. How proud he was when his youngest daughter, Loretta Lynn Morgan, better known as Lorrie, made her Grand Old Opry debut at age 13 in 1973. Tears filled his eyes when he saw his daughter in the spotlight. No one could have guessed that she would grow up to be a country superstar, selling 6 million records.
George Morgan suffered a heart attack in May 1975 and made his final appearance at the Opry on June 28, 1975.
He had heart surgery a week later, lapsed into a coma and died June 28, 1975, at age 51.
The inscription on his grave at Spring Hill Cemetery in Nashville reads: “A beautiful man, a beautiful voice and a heart to match.”
In 1998, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, along with Tammy Wynette, Elvis Presley and former Grand Ole Opry executive E.W. “Bud” Wendell.
Today, daughter Lorrie Morgan carries on her father’s legacy, regularly performing Candy Kisses during concerts.
Written in 20 minutes, a life-changing song is regarded today as a country classic.
“You don’t mean it when you whisper those sweet love words in my ear. Candy kisses, wrapped in paper, mean more to you than mine do, dear.”
Beacon Journal copy editor Mark J. Price is the author of The Rest Is History: True Tales From Akron’s Vibrant Past, a book from the University of Akron Press. He can be reached at 330-996-3850 or firstname.lastname@example.org.