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Doc Hopkins
Born:  January 26, 1900
Died:  January 3, 1988
Kentucky Music Hall of Fame (2015)
WLS National Barn Dance
KFNF Shenandoah, IA
KFOX Long Beach, CA
WHB Kansas City, MO
WJJD Chicago, IL
WLS Chicago, IL
WMAQ Chicago, IL

About The Artist

Doctor Howard Hopkins (Doctor was his real first name) sang old time ballads over two major Chicago radio stations in the 1930s. Although his recording career was rather meager, he made extensive electrical transcriptions for the M. M. Cole Co. in 1944 that were widely heard over much of the country. Like many of the traditional country musicians who came to Chicago, Doc had initially been recruited by John Lair who later founded the Renfro Valley Barn Dance.

Hopkins was born in Harlan County, Kentucky but grew up in less mountainous Rockcastle County where his parents had bought a farm. He learned to play guitar and sing as a child. He had a stuttering problem when talking, but it didn't affect his singing. Therefore, on stage or behind a microphone, he sang a lot and talked little. Unlike Mel Tillis who turned his stuttering into a plus, Doc did not and that may have impeded his climb to stardom. However, it neither prevented him from army service in World War I nor singing in medicine shows afterward. He also served a stint in the marines and worked in various odd jobs in the 1920's until John Lair brought him to WLS in 1929 as a member of the Cumberland Ridge Runners.

Promo Ad - W.O.W. Hall - Clinton, MO - Georgie Porgie Gang - Doc Hopkins - Cranberry Bill - Riley Step - Jack Savage - May 1933
Promo Ad - Mackinaw Dells - Bloomington, IL - Doc Hopkins - July 1931

Promo Ad - Brown Couty Jamboree Park - Blue Grass Festival - Bill Monroe - Mike Seeger - Mac Wiseman - Doc Watson - Merle Watson - Doc Hopkins - Jim and Jesse - Bean Blossom, IN - June 1969
Promo Ad - Annual Folk Festival - Royce Hall - UCLA - Doc Hopkins - Chambers Brothers Gospel Group - Almeda Riddle - March 1964
Promo Ad - Aragon Ballroom - Chicago, IL - Little Jimmy Dickens - Doc Hopkins - Glen Pine - June 1974

Doc Hopkins and Karl and Harty - Song Folio - 1936
Promo Ad - KFNF - Council Bluffs, IA - Doc Hopkins - Cousin Paul - December 1953
Promo Ad - Buck Lake Ranch - Angola, IN - Smiley Burnett - DOc Hopkins - Rod Brasfield - July 1949

Doc's recording career began in Chicago in July 1931, but nothing was released from the initial session. Four months later he went northward to the Paramount studios in Grafton, Wisconsin. Ten sides were released-two on Paramount and eight on Broadway (their Montgomery Ward related label)-but they are rare or nonexistent today. Many were "covers" from the Bradley Kincade repertoire. He did better in 1936-37 when four out of twenty masters came out on Sears-Roebuck owned Conquerer.

His last commercial efforts were in 1941 on Decca when all six numbers were released. In 1944, he made about 160 songs for the M. M. Cole Transcription Library. Several of these songs have been reissued on long play albums on Cattle. He later made some recordings on small labels

Hopkins did most of his live radio work on either WLS or WJJD. He did go to Kansas City, but always returned to Chicago.

He left radio in 1949 as times for country singers were changing. He went to work as a mechanic, first in Chicago and then went to Los Angeles in 1956.

In August of 1954, he was part of the cast for a new show called "Carnation Milk Time" that was to be on daily at 10:45am. Radio station KNIM in Marysville, MO posted an article in the local news promoting the new program. The stars to appear on the program included Rex Allen, Fiddlin' Dave, the Trail Dusters, The Little Country Girls, Rusty Gill, Doc Hopkins, The Down Homers and the Home Towners among others.

He was rediscovered by Dr. D. K. Wilgus of UCLA that led to his appearance at the UCLA Folk Festival. The UCLA Folk Festival expanded its musical lineup to broaden the audience beyond the first year's focus on bluegrass. The 1964 festival was to include English folksinging, Latin-American tradition and cowboy songs. Some of the performers were to be A. L. Lloyd, Carl T. Sprague, Almeda Riddle, John Hurt and Doc Hopkins.

Doc also appeared at the 1965 UCLA Folk Festival that was held at Royce Hall on the UCLA Campus. Some of the other performers included the Blue Sky Boys, JImmy Driftwood, Dave Fredrickson, Bess Lomax Hawes and Sandy and Carolin Patan.

Some of his songs were recorded which appeared on a long play album on the Birch label.

While on the west coast, he appeared at various events. One was in Fresno, CA on June 16, 1956 where he appeared at the Mission Covenant Church for a Youth For Christ rally. The next day, he was part of a special Father's Day program at the Calvary Tabernacle. He was a guest speaker at 9:45 and 11:00am.

In 1968, he retired and moved back to Chicago where he lived another twenty years.

He continued to make appearances at festivals. One was at Berea College's Celebration of Traditional Music in 1975. The festival would have concerts in the Phelps-Stokes Chapel with square dancing in the Dodge Gymnasium. In 1976, he made an appearance at the Sixth Appalachian "Celebration of Folklife" festival at the convention center in Cincinnati, Ohio. Also appearing at the festival was Asa Martin playing the saw with the Cumberland Rangers.

He married Mary Agnes Locke on August 10, 1933 in Jackson County, Missouri. She was born on November 5, 1913 and died on July 30, 1999.

Doc once claimed: "I just sing the same as all us folks do down in Kentucky."

Song Folio - Guitar the Doc Hopkins Way
Song Folio - Doc Hopkins and his Country Boys - 1945

M. M. COle Transcription Library Folio - Doc Hopkins and his Country Boys

Credits & Sources

  • Hillbilly-Music.com would like to express its thanks to Ivan M. Tribe, author of Mountaineer Jamboree — Country Music in West Virginia and other books that can be found on Amazon.com and numerous articles in other publications for providing us with information about this artist.
  • Youth For Christ Rally Will Hear Hopkins, Long Time Folk Singer; June 16, 1956; The Fresno Bee; Fresno, CA
  • Father's Day Program Includes Hopkins Talks; June 16, 1956; The Fresno Bee; Fresno, CA
  • Starting August 2nd; July 23, 1954; The Marysville Daily Forum; Marysville, MO
  • UCLA Schedules 2nd Folk Festival; February 8, 1964; Valley Times; North Hollywood, CA
  • UCLA Folk Dance Festival Planned; March 19, 1964; The Los Angeles Times; Los Angeles, CA
  • UCLA To Present 2nd Annual Folk Festival; March 20, 1964; The Evening Vanguard; Venice, CA
  • Folk Fete Star; April 27, 1965; The Pasadena Independent; Pasadena, CA
  • Berea Festival Opens Thursday; October 19, 1975; The Lexington Herald-Leader; Lexington, KY
  • Folklife Comes To Convention Center; April 9, 1976; The Cincinnati Post; Cincinnati, OH
  • Obituary: Howard (Doc) Hopkins, Sr.; January 6, 1988; Chicago Tribune; Chicago, IL
  • Obituary: Mary Agnes Locke Hopkins; August 1, 1999; Chicago Tribune; Chicago, IL

Get The Music

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Recordings (78rpm/45rpm)

Rec. No. Side Song Title
  8305 A The Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane
  8305 B Down on the Old Plantation
  8306 A Sweet Betsy from Pike
  8306 B Sugar Babe
  8307 A Barbara Allen
  8307 B Gooseberry Pie
  8337 A Little Joe
  8337 B Methodist Pie
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  8748 A The Pal That Is Always True
  8748 B Mother the Queen of My Heart
  8749 A The Church of Long Ago
  8749 B The Great Judgment Morning
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  5945 A Fate Of The Battleship Maine
  5945 B My Little Georgia Rose
  5983 A Bad Companions
  5983 B Kitty Wells
  6039 A Wreck Of Old 31
  6039 B Wreck Between New Hope And Gethsemane
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  577 A Twenty-One Years
  577 B Old Joe Clark
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  1410 A The Blue Tail Fly
  1410 B Cripple Creek
  1411 A Will the Circle Be Unbroken
  1411 B John Henry
  201 A Sleep Little Moses

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