Country Music (2019) s01e02 Episode Script

Hard Times

1 let us pause in life's pleasures and count its many tears while we all sup sorrow with the poor well, "hard times," a song like that has a message.
Poverty is very real and hard times are just around the corner for a lot of people.
For me, the sad songs are the best because they make you feel better because, somehow, they connect you to the world, the fact that we're maybe all in the same boat.
hard times come again no more 'tis the song, the sigh of the weary hard times, hard times, come again no more many days you have lingered around my cabin door hard times, come again no more my friends, I've talked with families who had lost their wheat crop, lost their corn crop, lost their livestock, yet no cracked earth, no blistering sun, no burning wind are a permanent match for the indomitable American farmers and their wives and children, who have carried on through desperate days and inspire us with their self-reliance, their tenacity, and their courage.
It was their father's task to make homes.
It is their task to keep these homes.
And it is our task to help them win their fight.
while we seek mirth and beauty and music light and gay there are frail forms fainting at the door by 1933, the worst economic crisis in United States history, the great depression, had entered its fourth devastating year.
Nearly 13 million workers had lost their jobs, and one out of every 4 farm families had lost their land and their homes.
Between 1933 and 1945, nearly every aspect of American life would be strained and uprooted.
The depression would be followed by the United States' entry into the second world war-- and together, the twin crises would produce the largest internal migrations in the nation's history.
But in the midst of those turbulent times, country music would manage to grow in popularity.
Based on the real-life experiences of America's working people, the music seemed to express perfectly what everyone was going through.
Coping with loss had always been one of its pervasive themes.
According to a song by the Carter family, the only place the depression hadn't reached was in heaven.
In its infancy, to me it came from two places.
And probably two polar opposite type places.
Came from the church, with the Carter family and then it came from the beer joints, with jimmie Rodgers.
The music's first superstar, jimmie Rodgers, had died in 1933, but from his adopted state of Texas two new stars would emerge and push the music's geographic base westward.
From their small valley in appalachia, the Carter family would continue singing songs firmly rooted in the old traditions of balladry and gospel.
But now, the equally old tradition of string band music would be radically changed by two more musicians.
One, from the mountains of Tennessee, would use his voice to give it heightened emotion; the other, from the hills of Kentucky, would use his mandolin to infuse it with heightened urgency.
'tis the song but more important, it will mean a greater contribution to general national prosperity Meanwhile, the still-young medium of radio would become increasingly central to American life, binding people together as they struggled to weather hard times.
You have lingered I think hard times and country music were born for each other.
There's a strange faith and hope that exists in country music, even in songs that have nothing to do with faith and hope.
so many days you have lingered around my cabin door hard times, come again no more I'm going where there's no depression to the lovely land that's free from care in 1933, in the cotton fields near boaz, Alabama, lula and Charlie Maddox had finally given up trying to support themselves and their 7 children as sharecroppers.
Mama, she had always read these dime novels about the gold in California.
They sold everything they had and they got $35 for all their worldly possessions, and started walking to California the next day.
With their 5 youngest children, including their only daughter, Rose, the maddoxes set out on foot, occasionally catching a ride from a sympathetic motorist.
It took them 5 long days to travel just 200 miles and reach jimmie Rodgers' hometown of meridian, Mississippi.
We didn't have any place to stay, so we went to the salvation army and they put us up in one of their, overnight places for people that are down and out.
And they said, "you'll never get to California riding, walking.
" Said, "why don't you ride the freights?" So, they took us down to the railroad yards the next day and showed us how to catch the trains.
We rode the rest of the way to California on freight trains.
I'm going down this that year, officials of just one of the nation's railroads, the Southern pacific, reported that 683,000 transients had been discovered moving from town to town in the company's boxcars.
The Maddox family was now among them.
they say I'm a dust bowl refugee, yes, they say i'm in Oakland, California, they found temporary shelter living in a jumble of drainage culverts called pipe city.
A reporter for the "Oakland tribune" took their picture and wrote a story about them as an example of just how hard the depression had become.
They tried panning for gold, with no luck in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, then moved on to the San Joaquin valley, where they picked crops alongside the thousands of other desperate families who were arriving every day from the south and parts of the great plains ravaged by the dust bowl.
"Okies.
" No matter where you was from, if you wasn't from California, if you was from the south, or the eastern states, you was an okie.
And we, we were okies as far as they was concerned.
Fred Maddox was the oldest of the brothers, and they're all in the cotton patch out in delano, California, and it was sinful to not be bent over and at it from daylight till dark.
Mama Maddox turned around and looked and saw Fred staring up in the air.
And she said, "Fred, what are you a-doing?" And he said, "mama, I've been a-thinking.
" She said, "everybody stop.
" Said, "look at Fred, he's a-thinking.
" And they said, "what are you thinking, Fred?" "I'm a-thinking we need to be a-playin' music instead of doing this.
" And Fred assigned himself to the bass and he assigned all the brothers and, "Rose, you're going to be our singer.
" He didn't know anything about playing bass.
Somebody said, "let me tune that thing for you.
" And he, he said, "it ain't no use," he said, "I don't know where I'm at anyway.
" And he just tuned it down and made sort of a percussion instrument out of it, and was the front man for the group and went into a radio station and got a job the first time.
Telling me the story, he said, "merle," he said, "you know, it took us almost 48 hours to get on the radio.
" Fred Maddox's cotton-patch daydream turned into steady work.
Billed as the Maddox brothers and Rose, they were soon playing at rodeos and clubs from modesto to Bakersfield.
In their travels, they met a young dust bowl refugee who was playing for tips in a nearby bar.
His name was Woody Guthrie.
Like the maddoxes, Guthrie was a big fan of the Carter family-- his song, "this land is your land," would borrow its melody from a popular Carter tune, "little darling, pal of mine.
" Rose Maddox, in turn, grew fond of Guthrie's song "Reno blues," about a lawyer who gets shot after promising a woman from Hollywood to get her a quick divorce from her cowboy husband.
Rose soon incorporated it into their act, as "Philadelphia lawyer.
" was in love with a Hollywood maid wild bill was a gun-totin' cowboy 10 notches were carved on his gun and all the boys around Reno left wild bill's maiden alone one night when he was returning from ridin' the range in the cold he dreamed of his Hollywood sweetheart her love was as lasting as gold as he drew near her window a shadow he saw on the shade 'twas the great Philadelphia lawyer makin' love to bill's Hollywood maid and then you hear a shot on our record and then it goes, tonight back in old Pennsylvania among those beautiful pines there's one less Philadelphia lawyer in old Philadelphia tonight yeah! # Philadelphia lawyer # in old Philadelphia with their exuberant little sister front and center, for the next two decades, the Maddox brothers and Rose would be known as "the most colorful hillbilly band in the world.
" The nation must and shall be considered as a whole and not as an aggregation of disjointed groups.
May we come to know every part of our great heritage in the days to come.
the radio station where the mighty hosts of heaven sing, turn your radio on turn your radio on, turn your radio on among the many businesses brought to their knees by the great depression, few were harder hit than the recording industry.
For Americans struggling simply to survive, buying a record was now a luxury they could no longer afford.
turn your radio on, turn your radio on but listening to the radio was free, and throughout the 1930s, more and more stations realized they could attract large audiences by offering programs that featured old-time music.
Tune in the radio each night with no cost at all and you could hear the, the radio hillbillies.
You could hear the, early in the morning, at noon time, when people came home from work, or you could hear them on Saturday night at jamborees or the, the barn dances.
And the music just provided encouragement to people.
It enabled them to cope with hard times.
You know, you could lose yourself in the life of the cowboy, or the life of the hobo, or listen to a gospel song and gain assurance for a brighter day beyond this world.
All right.
Thank you out there.
We welcome you one and all to the brush creek Kmbc in Kansas City hosted the brush creek follies; wowo in fort Wayne, Indiana, had the hoosier hop.
There was Cincinnati's midwestern hayride, Virginia's old dominion barn dance, St.
Louis' old fashioned barn dance, and Charlotte, north Carolina's crazy barn dance.
Thank you very much, Leon And people would gather in at our place to listen to the radio.
Nobody else had a radio in that neighborhood.
And, by that time, um, Jacksonville, Florida had a barn dance and hopkinsville, Kentucky, and so, you could just go from one to another and listen all night.
As one signed off, we'd hunt up another one, you know? My mom would cook 'em breakfast and they'd go home.
That was swell, gang.
Now Had one neighbor that was close enough, it was a good quarter of a mile away, but he would come out on his porch and listen As we played it with the windows open in the summertime.
One of the stars of wheeling, West Virginia's Saturday night jamboree was the singer and comedian Louis Marshall Jones.
Though only in his early twenties, Jones had a voice that seemed much older, so they nicknamed him "grandpa Jones" and encouraged him to dress the part in old boots and a brush-handle moustache.
they call it that old mountain dew he would play the role for the next 60 years-- long enough that his special make-up was no longer necessary.
With some good, old mountain dew but in the early 1930s, the show with the biggest audience-- one of only 20 stations that had been granted a federal license for a powerful 50,000-watt signal-- was still the national barn dance on Chicago's wls.
And it reached so many states.
It reached my, Finnish grandparents in northern Michigan.
That's all they listened to.
In the 1930s, the national barn dance was the show.
So many people wanted to see the barn dance in person that wls moved it to the 1,200-seat eighth street theatre in downtown Chicago, charged a whopping 90 cents a ticket, staged two two-hour shows every Saturday night, and, in the midst of the depression, had to turn fans away at the door.
Among its stars were little Georgie gobel, who in 20 years would have his own national television show; myrtle Eleanor Cooper, known as Lulu belle, who was voted the most popular female radio entertainer in America; and red foley of blue lick, Kentucky, whose song "peace in the valley" became one of the first gospel tunes to sell a million records.
Polly, pretty Polly come go along with me Lily may ledford and the coon creek girls, country music's first all-female string band, became so popular they were chosen to perform at the white house for england's king George vi.
Lily may said she was nervous until she saw king George tapping his feet.
But of all the stars created by the national barn dance, none would become more famous, or contribute more to changing the image of hillbilly music, than a slim, Sandy-haired singer from the Southern plains, who would point the music in a new direction: West.
Orvon grover autry had never intended to become a cowboy.
Born in Texas in 1907, he grew up on a farm, not a ranch, in Oklahoma.
After buying a guitar from a sears, roebuck catalogue at age 12, he showed no interest in guns or riding horses, a cousin remembered: "He just wanted to sit around and play the guitar and sing.
" After quitting high school, he took a job as a telegraph operator for the St.
Louis and San Francisco railroad, bringing his guitar along to pass the time.
In 1927, he traveled to New York City, hoping to land a recording contract.
Two labels turned him away with the advice he should instead learn how to yodel, a technique his idol jimmie Rodgers had made popular.
# yodel-e-# del-e-del-ee now calling himself "gene," autry landed some appearances on Tulsa station kvoo, and in 1929 returned to New York, where he was soon turning out imitations of Rodgers' popular songs on an assortment of discount labels.
As an artist, gene autry obviously idolized jimmie Rodgers, as so many did.
Fact, you almost can't tell their voices apart on gene autry's 1928, '29 records.
And part of that was quite deliberate.
If you could spend 75 cents to hear jimmie Rodgers sing "blue yodel number four" on rca, you might be tempted to spend 35 cents to hear gene autry sing it on conqueror.
Del-ee after his own sentimental song "silver haired daddy of mine" became a big hit in 1931, autry landed a regular spot on wls as the "Oklahoma cowboy," where he dropped his jimmie Rodgers imitations in favor of songs like the confident and optimistic "home on the range," said to be president Roosevelt's favorite song.
give a home where the buffalo roam where the deer and the antelope play where seldom is heard a discouraging word and the skies are not cloudy all day how often at night when the heavens are bright with the light from the glittering stars have I stood there amazed and asked as I gazed if their glory exceeds that of ours? home, home on the range as the depression deepened, with impoverished Americans increasingly seeking escape, gene autry began making personal appearances attired in fancy western clothes: Ornate, handmade cowboy boots with his pants tucked in to show them off; a big belt buckle; And custom cowboy shirt with a scarf at the neck, all topped off by a wide-brimmed stetson hat.
The sears catalogue offered a gene autry roundup guitar for $9.
65--with gene getting a dime for each sale.
On air, he encouraged listeners to send in 50 cents for a special gene autry songbook, and every week filled a wastebasket with coins as he opened his mail.
He spent some of the cash on a new Martin guitar, like the one jimmie Rodgers had, with his name inscribed on the fingerboard.
When Rodgers died in 1933, autry quickly recorded 4 different tribute songs, all of them big sellers.
But he was no longer a pale shadow of his hero; he was a bona fide star in his own right-- a singing cowboy-- and others followed his example.
Everybody loves cowboys.
And so, whether they came from the hills of West Virginia or the piney woods of east Texas, they tended to wear cowboy boots and cowboy hats, and sometimes give themselves cowboy names.
Singing cowboys, and cowgirls, were everywhere.
And, regardless of whether real cowboys had ever yodeled to their cattle herds during the trail drives of the 1800s, they all were yodeling now.
Be a cowboy's sweetheart every group of men who are isolated develop a song tradition.
There are lumberjack songs; There are sailor shanties; and the cowboys did, doubtless, sing, probably not nearly as much as it's shown in the westerns or we're led to believe.
Once gene autry made it really popular and building off the huge success of jimmie Rodgers, then every cowboy had to yodel.
There was Tex Owens on kmbc in Kansas City; Texas Jim Lewis and his lone star rangers on Detroit's wjr; and in New York City, on whn, Tex ritter, a deep-voiced Broadway star who actually was from Texas.
Ritter had appeared in the play "green grow the lilacs," which would later be turned into the musical "Oklahoma!" Dolly and Millie good, sisters from east St.
Louis, performed as the girls of the golden west, and said they had learned to yodel by listening to coyotes howl.
Rubye blevins of hope, Arkansas adopted the name patsy Montana and in 1933 came to the barn dance.
Be a cowboy's sweetheart she was backed by the Kentucky ramblers, who changed their name to the prairie ramblers.
Her song "I want to be a cowboy's sweetheart" became a runaway best seller.
In 1934, gene autry got a big break.
that old in Hollywood, Republic pictures wanted him to sing a few songs in a cowboy picture, one of the many low-cost "b" movies studios were churning out for their cash-strapped audiences, desperate for diversion.
The next year, after taking riding lessons, autry got a starring role of his own in a series of films called "the phantom empire," a mixture of science fiction and a western, in which he played himself-- a singing cowboy with a radio show who also does battle with a race of people thousands of miles below the earth's surface, the muranians, who are developing a powerful death ray.
Gene autry's up on the surface of the earth singing his radio songs on the air with smiley burnette And deep below, in murania, there are Is an evil empire and they find their way down there.
And these men in these incredibly cheesy silver suits walking around in murania.
Come on, we got to get Lead 'em past those And then, " I've got to get back to do the radio show.
" So, they go back up to the surface of the earth and sing happily for the people.
a long, long time ago as all you folks should know uncle Noah built himself an ark with the success of "the phantom empire," autry moved permanently to California, where he starred in 10 feature films in two years.
What do you want? I want that 10,000, Claude.
What 10,000? My name's autry.
And mine's Robinson crusoe.
How'd you find me? Heard you sing on the radio.
You have a pretty good voice, too.
When are you gonna sing again? I don't want to miss it.
What time is it now? They took on more contemporary issues.
You've been figuring out a lot of things lately, autry.
Try to figure your way out of this.
The villains were now often corrupt politicians or ruthless businessmen.
Most of the movies cost less than $20,000 to produce, and each made nearly a million dollars.
Every studio but mgm developed a singing cowboy.
There was a Mexican singing cowboy--tito guizar.
There was a singing cowgirl-- Dorothy page.
There was an African American singing cowboy--herb jeffries.
Just every studio had to have one.
Roy Rogers and the sons # see them tumbling down # with so many singing cowboy films being made, the demand for new songs increased.
No one was better at supplying them than yet another cowboy band called the sons of the pioneers.
Roy Rogers and the sons # With the tumbling tumbleweeds # with their precise harmonies, they helped redefine the sound of cowboy songs.
Bob Nolan was their chief songwriter, composing such classics as "cool water," and the title song for a new gene autry film, "tumbling tumbleweeds.
" Bob Nolan read a lot of keats, a lot of shelley.
He was a real poet who had a great gift for melody, too.
Lonely but free I'll be found, that's the--that's the heart of cowboy music, right there.
Roy Rogers and the sons # With the tumbling tumbleweeds # that's what people love about the cowboy.
Out there, lonely but free, answering to nobody.
Lonely but free I'll be found.
By 1937, the singing cowboy boom had spawned 530 westerns in 4 years, most of them scoffed at by the critics, but adored by the fans, particularly youngsters from rural and working class families.
And when gene autry released his new film "public cowboy no.
1," its title was no exaggeration.
and o'er the hills I grew up going to gene autry movies every Saturday.
come on, we're heading for box canyon.
Gene was my hero.
He was a, you know, a good guy.
You know, he, he never lied.
You know, never did a lot wrong.
mad about you, what a chance and he always got the girl in the end.
making me mad about you besides his films, autry kept a furious pace in the recording studio and touring the country, pulling his horse champion in a trailer to shows where his movies had played.
His wife ina set up a filing system with the names and addresses of fans who had written to him, and when he came to their town, autry would check the local phone book and call them up.
Put 'em up, sheriff.
In early 1938, autry told Republic pictures he wouldn't make any more movies for them until they paid him more money.
Won't like that.
Right arm Republic refused.
They immediately auditioned for his replacement, eventually settling on an actor who had appeared in one of autry's movies.
It was Leonard slye from the sons of the pioneers.
The only problem was his name.
The studio executives didn't think Leonard slye sounded like the name of a movie hero.
So, they changed it.
From now on, Leonard slye would be known as Roy Rogers.
The Carter family is the first family of country music.
It's that simple.
The foundational songs of country music were gathered or written by a.
P.
Carter.
There's our first lead guitar player in country music-- mother maybelle.
last night while in a dream I saw my dear, old mother down by and Sara's voice.
don't ask me why I'm weeping like wailing at the grave, that kind of keening, just Pierce you.
for I've an aged mother so plain spoken and so without any kind of embellishment or frill, just telling the truth, one note at a time.
well, - le-ho, le-ho-lay the depression had taken a heavy toll on the Carter family in maces spring, Virginia.
Sales of their records had dropped to a few thousand per release.
Sara Carter often refused to take part in what few live performances her husband a.
P.
And her sister-in-law maybelle could arrange in the immediate area.
More troubling was a rift that had been growing over the years between a.
P.
And Sara.
She considered him cold and constantly distracted.
His trips to collect more songs kept him away from home for weeks at a time, and she resented it.
To help out with chores around the farm while he was on the road, a.
P.
Hired his handsome, young cousin, coy bays, hard-working and affectionate, with unforgettable blue eyes.
I see the pale moon when it became clear that Sara and coy were starting to fall in love, the extended family grew concerned and intervened.
In the end, coy's parents decided to move to California, and take him with them.
Sara moved out of the house to live with relatives across clinch mountain.
All of this posed a big problem for Ralph peer, who had been managing the trio and publishing their songs since he first recorded them in 1927.
He had promoted them as the Carter family, and when Sara refused to come to an upcoming recording session, peer asked his wife Anita to reach out to her.
"Dear Sara, I realize "that it would be distinctly awkward "for both you and a.
P.
To work together again, "but on the other hand, the Carter family "has become well known and there is a chance "to make some more money, even in these days of depression.
"Even if you never live together again, "you could get together for professional purposes like the movie stars do.
" A-comin' Sara reluctantly gave in, spending the nights with maybelle and her husband eck; joining a.
P.
Only during the day to practice for a series of recording sessions.
In them, the Carter family recorded some songs that a.
P.
Had written about romance and abandonment, reflecting both his anger toward Sara and the love he still felt for her.
I was standing by the window on one cold and cloudy day and I saw the hearse come rolling for to carry my mother away for to carry my mother away but the Carter family also recorded what would become one of the most enduring songs in the history of country music, an old gospel tune that an African-American minister had reworked and recorded, and a.
P.
Reworked again, about the death and funeral of a mother.
can the circle be unbroken by and by, lord, by and by in the old days, in the south, especially, I know people brought their loved ones back home instead of going to a funeral home to say farewell, and then they'll sit at a wake.
Can you think of a more lonesome thing to see, "saw a hearse coming down the road," to carry the most precious thing in this world that belonged to you, that god ever gave you, your mama.
can the circle be unbroken you put that kind of suffering in music and art, and you're liberated.
Do you want to take it in and let it destroy you, or do you want to put it out there and make it something beautiful? "I was standing by my window on a cold and cloudy day and saw that hearse come rolling to carry my mother away.
" My grandmother loved "will the circle be unbroken.
" There will always be hard times.
But you have to have faith in that there's going to be a better time.
Faith is what gets us going every morning.
can the circle be unbroken by and by, lord I was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1959.
My grandmother, my black grandmother, from Selma, Alabama, used to sing that song to me.
So, that actually is the first country song that I ever really knew.
It meant so much to my grandmother, whose grandmother was born enslaved.
When families are broken apart, that there is a place we will come together, that all that family that has been lost will be reunited.
By and by now, we'll find a better home up in the sky.
My grandmother rested on that song.
She trusted in that song.
It was the only hope she'd ever see her own mother again, you know? Sisters crying what a home so sad and lone can the circle be unbroken by and by, lord, by and by there's a better home a-waiting in the sky, lord, in the sky in 1936, Sara filed for divorce from a.
P.
They kept it all as quiet as possible and continued making more records.
And aunt Sara fell in love with coy bays, who happened to be a relation of ours.
That was not a time that people got divorced.
And you definitely didn't get divorced in the Carter family.
Strained but still presenting a public face of unity, in October of 1938, the Carter family arrived in the Texas border town of del rio.
out in the cold world and they had accepted a new high-paying job at a brand-new radio station, xera, just across the rio grande in Mexico.
They would be paid $4,000 each-- nearly 3 times the average wage at the time-- and have to work only 6 months of the year.
somebody's xera was a so-called border blaster station, 500,000 watts in strength, 10 times the power of wls in Chicago or any other station in the United States.
And it was beyond the reach of American regulators.
Its owner was none other than Dr.
John r.
Brinkley, the radio huckster who promised to restore men's sexual potency by transplanting goat glands into them.
Brinkley had already made a fortune in tiny milford, Kansas, but when the Kansas medical board revoked his license, he had moved to del rio.
The Carter family was a long way from poor valley, Virginia, but they settled into their new routine.
Once in the morning and once in the evening, they opened their show with their theme song, "keep on the sunny side" always on the sunny side keep on the sunny side and promoted their sponsor's products: A cold medicine called peruna, which was 25% alcohol, and kolorbak, a hair dye that contained lead.
And kolorbak, a hair dye that contained lead.
Use it regularly hair.
And while you heard the music, you also had to put up with the incessant merchandising.
sunny side of life here you have some of the seediest, some of the most low-life advertising imaginable, making it possible for these songs about "mama" and "home" and the "old,"-- the "old country church," and the "old-fashioned ways" to be popularized.
They went hand in hand.
e-r-a Xera had a signal that was so overpowering, local ranchers heard the music on their barbed wire fences; del rio residents talking on the telephone sometimes had conversations interrupted by the broadcasts; and their children, it was said, got good reception on their braces.
At night, the Carters could be heard as far away as New York, California, and alberta, Canada; their songs were now reaching people who might not otherwise have known about them.
In the dust-ravaged town of littlefield, Texas, Waylon Jennings' first childhood memory was of his father connecting the family radio to the pickup truck's battery so they could listen to the Carter family.
In Columbus, Georgia, 14-year-old Chester atkins heard maybelle's guitar-picking on a radio set he had built from mail-order parts.
And in tiny dyess, Arkansas, a new deal resettlement community for impoverished farmers, a boy named j.
R.
Cash was tuning in, too.
My father, as a young boy, would have listened to country music and known what it was because of the Carter family.
But if it hadn't been for Dr.
Brinkley and his radio station, and the fact that he had to move to Mexico to be able to do this, if it hadn't been for that, we wouldn't know country music as we know it today.
So, thank you, Dr.
Brinkley.
In February of 1939, Sara Carter put the station's reach to a different use.
She had not seen coy bays, the young man she had fallen in love with, for years, and had not received responses to the many letters she had sent him.
During an evening show, she stepped to the microphone and said, "I'm gonna dedicate this next song to coy bays in California.
" With that, maybelle started strumming her guitar, and Sara began singing one of their earliest songs, "I'm thinking tonight of my blue eyes.
" I'm thinking tonight of my blue eyes and I wonder if he ever thinks of me you told me once, dear, that you loved me you said that we never would part more than 1,600 miles away, on the far side of the Sierra Nevada in California, the bays family had gathered around their radio.
i'm thinking tonight of my up until that moment, coy thought Sara had forgotten him.
He hadn't received her letters because his mother had hidden them.
"Mom," he said.
"I'm gonna go get Sara.
" Then he set off for Texas.
They were married within days.
No one outside the immediate family was told.
A.
p.
Was despondent.
"He had no zeal after that," his son remembered.
"He was lost.
" He was so ill at ease during subsequent broadcasts that the sponsors eventually sent him home a month before the contract ended because, they believed, "he was transmitting his mood unwittingly over the air.
" You, dear, I love you Sara and maybelle continued broadcasting without him.
Then maybelle, too, headed back to poor valley.
Sara went with coy to California.
you may now forever go Well, you know, the way I define country music is, first of all, I call it country western music.
It's the music of America, for sure.
And it's an amalgam.
It's everything.
Some people wanted to say that it was "America's only original pure music.
" Well, no, it's blues.
It's jazz.
It's hillbilly.
It's everything about the immigrant experience brought to America and americanized, you know.
In the 1930s, a new sound was sweeping the nation, what "variety" magazine called an "indelible notation on the evolution of jazz.
" Known as swing, it had incubated in the dance halls of Harlem, but now an entire generation of Americans-- white as well as black-- danced to its beat, filling ballrooms and theaters all across the country: From the Paramount in Manhattan and the aragon in Chicago to the palomar in Los Angeles, where Benny Goodman thrilled audiences with his version of the music first played by Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and chick webb.
People were swinging in Tulsa, Oklahoma, too-- crowding twice a week into a former automobile dealer's garage called Cain's dance academy on north main street.
where's that gal with the red dress on? some folks call her dinah but the music they moved to was different.
Louisiana, take me back to Tulsa I'm too young to marry take me back to Tulsa, I'm too young to marry drums, bass-- and a syncopated piano-- provided its pulse, just as they did in swing bands, and musicians were expected to improvise on their instrumental breaks, just as they did in jazz.
But instead of saxophones, clarinets, and horns, this music featured the mainstays of a hillbilly band-- fiddles and guitar.
It was Bob wills and his Texas playboys.
turn it on, turn it on, boys, turn it on if somebody don't like wills, he's immediately under suspicion with me.
I goI say, let's, let's go on to something else.
Jimmie Rodgers had connected hillbilly music with the blues.
Gene autry had given it a flavor of the old west.
Bob wills gave it a beat-- a raucous, dance hall beat from Texas, totally unlike anything from appalachia or the Bible belt of the deep south.
I'm too young to wed thee with an ancestry that included English, Irish, cajun, and cherokee stock, James Robert wills had been born in 1905 near kosse, Texas, southeast of waco, with fiddle playing in his blood.
If you go south of waco, in Texas, it's It was settled mostly by Germans, Czechs, bohemians, and Mexican-Americans.
That's south Texas.
The tradition of beer drinking and dancing is very German, eastern European.
As a boy, wills absorbed all the music around him-- including the blues he heard from the nearby shanties of African American cotton pickers, whose children were his playmates.
In 1913, his family moved by wagon to the Texas panhandle, where he joined his father playing at all-night ranch dances.
In regional fiddle contests, the championship often came down to wills, his father, and eck robertson, the man who had made one of the first recordings of hillbilly music back in 1922.
You have cajun fiddling, you have "old timey," new england fiddling.
You've got French-Canadian fiddling.
Bob was a total iconoclast.
His style of fiddling is Bob wills.
It's beautiful.
It's original.
It's purely Texas fiddling but it owes a little to everybody.
But it's all Bob.
He moved briefly to new Mexico, where he formed a band with some hispanic-American musicians, developing a style of playing that incorporated their sound, along with the African-American blues he always loved.
So, you've got fiddle tunes, the blues, and then you have the Mexican-American experience.
He has a tune called "Spanish two step.
" It encompasses the feeling of the hispanic music of the day.
So, Bob took all of those things and made it into what we call western swing.
Restless for better opportunities, he moved to fort worth just before the crash of 1929.
There, he and singer Milton brown formed a band called the light crust doughboys on radio station kfjz, sponsored by the burrus mill and elevator company.
When the company's manager, pappy o'Daniel, realized how popular they were with listeners, he took them on the road and insisted on introducing them everywhere they played.
He would later capitalize on the publicity by becoming governor of Texas and then narrowly defeating a young lyndon Johnson to win a U.
S.
senate seat.
He's a young man in fort worth playing music, and jazz is the music of the day.
Babe, what can the matter be? Whoa, babe first of all, just the racial aspect.
The thirties in Texas were brutal, segregation, and there were lynchings.
It was American apartheid.
And here was Bob wills imitating Louis Armstrong, bessie Smith, Emmett Miller, and black music.
That, in itself, in Texas, was revolutionary.
When Milton brown quit the band, wills found his replacement in Tommy Duncan, who had been singing at root beer stands for tips.
And he said, "Mr.
Duncan," he said, "if you can hit 'i ain't got nobody,'" Emmett Miller's old tune, he said, "if you can hit that," he said, "you've got the job.
If you can't, you're out of here.
" And Bob told me, he said--he said, "you know," he said, "Tommy hit that song maybe a little bit better than old Emmett.
" After a dispute with o'Daniel, wills formed a band called the playboys-- appearing in pullover sweaters, like college students-- and in 1934 moved them all to Oklahoma, where they ended up at Tulsa's kvoo, billed as Bob wills and his Texas playboys.
There he added saxophones, clarinets, and horns to his band, as he expanded the sound he wanted.
In every song, wills interjected a falsetto "-haa" that became his trademark, the same way jimmie Rodgers had made the blue yodel his.
Thesome people call it a holler.
And heAnd I don't do it very well, but he would always do this little"Ha!" Or little comments-- "take it away!" Or, you know, "domino!" His first recording session, Bob wills, you know, cuts loose and Tommy Duncan singing and suddenly, "Tommy!" How come you let me down? Whoa, babe "stop.
Stop this session right now.
You can't do that.
You can't do that on a record.
" And Bob says, "ok, then we're going home.
" "All right.
All right.
You go ahead.
" And it became his signature.
People just expected it.
If you take Bob wills and the Texas playboys, there's a stride piano.
They have a call and response.
The solo is like a jazz solo on top of it; the organization is like a jump band, those 1930s kind of jazz swing bands.
You have some type of swing rhythm.
Then you can have somebody soloing on that form.
I mean, it's what It's our--it's our way.
Louis Armstrong on records would always say, "play that thing, Mr.
Johnny St.
cyr," and it's--Louis Armstrong didn't invent it, but it's part of a kind of Southern tradition of a self-- "this is so and so playing this instrument.
" And Bob wills was definitely like that, a showman.
His interjections, whether they were hollers or harmonies or just talking, was what brought people to Bob wills.
He demanded, and he got, the greatest musicians of the era playing for him.
But sometimes, the general public, does not hone in on the intricacies or the, the little things that make great musicians great.
But they saw this guy having an incredible time onstage, hollering and carrying on, and went, "wow! We love this guy," and you'll never forget him.
By the late 1930s, wills was a celebrity throughout the southwest.
He persuaded a subsidiary of general mills to produce play boy flour, giving him a royalty for every sack it sold.
Meanwhile, he kept the band on the road 4 nights a week, with 6 radio broadcasts each morning, and two nights at Tulsa's Cain's ballroom, where 1,500 fans regularly came to dance to his music.
Bob wills, when he hit that stage, he was serious as a heart attack.
He was there to play some music for you.
Liza, pull your shades down to keep the crowd on their feet, he never called for an intermission-- just let some musicians rest while the others continued playing.
To keep his musicians on their toes, without warning he would nod to one-- or dip his fiddle bow at them-- to take the next instrumental break while he strutted around the stage.
Bob wills was like Elvis Presley.
He was outrageous.
He was a colorful figure, a la Mick Jagger.
He pranced around onstage like a peacock.
Everybody dance andYeah, is everybody I got to know a lot of the old Texas playboys, and one thing they said to me, all of them, was that when they got onstage with Bob wills, he motivated them to play above what they could.
I said, "well, why was that?" He said, "well, he had these burning black eyes "and this look that when he looked at you, you went, 'my god, I better do something.
'" Liza, you can let them shades up now.
aw, everybody dance now but wills was a binge drinker who sometimes missed engagements if he went on a bender.
His affairs with women brought him 5 divorces in 6 years, and he struggled with occasional depressions.
"The only time we ever played sad songs," one band member said, "was when Bob was between marriages.
" But nothing seemed to dampen his growing popularity.
Wills continued to innovate.
Besides introducing drums to hillbilly music, he encouraged his steel guitar player Leon mcauliffe to adopt a technique other musicians were experimenting with, hooking his instrument to an amplifier, creating a whole new sound.
For many people, the electric steel guitar would become as closely associated with country music as the fiddle.
domino in 1938, wills recorded a song he had written, adapted from his earlier tune, "Spanish two step.
" He called this one "San Antonio Rose.
" It became the most popular hillbilly record of 1939.
"San Antonio Rose" is a fiddle tune.
It started out, and he recorded it, no words, no music, just fiddles.
His publisher at the time was the Irving Berlin music company.
And they said, "hey, we think this could be a big hit.
We're going to have our writer write the words.
" Wills couldn't stand the new lyrics or the new arrangement Irving Berlin's people had provided.
When his band played it, he complained, "the audience didn't think it sounded authentic.
" He gave one of his horn players a jug of whiskey and 5 bucks.
He said, "go write words.
" deep within my heart lies a melody and he writes, # deep within my heart lies a melody # a song of old San antone and they love it.
The song, called "new San Antonio Rose," was an instant hit.
A year later, bing Crosby would record his own version, which sold 1.
5 million records.
"I went," Bob wills said, "from hamburgers to steaks.
" Early in my life, I was a young promoter.
I was putting together shows.
I would hire artists and hope I got enough money through the door to pay them.
Bob wills, I hired for $750 to play over in Whitney, Texas.
I hauled a piano on the back of a pickup over, so that his band could have a piano.
I managed to take in enough money and pay him.
But I was only like 14, 15 years old.
And I got up to sing with Bob wills, so it was as good as it gets.
all together now in 1969, astronaut Pete Conrad would bring a tape of "new San Antonio Rose" on the Apollo 12 moon mission.
With a worldwide audience listening far below, the song was beamed to everyone on the planet.
well, all right We are definitely in an era of building today, the best kind of building, the building of great public projects for the benefit of the public and with the definite objective of building human happiness at the same time.
For Edwin Craig and the national life and accident insurance company in Nashville, the depression proved to be a time of opportunity.
When their radio station, wsm, was granted a federal license to become one of only 3 50,000-watt clear channel stations in the south, Craig spent a quarter of a million dollars to erect a new transmitting tower, the tallest of its kind in the nation.
It could beam wsm programs, nd the company's name and its slogan, "we shield millions," from coast to coast.
I had a hard life.
I chopped corn and I picked cotton.
But every Saturday night, we'd take an hour off and turn on an old radio and listen to the grand ole opry.
That's how I come about the country music, and loved the sounds that come out of that radio.
And now, friends, we present uncle Dave macon Wsm's Saturday night show, the grand ole opry, was still hosted by the amiable George hay, the solemn old judge.
Let 'er go, uncle Dave.
Uncle Dave macon and his banjo still anchored the cast of musicians, most of them dressed like caricatures of hillbillies and playing in string bands with names hay had given them-- the gully jumpers, the possum hunters, the fruit jar drinkers.
Nashville's upper crust still considered it an embarrassment to the city's image.
When Edwin Craig's wealthy friends in the fashionable belle Meade neighborhood complained that wsm pre-empted the broadcasts of Arturo toscanini and the nbc symphony with the grand ole opry on Saturday nights, he mollified them by arranging for the symphony to be carried on a smaller, 1,000-watt signal that became the first commercial f.
M.
Station in America.
And when his far-flung sales force reported a 30% increase in policies, Craig knew people were listening to, and loving, the hillbilly music he was broadcasting, timed around the schedules of working people.
from way down in the Cannon I had my mother get me up in the middle of the night, practically, and I was 4 years old, and when she'd start fixing my father's breakfast before he went off to work.
Worked in a brick plant, which was the major industry in olive hill, Kentucky.
They had morning radio shows.
They'd come out to wsm early in the morning before civilized society woke up, and they'd play--on wsm, they'd play country music until belle Meade woke up, and then they'd go back to, you know, civilized music.
So many fans of the grand ole opry were jamming into wsm's studio on the fifth floor of the insurance building, it was clear the opry had to move.
They tried 4 different venues in Nashville.
Each would prove unsatisfactory.
Eventually, they would move to a location downtown on fifth Avenue.
It was an imposing tabernacle built in 1892 by Thomas ryman, a wayward riverboat magnate who had undergone a religious conversion and wanted a place he called, "purely an outpost to catch sinners.
" It seated more than 3,000 people, with long pews on the floor and a spacious balcony, the confederate gallery, built to accommodate a reunion of Southern soldiers.
It had hosted symphonies, ballets, theater, and the fisk jubilee singers, an African-American gospel choir.
Enrico caruso and Marian Anderson had performed there.
President Theodore Roosevelt and booker t.
Washington had spoken from its stage.
Its acoustics were unmatched, "like being inside an old violin, surrounded by good, seasoned wood," one performer said, when the grand ole opry moved in.
They were home.
I've got the blues I've got the blues, ol' Nashville blues in the early years, many of the opry's stars had been semi-professionals, supporting themselves with regular jobs during the week.
They would come in on Saturday nights and work at the radio station.
They may have been a farmer, they may have been a blacksmith, perhaps a doctor.
They had many different vocations.
They were not full-time professional recording artists or touring musicians.
That changed when the delmore brothers, alton and rabon, came to the forefront in Nashville.
The delmore brothers, with their sweet harmonies, were paid $5.
00 per broadcast, and they, like all the other artists, were required to be on stage at the opry every Saturday night.
The rest of the week, they could drive to better-paying gigs, as long as they were back in Nashville by show time.
come back again some other day the delmores went on the road with one of the show's original headliners and its only African American, deford Bailey.
Traveling the segregated south, Bailey and the delmores developed a close friendship.
"They'd stick by me through thick and thin," Bailey remembered, including at restaurants that refused to serve him.
"If you can't feed deford," the delmores responded, we can't eat here, either.
" "If the place wouldn't let me come in at all," Bailey said, "they'd drive down the road 50 miles or more to find another place that would.
" And this was a proud black man.
It couldn't have been easy to stand on that stage.
And it is an interesting place where you're standing as an equal at a time when there were very few spaces where black people could stand as equals to whites.
Thank you, boys.
Ok In 1937, Julius frank Anthony kuczynski joined the opry.
Born in Milwaukee, he had grown up playing polka music on his accordion.
He formed the golden west cowboys and changed his name to pee wee king.
From the moment he arrived in Nashville, he also began to change the opry, bringing drums and electric guitars to its stage, insisting that the musicians be allowed to join a union, and in 1938, he was responsible for the biggest change of all-- recruiting an artist who would go on to personify the grand ole opry for generations.
Roy claxton acuff was born in 1903 in maynardville, Tennessee, about 25 miles north of Knoxville.
His father, a part-time lawyer and baptist minister, was a good country Fiddler.
His mother played piano and guitar.
Though he sang in church choirs and at his school's morning chapel services, Roy seemed more interested in baseball than music.
A career with the New York Yankees seemed within reach, but when a near-fatal case of sunstroke ruined his chances, he turned to music instead and took up the fiddle.
He spent a summer touring east Tennessee with a medicine show.
"I got a pretty good background in show business," acuff said of the experience.
"You sang to several thousand people in the open, "and you couldn't get to them if you didn't put your lungs to the fullest test.
" He begins to play a little bit of music and forms the crazy tennesseans, who are just a--as the name implies, a wild bunch.
You know, they black out their teeth.
They sit on hay bales.
They wear suspenders.
They really dress the part, and they really become hillbillies.
By 1938, the crazy tennesseans were appearing on Knoxville radio shows.
It was there that pee wee king heard acuff and arranged for an on-air audition at the grand ole opry.
what a beautiful thought I am thinking concerning a great speckled bird acuff was nervous at the start of the performance.
His knees shook.
is recorded but after a lilting dobro introduction, he launched into "the great speckled bird," a religious song with lyrics based on a passage from the book of Jeremiah and a melody taken from the Carter family song, "I'm thinking tonight of my blue eyes.
" they watch every move at the microphone that night, acuff sold the song to his audience.
they long to find fault with her teaching but really they find no mistakes he was so special.
He had a way of touching people.
Roy acuff was not the greatest singer that ever came down the pike, but he was a marvelous communicator.
He could communicate those feelings.
When he sang "the great speckled bird," you believed it.
You absolutely believed it.
I am glad I have learned of her meekness this was not a string band with a singer, it was a singer with a string band, and wsm officials were unsure about his performance until their mail clerk asked, "what are we going to do about all these letters about something to do with a bird?" With a regular spot on the show and his band, now called the smoky mountain boys, acuff quickly became the opry's biggest star, beloved for his willingness to put everything into his songs, sometimes even crying on stage.
Listening to him one night in Montgomery, Alabama, a young Hank Williams was struck by acuff's palpable sincerity.
"For drawing power in the south," Williams remembered, "it was Roy acuff, then god.
" He's in a hillbilly string band.
And in a hillbilly string band, there's no hierarchy.
The fiddle plays all the time.
The harmonica might play all the time.
The jug might blow all the time.
There's not even solos in hillbilly string band music.
Nobody--nobody steps out.
But the opry was ready for a new era in which the star not only stood out, but he sold his own song books, he had his face on the record.
Things were changing.
While everybody else was donning cowboy hats and cowboy boots and adopting cowboy monikers, he stuck to the old style.
from the great Atlantic ocean and sang old-time songs that had been around, or at least sounded like they had been around, for generations.
to the south bell by the shore in 1939, when the r.
J.
Reynolds tobacco company offered to sponsor a half-hour portion of the grand ole opry to be carried nationally over the nbc radio network, there was no question who would be the main attraction.
One time I was sitting at the opry with Roy acuff.
Roy said, "you know, the difference between me and Bob wills "was that I played schoolhouses, churches, tent meetings, and Bob played dances.
" It was a cultural difference.
The south was the Bible belt.
Baptist and religious people did not allow drinking, and, of course, dancing was a sin.
There's that great joke, you know, why don't baptists make love standing up? Because people will think they're dancing.
You know? we're as old as coming a day along with the delmore brothers, the 1930s witnessed an explosion of brother acts in hillbilly music.
There was south Carolina's hard-charging Dixon brothers, north Carolina's Callahan brothers, who mixed blues with gospel, and the bolick brothers, who performed as the blue sky boys.
But few other duos built a larger audience than the Monroe brothers from rosine, Kentucky.
Charlie played guitar and sang lead, with bill providing a high Harmony while driving the beat with furious runs on his mandolin.
I was 4.
And everybody from the neighborhood went to cherry grove school to see bill and Charlie Monroe.
And what I recollect about it was I was a little girl sitting in mama's lap and seeing them white hats.
I thought that was powerful, even at 4 years old.
Of the two, bill Monroe was the more unlikely to become a public performer.
He had been born with one crooked eye, which made him the butt of constant teasing.
People thought that there was something wrong with him.
Country people can be so cruel.
The stagecoach would stop there in Kentucky where they lived, bill would run out to the barn so they would not see him because they would always make fun of him.
"Look at that little boy," which is bad.
I mean, can you imagine? And that's how he was treated.
And that certainly, I think, was a large cause of him going to make it and be on his own and him being right, no matter what, because he was so wrong when he was little.
He was so wrong as far as his family was concerned.
He was so wrong as far as his brothers was concerned and his sisters.
His life became even lonelier at age 10 when his mother died.
Bill sought solace walking in the woods, and where no one else could hear him, singing the songs she had taught him.
His uncle pen, an accomplished Fiddler, took the boy under his wing, bringing him along to local square dances and eventually letting him play backup on the guitar.
Monroe got to know Arnold Shultz, a gifted guitarist and Fiddler, who inculcated the boy with an appreciation for the blues.
I would say at least half of these artists in the early days of country music had that same encounter in which they met a black songster and thought, "I know what I want to do," and the torch was passed.
Monroe quit school after the fifth grade to help support the family, something that became even more important when his father also died.
You've got to realize that bill Monroe came up-- he was born in 1911, he came up during the depression.
He saw the hard times.
He knew what it was like to, you know, to work hard all day long.
He used to tell me about cutting timber himself, falling these trees himself, rolling them down the hill himself, onto a wagon, and taking them into town.
And he said, "you know, when I'd get in close to town, into rosine," he said, "I'd stand up where everybody could see me, 'cause I'd really worked hard.
" And that was his identity.
By the early 1930s, he had grown into a strapping young man.
His bad eye had been corrected, and like so many other rural southerners seeking employment in the depression, he had moved north, joining Charlie and another brother working for the sinclair oil company near Chicago.
They earned some extra money as square dancers for the national barn dance, but before long,charlie and bill set out on a career as a duo, playing the midwest and the carolinas.
They were doing well in 1938, based at Raleigh's wptf.
But both Monroe brothers were stubborn and competitive-- bill was especially prickly-- and they argued constantly about the direction of their music.
One day, Charlie abruptly quit and left town.
He formed his own band, and landed a spot on wwva's popular wheeling jamboree.
Bill went to a smaller station in Greenville, south Carolina, and with 3 other musicians formed the blue grass boys, named in honor of his home state of Kentucky.
With them he began experimenting-- songs played in higher keys for what he called a "high, lonesome sound," tinged with the blues.
In 1939, both brothers set their sights on Nashville and the grand ole opry, which was now rivaling Chicago's national barn dance as the premier showcase for hillbilly music, and they each wanted to be part of it.
Here's a hot one, the new Skinner blues Bill got to Nashville first and was given a guest slot on the October 28th broadcast.
good morning, captain good morning, sir when they walked on stage that night, bill Monroe and his blue grass boys didn't look like any of the other opry acts.
Bill detested the way judge hay had performers costumed like country rubes and instead dressed himself and his band members in high-top boots, riding pants, and crisp shirts.
I can put my initials on a mill any old time as they broke into their own propulsive reworking of jimmie Rodgers' famous song, "mule Skinner blues," it became immediately clear they didn't sound like any of the other acts, either.
"Those people couldn't even think as fast as we played," Monroe's guitarist Cleo Davis said.
"There wasn't nobody living who had ever played with the speed that we had.
" what do you want me to bring you back? the audience brought them back for 3 encores.
and it got to be certain times I always believed that the audience has the last vote.
And the audience heard something in that performance.
They heard something in him and they saw something in that man up there onstage that stepped out of Kentucky wearing high-riding boots and jodhpurs and looking like a Kentucky gentleman in that homburg hat.
They saw something in that that they liked.
And they went, "we'll take him.
" yodel-ay-who hoo hoo! Charlie Monroe, in his dressing room in wheeling, West Virginia, happened to hear his brother's broadcast.
"He won't last on the opry," Charlie scoffed.
"Wait till people find out how difficult he is to get along with.
" Bill, that was really quite a moment.
Woody, how you feeling? Feeling right.
Well, if you ain't right, get right, and let your conscience be your guide, because I'm gonna play with more heavy row genius, come to follow, double flavor, unknown quality than you do.
Make it light on yourself.
One thing that hadn't changed at the opry, and every other show where hillbilly music was played, was the presence of comedy, including degrading blackface routines that persisted long after the traveling minstrel show had died.
Uncle Dave macon was still there, making fun of his own weakness for drink.
In the middle of songs, Roy acuff often balanced his fiddle bow, and sometimes the fiddle itself, on his nose.
Dave akeman was a skilled banjo player, but became better known as stringbean, who dressed in a loud shirt and pants pulled down to his knees to make him look like an extremely tall hayseed.
But the most improbable and enduring comedy star of the grand ole opry was a college-educated aspiring actress from a prosperous Tennessee family who joined the cast in 1940.
Her real name was Sarah Ophelia colley.
Her fans would know her as minnie Pearl.
She was born in 1912 in Centerville, 60 miles southwest of Nashville, and nothing in Sarah colley's upbringing seemed destined to produce the character she became on the opry stage.
Her father owned a sawmill, and the home he provided for his family had one of the town's best libraries, its finest carriage, and one of its first automobiles.
As a young girl, she became sensitive that she wasn't as pretty as her friends, but she excelled in elocution and determined to be a great actress.
She enrolled at the most fashionable finishing school for young women in the state, ward-belmont, located in a former plantation mansion in Nashville, where she studied Shakespeare.
After graduation, colley landed a job with a theater company in Atlanta, which was helping rural towns in the south stage plays and variety shows with homegrown talent.
One cold winter night in January of 1936, she arrived in a little village near sand mountain in northern Alabama.
She boarded with a poor family, presided over by a woman in her seventies whose youngest of 16 children was simply called brother.
"When I left," colley remembered, "the old lady paid me the highest possible compliment.
"She said, '&lord a'mercy, child, I hate to see you go.
You're just like one of us.
'" she had been collecting country stories and anecdotes as she traveled, slowly developing an alter ego she sometimes portrayed for friends.
It was then that colley named her character minnie Pearl and outfitted her with clothes she purchased for less than $10 at a second-hand store-- a pair of simple black shoes with low heels and one strap, white stockings, a plain, round-collared dress, and a cheap straw hat, topped off with some dime-store flowers.
While many hillbilly comics painted on freckles and blackened some of their teeth, colley didn't see her minnie Pearl that way.
"I never intended her to be a caricature," she said.
"I dressed her as I thought a young country girl "would dress to go to meetin' on sunday "or to come to town on Saturday afternoon to do a little shopping and a little flirting.
" She created a hometown for her character-- tiny grinder's switch, and then populated it, she said, "with my own people," including a character she called brother.
From Nashville, Tennessee, the heart In 1940, at age 28, she got a chance to audition on the grand ole opry.
Aware of her genteel background, "some were afraid," she said, that "the opry audience "would find that out and suspect I was a phony, would think I was putting down country people.
" Just before she went on the air, judge hay thought she looked scared and gave her what she later called, "the very best advice any performer can get.
" "Just love them, honey," he said, "and they'll love you right back.
" Minnie Pearl! Howdy! Howdy! Now, minnie Pearl graduated from ward-belmont junior college, so she was a sophisticated woman.
And she wore a straw hat with a price tag hanging on it, and the price tag was labeled something like "two dollars and a half.
" And she'd step out on the stage in the opry and she'd say, "howdy," and the audience just fell out laughing.
That's a big Duke Minnie would then give some news from grinder's switch and talk about brother, and as she would for the rest of her career, she poked most of her fun at herself.
"When I got here, I felt so at home," she joked with the audience.
"In fact, one feller told me I was the homeliest girl he'd ever seen.
" But I did have two nice lookin' fellers kind of look at me tonight as i's a walkin' in out there.
They looked over at me and laughed out loud.
See, I can't help the way I look.
When they passed around looks, I thought they said "books," and I said, "give me a funny one.
" I'm always surprised that, to me, that some fella doesn't just up and steal you away.
Well, if he's willing, he don't have to steal.
I've got a "welcome" sign on the mat, the door's open, and the goodies are on the table.
Well.
The audience ate it up.
That first performance generated hundreds of pieces of fan mail from people, she said, who "really felt they knew me, and they considered me a friend.
" Sarah Ophelia colley answered them all as minnie Pearl.
Howdy! Howdy! I'm back in the saddle again out where a friend is a friend by 1940, gene autry had long since settled his dispute with Republic pictures and triumphantly returned to the silver screen, quickly eclipsing all the other singing cowboys, including his replacement, Roy Rogers.
where you sleep out every night he was receiving 20,000 fan letters a week.
Merchandisers paid him handsomely to put his name on cap pistols, cowboy boots, lunch boxes, and bicycles.
That year, with the depression stubbornly hanging on, he earned $205,000.
For an appearance at Madison square garden, autry paid the airline twa $3,400 autry paid the airline twa $3,400 to fly his horse champion across the country.
They ripped out passenger seats and put in a horse stall.
During a tour of the British isles, he rode champion into London's swank savoy hotel.
And in Dublin, 300,000 people turned out to greet them.
I go my way back in the saddle again but one of his biggest thrills occurred back home in Oklahoma What do you say, gang, we give a nice cheer for gene autry! Come on! With the state's governor acting as emcee and some 35,000 people overwhelming the tiny town of 227, his radio show, "the melody ranch," was broadcast live from berwyn, as it officially changed its name to gene autry, Oklahoma.
making this one day long to be remembered in Oklahoma.
In the fall of 1940, the American society of composers, authors, and publishers, ascap, the organization responsible for collecting royalties for music played on the radio, suddenly announced it was doubling the rate it charged radio stations across the country.
It was a direct threat to the profits of wsm and every other broadcaster, so they created their own competing group, broadcast music incorporated--bmi.
Ralph peer, the man who had helped popularize race and hillbilly music, saw an opportunity to give that music even greater exposure.
Ascap, long dominated by tin pan alley songwriters and publishers, had often discriminated against old-time and black music.
Ralph peer now gave bmi a boost by assigning to it his existing catalog of blues, Latin, and hillbilly songs, including the music of jimmie Rodgers and the Carter family.
Other small publishers and other writers ascap had shunned followed suit.
On January 1, 1941, the broadcasters declared a ban on all ascap songs being played over their airwaves and switched to bmi.
Suddenly, even more Americans began hearing hillbilly music on their radios.
the other night, dear as I lay sleeping I dreamed I held you in my arms bmi's biggest hit was "you are my sunshine" by a singer named jimmie Davis who would ride its popularity all the way to the governorship of Louisiana.
you are my sunshine, my only sunshine within 10 months, ascap reached a truce with the broadcasters.
But bmi had already firmly established itself with more than 36,000 copyrights from 52 publishers.
A year later, Roy acuff launched a music publishing business in Nashville with Fred Rose, a skilled songwriter.
The new company was soon delivering hits, performed by acuff, Bob wills, and many others.
Nashville's importance in the business of American music was growing.
Everybody had pockets of country music.
Wls in Chicago, wnox, Knoxville had the mid-day merry-go-round.
Big d jamboree in Dallas.
But Nashville-- first and foremost, Nashville was centrally located in the United States if you were a touring musician.
And they had that 50,000 watt beam that came off of wsm.
The other thing that I think Nashville should never be overlooked for is it had its business act together.
It was the industry and the business end of Nashville that kept it in the game and will always keep it in the game.
Here's deford Bailey with the "fox chase.
" One casualty of the broadcasting war was deford Bailey, who had been with the grand ole opry from the beginning.
During the 1941 boycott, the opry fired Bailey without any public explanation.
Judge hay would later say it was because Bailey wouldn't learn any non-ascap songs.
"Like some members of his race," hay wrote, "deford was lazy.
" He could play.
Deford could play.
The gene pool cries out for diversity.
Tribal tradition cries out for sameness.
America, we're caught in between those two things.
So, our music has ended up being segregated.
And that's not what the origins of the music would lead you to believe would be its trajectory.
Bailey was 42 years old with a wife and 3 young children when the opry unceremoniously dropped him.
"They turned me loose," he said, "to root hog or die.
They didn't give a hoot which way I went.
" He set up a successful shoeshine parlor in his house and then expanded it to a thriving store front in downtown Nashville.
Yeah! In 1965, on the 40th anniversary of the grand ole opry, deford Bailey was finally invited back to its stage.
And now here's the balance of the Carter family, or most of the balance, and they got a number for you.
What's it gonna be? - "In the highways.
" - "In the highways.
" in the highways, in the hedges by the spring of 1941, a.
p.
And Sara Carter had been divorced for two years.
The public was unaware of the split, and the Carter family was more popular than ever.
The group now included maybelle's 3 young girls, Helen, June, and Anita, who performed regularly on the show.
why do you cry, little darling? why are those tears in your eyes? in October 1941, rca Victor brought the Carters to New York City for another studio session.
Among the songs they recorded was one written by maybelle, "why do you cry, little darling" to see you feel so blue a plaintive song about a girl pining for her sweetheart who has been called away into the army.
With war already engulfing Europe and Asia, the nation's first peacetime draft had been instituted in the United States.
Maybelle's song captured the worries of millions of Americans that they, too, would be drawn into the conflict.
In November, "life" magazine was preparing a cover story about the increasing popularity of hillbilly music and planned to focus on the Carter family as the prime example.
They all gathered in poor valley for the shoot.
that's why I cry, little darling because you're going away leaving me all broken hearted to wait for you day after day June Carter, age 12, was so excited she saved all the burned flash bulbs as souvenirs of the event that was sure to make them even more famous.
But the story never ran.
"Life" magazine pulled the cover story at the last moment to make room for bigger news.
We take you to the speaker's platform.
Presenting the president of the United States.
December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the empire of Japan.
The United States was at peace with that nation As the nation mobilized its young men to enter world war ii, maybelle's song now held even greater meaning.
every night I'll kneel by my bedside and ask god to guide you each day back to your sweetheart that's waiting and loves you more than I can say and loves you more than I can say The day after Pearl harbor, Tommy Duncan walked into radio station kvoo to tell Bob wills and the other Texas playboys, "I don't know about you guys, but I'm going to join this man's army and fight those sons of bitches.
" A sad day coming for the foes of all mankind they must answer to the people and it's troubling their minds everybody who must fear them wills, age 36, decided he would enlist, too, as did his steel guitar player Leon mcauliffe.
there'll be smoke on the water on the land and sea when our army in Chicago, nearly 50 members of the national barn dance joined the service.
Gene, we've been hearing so much about your enlisting.
When is this all going to take place? Believe it or not, but it's going to take place right now.
Gene autry was sworn into the army air corps during a live broadcast of melody ranch.
I do.
His income had risen to $600,000 in 1941.
He traded that in for a sergeant's salary.
Autry ended up co-piloting a c-109 cargo plane on the dangerous flights over the himalayas from India to China.
Virtually every star now added songs reflecting the experiences and emotions of the war.
"Smoke on the water," released by Bob wills and other artists, promised revenge against America's enemies.
Patsy Montana did "I'll wait for you," offering a young woman's promise to her boyfriend, while autry had a hit with "at mail call today," about a serviceman overseas receiving a dear John letter.
And Elton britt's "there's a star-spangled banner waving somewhere" told the story of a disabled, backwoods boy who nevertheless yearns to fight for his country.
I think a lot of servicemen from the north and from the west were introduced to country music for the first time.
They heard their buddies from the south singing the music in the barracks and on the troop ships and that sort of thing.
After the armed forces radio service added the grand ole opry to its regular rotation of broadcasts, one poll it conducted found Roy acuff to be more popular than frank Sinatra.
In the south pacific, war correspondent Ernie pyle reported that during attacks, Japanese soldiers sometimes shouted, "to hell with Roosevelt! To hell with babe Ruth! To hell with Roy acuff!" Hillbilly music was advancing on the home front, too, where the war effort had ended the depression.
600 radio stations now featured the music coast to coast.
People were leaving the farm, leaving rural life, moving into town, getting new jobs.
A lot of people moving into defense work.
So music moved as the people moved.
and a hero brave is what I want to be world war ii nationalized country music.
Under the headline "bull market in corn," "time" magazine proclaimed, "the dominant popular music of the U.
S.
today is hillbilly.
" in this war with its mad schemes of destruction of our country fair and our sweet Liberty by the mad dictators leaders of corruption can't the U.
S.
use a mountain boy like me? god gave me the right to be a free American for that precious right I'd gladly die there's a star-spangled banner waving somewhere that is where I want to live when I die After the war ended, gene autry returned to civilian life and started making movies again.
But things had changed.
Well, the singing cowboy era, like all eras, like all fads, like all trends, has an arc and comes to an end.
And I think world war ii sort of accelerated that.
The escapism wasn't quite there anymore.
Autry began diversifying, steadily building a business empire that would include radio and television stations, real estate, and a publishing company that increased his profits from new songs like "here comes Santa claus.
" "Working with numbers was what I did best," he said later.
"What I did less well was sing, act, and play guitar.
" Ultimately, he would own a major league baseball team, and by the time he died in 1998, he would be one of the 400 richest people in America, and the only entertainer on the list.
Bob wills' time in the service had been brief.
The army discharged him in 1943.
He was older than most soldiers, and his drinking had led to discipline problems.
He headed out to California, where his shows out-sold those of Tommy dorsey and Benny Goodman.
During the last years of the war, he was bigger than ever.
Got on 10, 11 years old.
And I heard on the radio that he was going to be at a place called beardsley ballroom.
And I knew where it was.
And I waited till mama got in bed and give her time to go to sleep, but I got on my bicycle and rode over, about--it must have been about 5 miles.
First thing I seen was a sailor cart-wheeling out of that Somebody had knocked this sailor's-- this is back when-- before drive-by shootings and all that, you know, and they used to have some really good brawls at them country dances and nobody thought anything about it.
I went around back of the old dance hall, and I stood on my bicycle seat and I could see in there.
And I could see Bob.
I seen them all onstage.
Tommy was singing.
Bob had his fiddle.
And they all had on white shirts, cowboy hat, and boots were shined, and they had these g.
I.
Haircuts.
Dressed fit to kill.
They were sharp on the stage.
It wasAn intriguing moment for me.
It didn't last very long.
I got down off my bike and went home and went to bed before mama knew I was gone.
During the war, Sara Carter decided she had had enough of performing.
She yearned for a stable, domestic life with her husband coy bays, who had a steady job in California.
I've been away, babe, a long, long time without making any formal announcement, the original Carter family quietly disbanded.
to ease this lonesome, blue heart of mine but maybelle and her 3 girls still wanted a career in music.
And now here's the 3 Carter sisters-- Ellen, June, and Anita, and they got a number for you.
Keep moving on! Billed as the Carter sisters and mother maybelle, they landed a job singing on a small Richmond, Virginia station and performed during the week at county courthouses, school gymnasiums, even on the top of concession stands at drive-in theatres.
Times were changing.
Radio stations were starting to play records over the air, rather than using only live performances, and television was coming onto the scene.
But like so many other country artists, the Carter sisters and their mother began to dream of going to Nashville and someday performing on the stage of the ryman auditorium with the grand ole opry, something the original Carter family had never done.
on I think until the end of the 1930s, the grand ole opry was just one of several barn dances.
The world war ii period was a time when the grand ole opry began to surge into prominence and gradually began to leave the other barn dances behind commercially.
With the war over, new stars were already rising on the ryman's stage And in the late 1940s and 1950s, they would cement the opry's place as the pre-eminent venue in country music, where its artists would continue to push the music in every direction.
I'm thinking tonight of my blue eyes I'm thinking tonight of my blue eyes who is sailing all over the sea yes and I'm thinking tonight of her only and I wonder if she ever thinks of me you know she does.
could have been better for us both had we never in this wide, wicked world had never met for the pleasure we both seem to get I'm sure I will never forget all right! Ha! Yeah.
Next time on "country music," the birth of bluegrass I mean, how many people can say, "this man right here started a whole new genre of music"? Bill Monroe did that.
hey, hey, good-lookin' and the life of the hillbilly Shakespeare, Hank Williams.
Songs are the magic carpets that change things.
The world changed because of Hank Williams' songs.
When "country music" continues.
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for the pleasure we both seem to get I'm sure I will never forget now, you told me once, dear, that you loved me and you said that we never would part but a link in the chain has been broken leaving me with a sad and aching heart I'm thinking tonight of my blue eyes who is sailing for all of the sea and I'm thinking tonight of her only and I wonder if she ever thinks of me