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Polly Johnson
Born:  April 17, 1940
Died:  May 7, 1964
KEZU Rapid City, SD

Pauline Johnson was born in Rapid City, South Dakota back in 1940. She started her musical journey at a very early age as we shall learn.

In 1954, when she was just 14 years old, she won a local talent contest that gave her a spot on radio and television station KOTA in Rapid City. Her rendition of "River Of No Return" is what captured the attention of the audience and judges.

On KOTA, she appeared regularly with such folks as Buddy Meredith and the KOTA Cowboys, Kenny Ham, Eddy Halvorson and Darlene Darlis.

In June of 1959, she moved over to radio station KEZU, also in Rapid City. She had the early morning show shift - appearing Monday through Friday at 6:35am. She also handled the chore of musical director for the station. If her musical shows did not keep her busy enough, she also hosted a show for women every day as well, providing news of interest to the female gender.

An article noted that she'd performed with such artists as Marty Robbins, Slim Whitman, Kitty Wells and Jim Reeves.

In 1958, she was also a contestant in the "Miss Rapid City Beauty Contest". She did not win that contest, but she did win the "Miss Congeniality" award.

Around that time, she made a trip to Puerto Rico with Buddy and the KOTA Cowboys where they entertained the military troops stationed there.

We learn from a 1962 Polly Johnson Fan Club Journal that she related a record on the Gospel Records label called "Polly Johnson Sings...Songs From The Old Country CHurch".

She wrote of a visit to the Minneapolis area with her singing partner back then, Mary Jane Gaetke. Polly was living with the Gaetke family at the time. Mary Jane was quite busy back then, attending a Christian Bookseller's COnvention in Chicago sometime in 1962 before heading back to Minneapolis where she met up with Polly again.

Polly notes that she did a couple of performances with Mary Jane at the Calvary Temple known as "Soul's Harbor" as well as at a group called "Youth For Christ" where Polly, Mary Jane and Mary Jane's daughter, Barby, did a trio number.

During that time, they embarked on a trip up to South Dakota where they picked up Polly's brother in Watertown, South Dakota before heading on over to Rapid City. There, the pace picked up a bit for them. They did a radio interview on KOTA with Verne Shepard. They drove over to Belle Fourche for an interview with T. I. Newell over radio station KDSJ, broadcasting in Deadwood, South Dakota. The following days included an interview with Johnny Rowe over station KIMM in Rapid City.

They made the rounds of the stations in Rapid City, interviews with Polly Weedman on KOTA, another interview over KRSD, and an interview with Gene Taylor on KEZU. Buddy Meredith also had him on his show, a sort of reunion for them at that time.

By this time, California appears to have been her home. As she mentions they then set out for California after all the visits with the relatives, arriving on Sunday August 12, 1962. The gals were doing appearances related to their gospel music endeavors. Polly's schedule included appearances at the Nazarene Church in Stockton; the Oakland Youth For Christ; and large gospel music shows in Sacramento and Turlock. She mentioned that some of the artists on those shows included Ethel Waters, John Webb, Bill Carle, Jack Conners along with Mary Jane and herself.

Her fan club journal noted how they were promoting their music at that time. Polly's album was considered "gospel folk songs" while Mary Jane's music was referred to as "religious ballads".

Her fan club was managed by Glenda Smalley in Rapid City back in 1957. In 1962, it appears to have been led by Dorothy Borelson, also of South Dakota. It appears her mother and father were also handling some of the chores as well.

Dusty (Dorothy's nickname) Borelson wrote a letter to the editor that appeared in the RFD column in Country & Western Jamboree magazine in September 1957 that tells us a bit of what folks were enjoying in Rapid City at the time. He writes of a show called the KOTA Hoedown Jamboree that was airing over KOTA-TV. Dusty tells the readers that the show included Buddy Meredith and the KOTA Cowboys, Bob Haley, Jody Isminger, Jack DeCorey, Lowell Sterling, Al (Stringbean) Swenson, Polly and Margie Johnson (Margie was Polly's sister) and the emcee of the show was Gene Taylor. Dusty also lamented over the scarcity of articles about the muscians based in South Dakota and was itching to be of assistance in providing those articles and photos.

Her life came to a tragic end on May 7, 1964. She was aboard the fatal flight of Pacific Air Lines Flight 773. A passenger who was depressed over recent events in his life took a gun into the cockpit and shot both the pilot and co-pilot. The plane, which originated in Stockton, California, crashed near San Ramon, California. Polly was one of the passengers. In December 1964, Billboard notes the release of her last album, "I Found The Answer".

Credits & Sources

  • Country Song Roundup No. 65; March 1960; American Folk Publications, Inc.; Derby, CT
  • Country and Western Jamboree; Vol. 3 No. 6; September 1957; Maher Publications, Inc.; Chicago, IL
  • Polly Johnson Fan Club Journal; Issue No. 22; Summer 1962; Lodi, CA

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