About The Artist
Karen Wheeler, the daughter of country artist Onie Wheeler, grew up and became part of the country music scene from childhood. While the high level stardom the Wheelers sought never happened, they did both make notable marks on the industry. Karen Deen Wheeler was born in Sikeston, Missouri and by the late 1960's was beginning to attract notice as one of the increasing number of girl singers on the country scene.
Her father was recording for K-Ark; Karen did also, having her first of three releases at about thirteen, a number titled "Wait Till I'm Sixteen." In addition to solo work, she made semi-regular appearances on the Renfro Valley Barn Dance and Jamboree, USA.
In 1962, she did one side of an Epic single with Onie doing the other side. Karen also worked some as part of The Hardin Trio between 1968 and 1970. Billboard reported in October 1968 that the "new" Harden Trio consisted of Bobby Harden, Karen Wheeler and Shirley Michaels. The group would not sign with the Columbia label. The original Harden Trio had become the Harden Sisters, Arlene and Robbie, and stayed with Columbia. In 1969, she recorded a duet with Bobby Harden on Starday.
Among other activities, Karen worked as an opening act for Conway Twitty off and on for a dozen years. In fact, Bill Williams reported in Billboard in 1973 that the Conway and Karen "...team up well together." She guested several times on the Grand Ole Opry, appeared on package shows, and entertained troops in Viet Nam and Thailand with a Roy Acuff entourage.
In the summer of 1970, it was reported that Karen and Sonny Throckmorton had signed with Hilltop Records. She did four sides for the label.
Her Chart single "The First Time for Us" entered the Billboard listings in 1972. It probably led to what appeared to be a big break when she signed with RCA Victor in 1973. Billboard indicated that she had been contemplating changing labels around that time and reported that she had bought out her contract and then moved to the RCA label. Her first session was produced by Jerry Bradley. Her first single "Born to Love and Satisfy" spent twelve weeks on the charts in 1974, peaking at No, 31.
On March 10, 1973, she was on a show of the revived "Old Dominion Barn Dance" at the Fair Grounds in Richmond, VA. Conway Twitty, Anthony Armstrong JOnes and Karen were the featured acts that night. The show drew an audience of around 5,000 with reportedly an additional 3,000 turned away. The audience that got in was "vacuum packed" for the show. But that success did not last as the attendance the following week dropped to around 900. The show had to undergo some changes or was competing with other entertainment in the city.
Sadly, the next release "What Can I Do (to Make You Happy)" only made No. 97 and the next release didn't chart at all. Neither did a later single on Capitol.
Meanwhile, while opening for Conway Twitty, Karen developed what would be her signature song although she did not record it until the 1990's. At her father's urging, she worked up a rousing version of the old Jimmie Rodgers classic "Muleskinner Blues" which had been successfully revived by Dolly Parton in 1970. Although Karen's version did not differ significantly from Parton's except for her own sound-effects, she continued doing it after Dolly had stopped singing it. It continued to be a part of her act and was an arrangement to remember!
Karen was part of a contingent of country music artists on one of the first "Country Music Cruises" put together by the Carnivale Cruise Lines with the help of Mission Broadcasting Co. stations and WWOK in Miami, FL. Seven cruise ships reportedly left Miami on the weekend of September 5, 1976, the T.S.S. Mardi Gras was the only one that left port with more than its capacity. This first ever Country Music cruise included in addition to Karen, Hank Williams Jr., Nat Stuckey, Billie Jo Spears, Merle Kilgore, Nate Harve, Don Gerald and Jenny Lee and their Sun Country band. The group played to an audience of 400 each night of the seven day cruise of the Caribbean to Nassau, San Juan and St. Thomas.
Moving into the 1980's, Karen suffered another career and health setback when she was diagnosed with cancer. This took a four-year bite out of her musical work, but by 1990 she got a clean bill of health.
With the support of husband Glen Shoffner, she recorded three cassettes on the Fox Fire label: one country which contained "Muleskinner Blues," one sacred which included her dad's numbers "Mother Prays Loud in Her Sleep" and "I Saw [Dad] with God Last Night," and one a Christmas tape, all released in 1992. During that and the next decade she recorded more songs and even some comedy on Foxfire.
In addition to appearing on many shows in the Nashville area, she often toured extensively in Florida and Texas until 2010 when her husband Glen Shoffner broke both legs in a work-related accident.
Since about 2010 Karen has confined her musical activities to the Nashville area. While her cancer has not returned, she has suffered some strokes which impacted her speech and singing. As of November 2017 when her heavily illustrated autobiography My Father's Daughter was published, Karen's full recovery was near.
Over the years, Karen had one child, was stepmother to Glen's three children, and adopted three more, making a total of seven.
Through various ups and downs, she credits her Christian faith with providing her with the strength to survive. She closed her life story with this sentence,
"I'm very thankful to the Lord up above that I'm alive and I don't regret anything even though I didn't become a "Star!"
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