Blue Grass Roy was born about 1901 or so, on a farm in Christian
County, not far distant from Hopkinsville, Kentucky. When he was
just a tiny kid, he began to sing, gradually learning the old
mountain ballads and folk songs of his home and surrounding area.
Unbeknownst to him that many years later, with these same songs,
he was to sing his way into untold thousands of hearts by way
of something that hadn't even been invented yet, the radio.
It all started that happy moment in his young life when his father
gave him his first guitar after returning from a trip to town. It
wasn't long before Roy learned to play the instrument. He seemed
to have a natural talent and an intense interest in the instrument
and gradually he would sing along, too.
As is so often the case with many artists, Roy began to sing for
the local neighbors. In the evenings, when the chores of the
farm had been completed, friends and neighbors liked nothing better
than to gather at his family's home, and with Blue Grass Roy
leading the singing and enjoy these musical sessions.
He made a name for himself locally, but even at that point, he
didn't think to pursue a musical career. When he was 17, he began
to search for an occupation. He tried several jobs, but his
heart always took him back to singing those old songs and
playing them for people. In 1929 in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, Roy had
some free time and was curious to see a radio station. So, he
visited the local WFIW studios. He listened to a few programs and
the thought came to him that he, too could be singing
on the radio.
He managed to meet and talk with the station's director, Plug Kendrick
and after some conversation, asked permission to put on a program
of his own. Mr. Kendrick promised to give him a trial and
assigned a time for his program.
The fateful day came and Blue Grass Roy made his debut on the air.
He had barely finished singing his first tune when the phone
began ringing at the station. Folks wanted to know who was it, who
sang those old songs so beautfiully and of course, would he
be on again? He got not just a few, but over 30 phone calls
that first program. The station knew what to do when faced
with such popularity, they immediately scheduled Blue Grass Roy
a regular daily time slot.
He was a regular feature of WFIW for a year, being employed
by the station to advertise Hamlin's Wizard Oil. The famous product
and the famous singer went so well together, that the
management of the Hamlin Wizard Oil Co. employed Blue Grass
Roy permanently, to advertise their product. Blue Grass Roy stayed
at WFIW for four years before moving on to KRLD in Dallas,
Texas in 1933. He went to WWVA in Wheeling, West Virginia in
February 1935. He then went to WTIC in Hartford, Connecticut
around February 1936 as he continued to gain fans all
across the country and reportedly even in New Zealand
where he was heard regularly.
Later on, we would find a note about Blue Grass Roy in a WWVA Jamboree
Yearbook of sorts that mentioned that Blue Grass Roy worked on the radio
there on early morning and late night broadcasts at the station. However,
he only appeared once on the famed WWVA Jamboree. The reason they noted
was that he didn't 'memorize' his songs and he thought it would be
out of place to perform with a music stand on stage. Perhaps he was shy. But
it contradicts what we learned in an old song folio that Roy knew hundreds
of songs by memory.
He was said to be a friendly, lovable character, with simple charm
that remained unspoiled by his tremendous popularity. He always
got a great thrill out of his fan mail, reading them and kept
them in enormous scrap booksevery letter and card that came
to him from his listeners. He also enjoyed answering listener
requests for songs they wanted to hear. It wouldn't have been
unusual for Blue Grass Roy to entertain folks for hours on end
and never repeat a song for its said he knew over 400 to 500 songs
Blue Grass Roy loved the audiences and they also gave their affection
in return, too. Not just in fan mail of which he received thousands
of letters, but also some of the gifts they sent him. Many were
unique presents. One was a lovely flower, carved from a new tin
can and shaped with unbelievable artistry. Another was a metal
ring made from a pipeline off the Battleship Maine. Then there was
a tiny hand-carved wooden guitar only six inches long that was
inlaid with colorful beads in an intricate design.
Blue Grass Roy was a pioneer singer of early morning and late night
broadcasts over WWVA, from 1934 to 1935. However, he only appeared
once on the Jamboree in a farewell appearance. The reason is that
he didn't memorize his songs and he felt that a music stand would
look a bit out of place on the stage of the WWVA Jamboree.
Credits & Sources
- Blue Grass Roy, The Hamlins Korn Kracker Book No. 4, World's
Greatest Collection of Cowboy and Mountain Ballads; M. M. Cole
Publishing Company, Chicago, IL; 1936