Radio Rolled Out Grand Ole Opry from Nashville

Twenty-Ninth in a Series

By Matt Chaney, for ChaneysBlog.com

Posted Thursday, January 31, 2019

Copyright ©2019 for historical arrangement and original content by Matthew L. Chaney, Four Walls Publishing

The radio show to become known as Grand Ole Opry began Nov. 28, 1925, on newbie station WSM in Nashville—according to official version. But a broadcast weeks earlier held distinct markings of Opry genesis, retrospectively.

Thursday evening, Nov. 5, a mass of people gathered in downtown Nashville for the annual Policemen’s Benefit at Ryman Auditorium. Many had come because of WSM, for its old-time music and promotion of the event. Rising banjoist Uncle Dave Macon headlined, hilarious talent, and WSM would broadcast live. Six thousand fans jammed inside Ryman until doors closed on a couple thousand still outside.

The show began, carried three hours, and the crowd cheered throughout. “It was a miscellaneous program of music, instrumental, song and comedy…,” The Tennessean reported, “presenting a range from the finest touches in the classical to the old-time ‘break-down,’ and most ‘scientific jazz.’ ”

“Uncle Dave Macon [was] introduced as the ‘struttingest strutter that ever strutted a strut,’ either with his banjo, guitar or laryngeal equipment. Uncle Dave confessed to some embarrassment in being transplanted from a home far back in the country to the stage, without a big wood fireplace in which to expectorate and throw things. Some of the numbers presented jointly by himself and Mr. [Sid] Harkreader were: Turkey In The Straw, Sugar Walks Down The Street, Ain’t Goin’ to Rain No Mo’, Don’t Reckon Twill Happen Again, and Go Way Mule.”

“Both Harkreader and Uncle Dave kept the audience in an uproar.”

Dozens of telegrams reached WSM that night, lauding the Ryman broadcast, and within months the Nashville show was radio phenomenon. The “WSM Barn Dance” stood listed in Saturday broadcast schedules of newspapers nationwide.

“Old tunes like old lovers are the best, at least judging from the applause which the new Saturday night feature at station WSM receives from its listeners in all parts of the country,” touted George D. Hay, show announcer. “Jazz has not completely turned the tables on such tunes as Pop Goes The Weasel and Turkey In The Straw.”

Uncle Jimmy Thompson was press sensation for WSM, an old fiddler, 80-something. “Uncle Jimmy made his first appearance a month ago and telegrams were received from all parts of the United States, encouraging him in his task of furnishing barn dance music for a million homes,” Hay promoted. “He puts his heart and soul into his work and is one of the quaintest characters radio has yet discovered.”

Uncle Jimmy, crusty and endearing, was a ready human-interest story, meeting reporters to discuss life and fiddling championships. And public challenges rose immediately for Thompson, from other old fiddlers, bristling over press claims he was America’s best. Mellie Dunham of Maine, 72-year-old winner of Ford fiddle contests in the North, openly questioned the validity of Uncle Jimmy.

From Nashville the radio star bit back. “If Mellie Dunham will come down here to this WSM station, I’ll lay with him like a bulldog,” growled Uncle Jimmy. “He cain’t beat me. Why, he’s only a youngster, 72. I was plowin’ in a field ’fore he was born.” Their tussle went no further, apparently, as Dunham didn’t visit the South on vaudeville tour.

But Thompson traveled to Missouri for a Midwest fiddling contest, aired on WOS radio Jefferson City. A Missouri fiddler won the listener voting, Daniel Boone Jones, topping Uncle Jimmy Thompson and other entrants. Reportedly 250,000 votes were cast in calls, telegrams and letters to the station.

“Hillbilly music” entered lexicon as latest label in country genre. Uncle Dave Macon wrote and recorded his “Hill Billie Blues,” declaring “I am a billy and I live in the hills.” The 1924 record was unprecedented for use of the term. Bands emerged bearing the moniker, including George Daniell’s Hill Billies of Atlanta and the Al Hopkins Hill Billies of Washington, D.C.

Hillbilly books and movies sold, and record sales exploded. “Hill-Billy tunes are the new fashion in popular songs this year,” a scribe reported from New York in 1926. “Along Tin Pan Alley the vogue is spreading.”

Novelist Rose Wilder Lane, author of Hill Billy, had researched in the Missouri Ozarks. “We live in such a complicated world that a distinct movement is on hand among thinking people to restore simplicity,” she said. “While I was collecting the material for my book, I spend a great deal of time with the hill folks of the Ozarks. I found among them what I believe to be the real folk music of America—the hillbilly songs. These songs go back to the time before jazz, or even negro music, was heard on this continent.”

“When I came out of the mountains, I found that the first hillbilly tune, The Prisoner’s Song, had reached Broadway.”

Hillbilly was also a slur against country folks, deployed by 1800s newspapers, for example, to attack Kentucky highlanders in print. During 1925 Tennessee turned into tempest with hillbilly derogatory a factor, over media hysteria for the Scopes trial that pit evolution theory versus Bible scripture. Hill folks were depicted in vilest terms nationally, and ridiculed at home by uppity Tennesseans.

Nashville elitists extended their hillbilly ire to “WSM Barn Dance,” appalled of that commotion seemingly from nowhere. Elitists had nurtured Nashville music for generations, seeding awareness and hopefully greatness for classic symphony and grand opera. They were still anticipating a homegrown Mozart or Patti when suddenly 1,000-watt WSM started broadcasting from an insurance building downtown.

The radio station dismantled Nashville’s musical foundation in weeks, decried the intellectuals, by broadcasting mere rubes, hillbilly goofs and noisemakers on the airwaves. And to the entire nation! Nashville had been dumbed and disgraced by WSM, wailed the elitists. Their chum local newspaper critic protested by ignoring the country radio show, as he extolled opera.

Hillbilly fans struck back everywhere, defiantly supporting the music revived on radio. And country people always had comebacks for high-brow types, insults. They made fun of stuffy opera, twanging the word as opery or op’ry since before the Civil War. The comic-strip philosopher Abe Martin, wry rube character, proclaimed, “O stands for opery, grand opery, you know. Nobuddy likes it, but a few have t’ go.”

The opera barb led to a lasting name for WSM’s country show, uttered by announcer Hay on Dec. 10, 1927, according to his recall and news evidence. That evening the Barn Dance cast waited in studio as a network opera concluded in New York, for NBC at top of the hour.

After changeover to local programming, Hay aired his particular remark on WSM, along these words: “For the past hour we have been listening to music from the grand opera, but from now on we will present the grand old op’ry.” No recording of the broadcast was cut in disc, but evidence of a new show title was published next morning—“Grand  Old Op’ry,” as capitalized within quote marks—by the Sunday Tennessean.

The name would stick and Grand Ole Opry rolled by 1930, entertaining national audience from Nashville. Music elites could cry in their grand opera. The WSM hillbilly show boasted a bona fide star of American music in Macon, 60, former banjo-picking wagoner in the hills around Nashville.

“Uncle Dave Macon has taken the air by storm,” Hay promoted earnestly from WSM. “His character is rich with humor and his folk songs seem to strike home.”

Macon, for posterity, “was one of the first country recording stars and was the single most popular performer on the first 15 years of the Grand Ole Opry,” observed historian Charles K. Wolfe. “He saw country music develop from an age of sawdust floors and kerosene lanterns to an age of Hollywood glamour, million-selling phonograph records, and nationwide radio broadcasts. His repertoire ranged from pre-Civil War folksongs to Eddy Arnold hits. But his individual songs were not so important as his manner of presenting them… he wanted to feel a kinship with all his fans.”

Eddy Arnold spoke of Uncle Dave in 1971. “He was a showman—now that was the first thing about him,” Arnold said. “He’d get up and dance and take his hat and beat it on his banjo and stand the banjo down on the floor, go around it… he would tear an audience apart.”

“I learned, by George, you’d better be a showman to follow him.”

In 1928 Uncle Dave was portrayed in a novel, garnering fiction immortality like his colleague Blind Joe Mangrum on The Opry. Mangrum had come to Nashville and WSM after career revival in Paducah radio, Southern tours and fiddle contests. He was helped around by Mary, his devoted wife of more than a decade.

“I play now better than I ever did,” Mangrum said in Nashville, his former haunt with Fiddling Bob Taylor, late governor and senator. “Many’s the night I have played all night for ‘Our Bob.’ There was a man who dearly loved music…. I wish Governor Bob Taylor was back here now. We’d show them what music is.”

“Uncle Joe was one of the dearest people I’ve ever known in my life,” Alcyone Bate Beasley later recalled, original Opry performer with her father, Dr. Humphrey Bate. “He had a sweet wife who came with him every Saturday night, Aunt Mary. Used to bring him up there and stay right with him.”

“Uncle Joe was a talented man. I’ll tell you what he played—he played so beautifully—he played Italian things, some of those things, you can almost see gondolas. He played a lot that did not really fit in with the Opry, but it was so fine.”

The historian Wolfe summarized: “Uncle Joe Mangrum represented The Opry’s deepest roots in nineteenth century music.”

Mangrum starred in the glittering Opry shows of 1931, accompanied by Fred Shriver on accordion. Performers included the Macons, Dave and son Dorris; Dr. Bate and Alcyone with the Possum Hunters; G.W. Wilkerson and the Fruit Jar Drinkers; Sid Harkreader; the Crook Brothers; DeFord Bailey; Theron Hale; and Paul Warmack and the Gully Jumpers.

In remote broadcasts the Grand Ole Opry hosted crowds of 2,000 in War Memorial Auditorium, and a local music critic finally showed up, Alvin S. Wiggers, to review a show. Wiggers had avoided the WSM hillbillies for five years, covering everything else musical in Nashville, imploring readers to support grand opera especially.

Yet when Wiggers laid his eyes on and opened ears to Opry performers, he was pleasantly surprised and a good sport about it. “It was a novel experience for the writer, who felt like he had just dropped in from the moon,” Wiggers confessed in The Tennessean, adding he “didn’t know there was so much musical talent in Nashville, and had never seen so many fiddles, guitars, banjos, harmonicas, and accordions before, all played by experts who had spent their lives in studying their chosen instruments.”

Listeners sent song requests by telegram from multiple states, impressing Wiggers, who critiqued the players in positive notes. “Dr. Humphrey Bates and his ‘Possum Hunters’ played Take Your Foot Out Of The Mud and other classics, and varied their playing with occasional outbursts of vocalism or a hand-clapping concerto,” Wiggers wrote.

“Uncle Dave Macon, with his unique personality, gates-ajar collar, gold teeth and goatee, received an ovation. His son Dorris assisted in Red Wing and Jonah And The Whale, and Uncle Dave’s shouting and prancing brought down the house.”

“Uncle Joe Mangrum, who in his 79 years has never seen the light of day on his violin, and Fred Shriver, on the accordion, played Golden Slippers very entertainingly.”

Mangrum would’ve been better known in the 1932, when WSM went “clear channel” on its own radio frequency with 50,000-watts power. But the musical great died of a heart attack in January. Opry stars led by Macon performed a melodious tribute to Uncle Joe on the show.

A newsman friend wrote of Mangrum in remembrance, William Valentine Barry, at Lexington, Tenn. “I can still say that in all my life I never have heard anyone play The Mocking Bird as Joe did… He loved his violin and all who loved it. He would sit for hours and play for one man who listened attentively.”

“We hear of harps in heaven, but I take it that with Joe, it will be his old violin, reincarnated and transported to the Celestial Empire.”

Writer and consultant Matt Chaney is compiling a book on historical song and dance, tentatively titled River Music and Rockabilly in the Northern Delta. For more information see the ChaneysBlog page “Music History and Legend of the Missouri Delta.” For information on Chaney’s previous books, visit www.fourwallspublishing.com.  Email: mattchaney@fourwallspublishing.com.

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Pioneer Radio Aired Jazz and Country Music from Paducah

Twenty-Eighth in a Series

By Matt Chaney, for ChaneysBlog.com

Posted Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Copyright ©2019 for historical arrangement and original content by Matthew L. Chaney, Four Walls Publishing

H.R. Lovelace’s new radio was malfunctioning at his home in Charleston, Mo., approaching midnight on Dec. 8, 1922. The set produced only static and hum, and Lovelace wanted to hear jazz from station WIAR in Paducah, Ky., 43 miles away over delta flatland. Time was running out.

Loveless determined the problem was faulty antenna grounding, which wouldn’t be fixed in cold windy darkness. An antenna had to be improvised indoors, quickly. A few WIAR listeners used bedsprings for backup reception, including a guy in Pennsylvania, but Lovelace chose copper wire instead, a spool of D.C.C., double-cotton covered. He rushed through the house, wrapping the beige line around chair posts and wending to the receiver. He hooked in the replacement “aerial” and tuned to 360 meters, electro-magnetic wavelength for WIAR, and hit live music immediately.

The jazz horns came in clear and amplified, music from studio by Hillman’s Orchestra, top black group in Paducah. Lovelace jotted a note to WIAR: “Your dance program heard around 11:45 fine. Also caught some conversation. Heard some young fellow asking a young lady for the next dance, and I could also hear the movement of feet.”

The dance broadcast was among earliest in radio, with WIAR among the South’s initial stations, transmitting long distance through open airwaves. Paducah radio reached nationwide and into Canada, Cuba, generating 100 watts from the lower Ohio Valley.  River jazz and ragtime hooked listeners. “Syncopated harmony, mellow as the Kentucky moonlight… from broadcasting station WIAR,” the station promoted at Christmas 1922.

Radios were multiplying across the delta of southeast Missouri, southern Illinois, western Kentucky and Tennessee, amounting to a few thousand sets. Folks tended their radio contraptions like gardens, harvesting entertainment from “the circumambient ether.” Young and old tinkered day and night, adjusting tubes and antenna get-ups to catch distant stations.

“It is a novelty—in some measure a fad, perhaps—but undoubtedly there is much pleasure to be derived from listening in on the inspiring programs which come from far-away cities—music rendered by the best orchestras or vocalists,” remarked O.W. Chilton, newspaper publisher in Caruthersville.

Music over the airwaves was transcendent, dissolving distance and isolation for audience. “The wonder of radio has never failed to intrigue me,” waxed T.H. Alexander, Nashville columnist. “Each night I tune [in] with a new thrill as the stations march by with their gay music, floating in the air like banners… Turn the dial and rescue the faint music. It booms in, maybe from New York, Los Angeles, Chicago.”

Escape through entertainment wasn’t novel in the northern delta, still a marshy basin although populating rapidly. Circuses, showboats and excursion steamers were mainstays while theaters, dance halls and honky-tonks dotted the sandy ridges. Automobiles were proliferating along with leisure drivers, and in summer motorboats plied the rivers, toting sunbathers to sandbars. But the radio experience could be private and homebound, affordable and peaceful, unlike outings that posed risk in these parts, especially for armed drunks.

Pioneer Paducah radio lasted less than a year under two owners, the Rudy merchant family and Evening Sun newspaper. But WIAR aired long enough to imprint broadcast entertainment of America.

Businessman J. Henry Rudy was station founder, a “wireless” enthusiast before radio broadcasts reached town in 1920, from Pittsburgh and Detroit, elsewhere. By then Rudy’s Department Store blasted phonograph music through upper-floor windows along Broadway. Rudy’s Store staged concerts such as W.C. Handy, recording star and “Father of The Blues,” with his incredible Memphis band.

Paducah radio—“Rudy’s Station”— debuted with live music on Saturday, July 15, 1922, from third floor of the store. The Kentucky Jazz Band performed, fittingly, local black group originally assembled by Fate Marable, star bandleader of Streckfus steamers. Milestone programming besides jazz blowers included pop artists, string pickers and gospel singers, long before similar radio in Chicago and Nashville. For bands with a beat on WIAR, dancing couples sashayed about the studio, inspiring musicians and listeners. The WIAR “truck radio” patrolled streets, making musical loops along the Ohio riverfront and foothills of town.

No single performer attracted audience like Joe Mangrum, age 70, concerto violinist, country fiddler, and blind since infancy. A Southern great, Mangrum’s moribund showbiz career was revived on WIAR, launching his course to the future Grand Ole Opry. At Paducah in 1922, his star was arisen through the synergy of radio and olden country music. “Blind Joe” Mangrum was suddenly chic, a dean of “old-time fiddlers” blowing up in popularity.

Paducah radio was onto something. “How’s the Bluegrass Country?” a listener card greeted from New York City. “You are putting it on Broadway.” Another fan wrote WIAR from Kansas, requesting “more of that old-fashioned Southern music.”

Hot jazz was a given for radio marketing but hillbilly music, as to become known, would prove the wellspring for epic broadcasting. Indeed, banjos filled radio air gaps on election night 1920, for the landmark broadcast by Westinghouse station KDKA in East Pittsburgh.

“Commercial potential had never been totally absent from southern rural music, but the radio provided a means of immediate and widespread exposure far more advantageous than any medium yet created,” observed modern musicologist Bill C. Malone, author of Southern Music, American Music.

“If some people rejected hillbilly music because of what they considered its crassness, others may have gravitated toward it because it represented to them an image of an older and simpler America, and an alternative to the frenetic dance music of the Twenties.”

***

In the early 1860s at Dresden, Tenn., two local boys were a curiosity together, palling about town. One was black, a slave, William Alonzo Janes, leading around a white kid, Joseph Mangrum, who was “blind as a bat.” As Joseph stumbled in step, William took his hand. The kids didn’t care about their differences because they had fun, especially sharing music. William played banjo, Joseph violin, and each shed his burdens in song and dance, their mutual passion.

Mangrum was a musical wunderkind by age 9 and accomplished at 12, per accounts. He taught himself violin and memorized songs by ear, with no formal instruction. “I remember the first piece I learned to play,” Mangrum would say. “It was Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing. I learned to play Listen to the Mocking Bird by following a mocking bird across the square at Dresden.”

In 1935, a few years after Mangrum’s death in Nashville, William A. Janes discussed his late friend, and slavery, during a newspaper interview in northern Illinois. For the 85-year-old Janes, his native west Tennessee stood in memory, the towns and plantations, low hills and bottoms across the Mississippi from Bootheel Missouri. Dresden was the seat of Weakley County, where the delta’s eastern rim met uplands. It was key crossroads for well-traveled routes northward, some 65 miles apiece, leading to Cairo, Ill., and Paducah, Ky. Armies ranged over the area during the Civil War, Union and Confederate, along with marauding gangs.

Janes described “dread, fear and wonder” of human bondage in his youth. “My life prior to emancipation of the slaves was experienced by the majority of boys who had both a master and a taskmaster. I worked in the cotton fields. We grew tobacco, hemp, flax, peanuts and yams.”

“The constant grind of toil; the conduct of the whitecaps or ghost riders, as they were called before they became known as the Ku Klux [Klan]; the dread of being sold away from our loved ones and acquaintances, terrorized and intimidated,” he said. “The rebel and Confederate guerillas… added no small amount of fear in me. But through it all I emerged whole and free.”

“When it came to the song and dance, we were there! The white children would join us in the dance, to music furnished by the singers and ‘patters.’ Occasionally we had the luxury of a five-stringed banjo, a mighty orchestra in its day.”

Janes and Mangrum performed music together in the postwar then took divergent paths. Janes moved on to Kentucky then Illinois, farming and playing music—a standout violinist he became, too, inspired by his friend.

The name Blind Joe Mangrum—or “Mangum” as commonly misspelled—became legend in the South. “He is a most excellent musician, and can justly be styled a prodigy,” The Memphis Appeal stated in 1882. Nashville columnists and correspondents heaped praise on Mangrum, anointing him the violin virtuoso of west Tennessee, “greatest master in the South,” among reviews.

“His Mocking Bird is acknowledged by competent critics to be the finest thing they ever heard.”

Mangrum performed with “Fiddling Bob Taylor,” Tennessee politician whose musical campaigning caught national attention. Taylor charmed state voters to win the gubernatorial election of 1886, defeating his brother Alfred, also a string player. Governor Robert Taylor was a folk hero for many, “Our Bob,” with fiddler Blind Joe part of the lore.

“Mangrum… is undoubtedly a genius,” declared the Jackson Clarion-Ledger in Mississippi, 1894, about the time the musician turned 40. “His lost sense [of eyesight] seems to have been given entirely to touch and ear. Besides being a skillful performer he is a composer, and his productions have given delight to many.”

Mangrum preferred operatic and classical pieces, but folks raved over his country fiddling, and he was supremely confident in old-time songs. One night at Jackson, Tenn., circa 1900 in Jenny Day’s Southern Hotel, Mangrum listened to the hoedowns of a young man on fiddle. When melody turned to The Arkansas Traveler, Mangrum interjected.

“Boy, let me show you something,” he said, breaking down on fiddle and bow.

“And he played that old classic as I never heard it before,” a witness remembered, adding: “So long as Mrs. Day lived and Joe went to Jackson, he had a free room and a meal ticket in the Southern Hotel.”

Jenny Day was among guardian types for Mangrum in the Mid-South, enabling him to travel, maneuver and rest. Likewise friends and relatives cared for him in Illinois, Arkansas and Mississippi. The families were often affluent, hosting him for days, weeks or months.

Yet in middle age, the sightless man needed others to lead him around and interpret information. Mangrum declined offers to tour Eastern cities because expenses wouldn’t pay for family or friend to accompany him. Blind Joe relied on people whose voices he recognized, with familiar ground under foot.

Homey sanctuaries grew fewer for Mangrum at turn of the century. He bounced among jobs and locales, living for periods at Union City, Tenn., Cairo and Paducah, showing up at the latter in 1906. “Mr. Mangrum is well-known in Paducah, where he has spent several years of his life at various times,” a scribe reported. Blind Joe himself was impressed with new streets and sidewalks in town: “No more high steppings, bumps and loose plank culverts to trip you up,” he complimented.

The musician played for coins on streets, for meals at churches, and, sometimes, for lone listeners in nickelodeons. Friends and relatives urged Mangrum to accept gainful employment somewhere, befitting his talent. News writers pleaded same, and a Cairo paper admonished locals for failing to support Mangrum at nickel shows, forcing his departure from town. Mangrum twice headed for St. Louis, agreeing to major gigs supposedly permanent, only to leave both shortly. A reporter noted “this maker of melodies knows no real resting place, for like a gypsy he visits many places.”

Mangrum’s dilemma even made fiction of a novelist friend, Annie Somers Gilchrist. The writer was known for devising characters of stark resemblance to acquaintances and family. Violinist “Blind Joe Mangrum” was a figure by name, hardly fictionalized as the man himself, in her story The Night-Rider’s Daughter. The setting was Union City and Reelfoot Lake in the west Tennessee bottoms, across the Mississippi from New Madrid.

In the novel Mangrum was houseguest of Squire Lomax, Mrs. Lomax and son Algernon at their lake farm. One evening the family desired music and Algernon fetched Joe from upstairs. “Footsteps on the carpeted stairs were heard descending—some steady, some uncertain and hesitating,” narrated Gilchrist.

Algernon led Joe by hand into the parlor, for hearty greetings from the squire. Joe was seated, provided his violin and bow, and Mrs. Lomax accompanied on piano. Gilchrist continued in the passage:

Every note of The Mocking Bird was exquisitely rendered. Wonderful trills, staccato notes, and legato strains pulsed out on the starry October night… When the last wonderful phrasing died on the air, a deep breath heaved from the massive breast of the ’Squire. After an impressive pause, the lady said:

“Joe, you are a genius, a wonder. Why don’t you go starring and make a future for yourself?”

“I don’t want to go among strangers unless my brother or some of my near friends would go with me. My blindness—“

“I understand, Joe; but Ole Bull, for all his great fame, couldn’t play with you. I’ve heard him; he couldn’t draw such strains from the violin as you drew tonight.”

He bent his head, and said in a low voice:

“Thank you, Mrs. Lomax. Shall we play the Serenade?”

“Not unless you want to, Joe,” said the ’Squire. “Let’s keep The Mocking Bird in our souls tonight. The Serenade will drive him away. Suppose we all retire.”

His wife closed the piano, Algernon put the violin in its case, and, while his parents vanished into an adjoining room, he led the blind musician upstairs to his apartment.

The novel was written as real Joe Mangrum apparently got the break everyone hoped for. He signed a vaudeville contract to tour Southern cities, reportedly for $200 a week, commencing in spring 1909. Newspapers of at least three states applauded the development.

“Mr. Mangrum has been generous with his gifts and has made no attempt heretofore to commercialize his ability,” commented The Louisville Courier-Journal. “He has spent most of his life in a comparatively small radius of country, playing for charity entertainments and for the delectation of his friends. In his limited field, however, he has delighted thousands of people with his playing, and all who know him have confidence that his venture in vaudeville will prove successful.”

“In the event that his Southern trip, which is something in the nature of a tryout, should show satisfactory results, he is promised booking on the Eastern circuit.”

Mangrum lit up Montgomery, Ala., wowing audiences of the Theatrical Club and the Majestic Theatre. At Little Rock, crowds turned out at the Majestic and Elks Club.

“Joe Mangrum, a blind violinist, is of the kind usually seen at advanced prices,” reviewed The Arkansas Democrat. “He has the technique and the execution. His playing is perfect, containing melody, harmony, volume, and touch… a wizard with the stringed instrument.”

“Mr. Mangrum plays with much expression and got several encores,” added The Arkansas Gazette. “Blind Joe Mangrum was received with great applause.”

Then news coverage stopped cold. Mangrum’s vaudeville tour had ended quickly as begun, for whatever reason. Soon the blind artist was back in west Tennessee and Kentucky, seeking livelihood and refuge.

Writer and consultant Matt Chaney is compiling a book on historical song and dance, tentatively titled River Music and Rockabilly in the Northern Delta. For more information see the ChaneysBlog page “Music History and Legend of the Missouri Delta.” For information on Chaney’s previous books, visit www.fourwallspublishing.com.  Email: mattchaney@fourwallspublishing.com.

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