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Lawrence Loy
and Pokeberry Promenaders
Born:  December 14, 1907
Died:  March 10, 1955

About The Artist

Lawrence Vernel Loy was born on the 14th of December 1907 in Bancroft, Kansas as the son of Vernel and Grace Loy. He had an older brother, Wallace, and a older sister, Berdina. The family moved to Iowa where he grew up on the family farm. He attended High School at Bedford. In 1928, at age 21, he obtained his Bachelors degree at the Iowa State University, where three years later he would get his Master of Science degree.

During his time on the Iowa State University he met Helen Ruggles. They met at a party where Helen was singing. They got married on December 22nd 1928. Both Lawrence and Helen were very artistic. Helen was a fine singer, who sung harmony with her friend Edna Holzinger for a local radio station. Lawrence did a lot of woodworking. Furthermore, square dancing was a constant factor in the house.

Lawrence and Helen would get two children. Their first son, however, died during birth on March 10th 1940. Their daughter Patsy Sue was born on 29th of August 1941.

In 1928 and 1929 Lawrence taught social sciences and mathematics at the Thompson High School in Thompson, Iowa. He was also active with the Scouts. From 1929 to 1935 he served as director of intramural athletics at Ames Senior High School in Ames, Iowa. Prior to becoming a member of the faculty at at the University of Massachusetts in 1936 he was an assistant in rural organization in the Iowa Extension Service.

In September 1936 he moved to the University of Massachusetts as Professor in Mathematics. Later Loy took a higher paying, more interesting job as extension specialist in Young People's Programme at the same University. As an extension specialist in recreation at the university, Lawrence Loy traveled through all of the New England states, developing state and community recreational programs. In his work he was associated with both youth and adult groups, including Boy and Girl scouts, churches and farm bureaus. As a trained recreation leader, Mr. Loy used to say: "Community recreation means activities for young and old. Too many people get the idea that recreation means major sports. Every good a recreation program should be planned for the entire community."

During World War II, Lawrence Loy left his class at the University to carry recreation programs to servicemen in New Foundland. After the war he went on developing recreational programs in West Virginia, North and South Carolina.

A hobby of Lawrence that was directly connected to his work was square dancing. In 1946 he organized the annual Country Dance festival at the University of Massachusetts. He was caller at many large square dances, that often were held in large barns, and attracted thousands of people of all ages. Square dancing was hugely popular in the 40s and 50s. Ever since Henry Ford (of the automobiles) published the square dance book "Good Morning" in the early twenties, the enthusiasm was growing. Another hallmark book was "Cowboy Dances" by Lloyd Shaw, which was published in 1939. Together with this book, Shaw taught courses for callers. Due to the war, the square dance boom was postponed for a few years, but came to it's full potential in the late 40s (for more information on square dancing see: www.heinerfischle.de/history). This resulted in a high demand for square dance records, a demand that was quickly satisfied by the large record labels.

Columbia was one of the first labels to recognize the potential of square dance records. In 1941 Carson Robinson was contracted to make square dance recordings. Of course they needed a caller for the records. Lawrence Loy, who by now was an experienced caller, did the calls at the recording session on 17th of February 1941. Of this session eight tracks were released on four 78 rpm records (Columbia 36018 through 36021). These records were reissued in 1953, when the square dancing boom was at a peak, in an album (C 47), and on a 10" LP called "Square Dances" (CL 6029), which 2 years later was reissued again as CL 2551.

After the war RCA Victor also joined the square dance craze. Around year end 1945 they recorded eight square dance tracks with the same combination of Carson Robinson's band and Lawrence Loy as caller. These tracks were issued on four 78 rpm records (20-1830 through 20-1833), in an album (P-155), and on 10" LP (LPM 3030). Also the new MGM label (which recently signed Hank Williams) recorded the Robinson-Loy combination. The recordings were made around April 1947, and were issued on four 78 rpm records (10051 through 10054) in album MGM-5.

Columbia wanted to expand their square dance catalogue after the war. Lawrence Loy, who was very popular, was signed on September 28th 1949. Remarkable was that he had a contract for himself as a caller, that was not tied to a band. He also got an exceptionally good royalty: 4% of 90% of the sales. This was a contract that was comparable to Roy Acuff and Gene Autry, most contracts started with 1% of 90%! Two days after he was signed the first recordings were made in Columbia's studios in New York. Lawrence called with Wilbur Waite's Pokeberry Promenaders (a name derived from Pokeberry Ridge in Amherst, MA where Mr. Loy lived). The band consisted of Fred Sears on fiddle, Wilbur Waite on bass fiddle, and Tony, an Italian, on accordion. Their style was simple but effective. The intro was played by the accordion, after which the fiddle would take over to play the melody.

Since Lawrence Loy found it hard to call without dancers, a group of dancers travelled with him to New York (one of the dancers was Paul Channell, who fifty years later is the 1st Vice President of the Square Dance Foundation of New England). The eight tracks that were recorded were predominantly popular country tunes from that time like "Just Because", and "San Antonio Rose". They were issued on 14th of November 1949 on four 78 rpm records (Columbia 20636-20639) collected in album H-11, and on 10" LP "Square Dances Volume II", Columbia HL 9014.

Lawrence's records sold well, and subsequently, on 28th of September 1950 his contract was renewed. On the 4th of April 1951 he again recorded eight tracks with Wilbur Waite's Pokeberry Promenaders. Remarkable is that the fiddle is not or hardly audible, and the melody is played by the accordion exclusively. Again, on the repertoire were popular country tunes like "Golden Slippers". The eight tracks were issued on four 78 rpm records (Columbia 20817-20820) in album H-14 and on 10" LP "Square Dances Volume III", HL 9018. His contract was again renewed in 1951 and 1952. On March 3rd 1953 he went to the studios with Wilbur Waite's Pokeberry Promenaders for the third time. This time the recordings again featured the fiddle, although not as prominent as on the first session. The eight tracks recorded were issued on four 78 rpm records (Columbia 21105-21107) in album H-20, on the 10" LP "Square Dances Volume IV", HL 9024, and on a 45 rpm double EP (H4-20). In september 1953 his contract with Columbia was not renewed. With three 10" LPs in the HL 9000 series, Lawrence Loy (together with the Chuck Wagon Gang) had the highest number of LPs in this early Columbia LP series, more than Roy Acuff, Gene Autry, Carl Smith or Lefty Frizzell!

Lawrence Loy died on March 10th 1955, aged 47, of a heart attack. On a conference held the day after his death the following homage was dedicated to him:

"In nearly 20 years Lawrence V. Loy served the Commonwealth Massachusetts as Extension Professor in charge of Youth Programs at the University of Massachusetts. He inspired thousands of people of all ages with the spirit of youth, and instructed them in the intricacies of dance. His fame and influence reached the distant corners of the world. His technical expertise was heightened in potency by virtue of his vibrant albeit dignified personality and self-sacrificing consecrations to his art."

On the 15th of July 1955 "his" Country Dance Festival was dedicated to him.

In the early sixties, 20 of his 24 Columbia recordings were reissued on 2 12" LPs on the Harmony label. His wife Helen out-lived him by thirty years, and re-married in 1957 with Herbert Randolph. His daughter Pat S. Loy lives in Florida, where she is a teacher and an artist. Both Lawrence and Helen are buried in Amherst, Massachusetts, near the house they lived in for years.

In 2001 Lawrence Loy was inducted in the Square Dance Foundation of New England's Hall of Fame with the following text:

"Lawrence Loy gave generously of his time and enthusiasm to further the cause of wholesome community recreation. His devotion to the youth, the lilt of his songs, the joy of his games, the full souled sway of his dances, friendly enjoyment of simple everyday group activities enriched and inspired the lives of others. He founded the UMass Country Dance festival, Old Colony Callers & Teachers Association, the New England Recreational Leaders Laboratory, the New England Young Men's and Women's conference, and recorded for Columbia. His leadership was unassuming but effective. It was little friendly deeds that made Lawrence Loy big in the world of square dance. Today we honor his memory by induction into our Hall of Fame."

Timeline and Trivia Notes

Group Members included:

  • Lawrence Loy, caller
  • Fred Sears, fiddle
  • Wilbur Waite, bass fiddle
  • Tony ??, accordion

Credits & Sources

  • Hillbilly-Music.com wishes to thank William Agenant and the folks at "Strictly Country" magazine over in the Netherlands for sending along the English version of this article. "Strictly Country" was founded in 1971 and is published six times a year.

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Recordings (78rpm/45rpm)

Rec. No. Side Song Title
  20638 A Yankee Doodle
  21104 A Haymaker's Jig
  21104 B Makin' Hay

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