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Willie Pierson
Born:  December 1, 1923
Died:  February 4, 1995
WIBW Kansas Roundup
WIBW Topeka, KS
WNAX Yankton, SD
KMA Shenandoah, IA (1944)
WABI Bangor, ME (1946)

His real name was Melvin Wilbern Pierson when he was born in 1923, but came to be known as Willie Pierson. Willie was part of a large musical family.

His parents were Mr. and Mrs. E. O. Pierson, who married in 1906, and lived on a farm in Hiawatha, Kansas. He was Ernest Orem "Bud" Pierson, born in 1883, born on a farm in White Cloud, Kansas. She was the former Peggie Trhailkill, born in 1889 in Iowa Point, Kansas. They lived on farms in the vicinities of White Cloud, Robinson, Purcell, and Hiawatha, Kansas their whole lives. By the 1940s, they had a 40-acre farm north of Hiawatah were they farmed a little and had a few cows. For a time when Willie and the others were performing back east, Bud and Peggie as they were billed at the time were special guests on their shows. Willie's dad would play the five-string banjo and would do vocals while his wife would back him up in harmony. There was a comment in one of the old song folios that Mom Pierson that she had lost her vocal chords "...hollerin' at the old man and ten children."

Willie wrote a bit about his life in the entertainment field in a feature article in 1952 in the WIBW Round-Up magazine. He mentioned he practically cut his eye teeth on a guitar pick.

His mom told him that he first entertained folks when he was at the age of three. She would put him on the railing of the bandstand at all the fairs and picnics and then Willie would sit and sing all the numbers with the band. He writes from that point on, he was in about every amateur contest in the area. Entering those contests back then also gave him another benefit or incentive, for he said when he was lucky enough to win a monetary prize, it helped the family out as their were nine other mouths to feed at home.

Willie spent most of his grade school years around White Cloud and Denton, Kansas. Then in 1938 (when he was just 14) his brother, Jimmie, and his sister, Cora Deane, were home for a visit and took him back to Boston, Massachusetts, with them where he made his first appearance on the radio with them. He said life got pretty hectic for a teen-ager. He would be on the air with them every morning at 6:00am, then attended William Howard Taft High School during the day, get home just in time to get into the car and play a personal appearance that could have been anywhere in the four-state area of Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire and Connecticut.

Willie wrote a bit of his experiences when he was living in Massachusetts then in the 1952 WIBW Round-Up article:

"We used to play shows out on some of the islands like Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard too. One night, we missed the regular boat to one of these islands and had to be taken over on a small fishing vessel. A nor'easter was blowing and we Kansas landlubbers were all terrified of the huge waves, higher than the mast, that seemed to want to engulf our craft. However, in calmer weather, I did spend a lot of time at the beach and also went deep-sea fishing several times. Some of the big league ball players lived in our apartment building and I got to go to most of the Braves and Red Sox games."

He became a member of "The Novelty Boys" filling his brother Jimmie's boots, while the latter was inducted into the Army in September, 1943. From then on until Jimmie got his honorable discharge on December 1945, Willie filled in for Jimmie as one of "The Novelty Boys" & Cora Deane Trio. Willie relates later that he stayed in Boston for about four years.

After Massachusetts, Willie mentioned he was in St. Louis, Missouri for a short time and then went to Springfield, Missouri for a time, too. Before heading on to Shenandoah Iowa with the troupe. From January 1, 1944 to April 28th, Willie, Dick and Cora Deane were at radio station KMA in Shenandoah, Iowa. It was there Willie mentions that he first met Lois Northwall and they "started keeping steady company".

From May 1, 1944 to March 2, 1946, they were up at station WNAX out of Yankton, South Dakota. They played many personal appearances around that territory with a Radio Troupe usually made up of nine entertainers, who were staff members of WNAX, and featured a Shindig and Floor Show to record breaking crowds. The show they're referring to may be the travelling Missouri Valley Barn Dance that aired over WNAX for a time as the show would move its locale to the many cities in the area instead of being based in its home town of Yankton.

During his stay in Yankton, he sent for Lois and they were married on July 12, 1945. Lois was from Essex, Iowa, a blue-eyed blonde. Her birthday is on June 8th but they didn't want to say what year she was born. She was known in the troupe as "The Singin' Ticket Lady". She had a hobby of collecting lapel buttons and her favorite dish is the Swedish dish ludefisk and Svensk Kaffebrod. Willie's hobby was collecting safety pins. His favorite dish was a juicy t-bone steak with all the trimmings. Their daughter Connie Jo was born in April 1946. Their usual routine then was to entertain the fans in Maine during the spring, summer and fall months, while spending the winter around Iowa and Kansas. But their second daughter, Nancy Lee was born in 1948 and prompted them to stay in Maine for that winter and helped them to try some of the local winter sporting activities such as deer hunting, ice fishing, skating and sledding.

After leaving WNAX, Willie, Jimmie and Dick and Their Radio Troupe made two weeks' tour of personal appearances in the eastern part of South Dakota as they made their way East. In June, 1946, they made their way east to Bangor, Maine where they hooked up with a local radio station, playing a daily program over WABI and the usual personal appearances five and six nights every week from about the middle of July to the middle of October 1946.

But Willie wanted to get closer to home at that point in his career, so he took a radio job in Worthington, Minnesota, for a year. But still spent another summer in Maine. After that, settled in Spencer, Iowa, where his wife's parents lived. Willie worked with a popular band in the area for about eight months, but didn't indicate their names. Willie told the fans in the 1952 article that he and his wife didn't care for the intense winter weather one finds in Northern Iowa, so they decided to head southward. His brother Jimmie had been working at WIBW for several months by then. He got to audition with Miss Maudie and he got a job entertaining folks at the station.

It gives us an idea how these traveling entertainers lived back then, constantly on the move. Willie wrote they had their own portable home as he called it - a trailer. It had all the modern conveniences and appliances he wrote, but of course was only one floor of space. He said they had taken it with them to about twenty states by then and wrote, "...wherever we park, we're home and we're happy."

Credits & Sources

  • Jimmie and Dick Folio of Original and Favorite Songs; 1941; Peer International Corp.; New York, NY
  • Mountain Broadcast and Prairie Recorder; June 1945; "News from Old New England" by Richard H. Keeler; Mountain Broadcast Pub. Co. Inc.; New York, NY
  • Mountain Broadcast and Prairie Recorder; January 1947; "News from Old New England" by Richard H. Keeler; Mountain Broadcast Pub. Co. Inc.; New York, NY
  • Jimmie and Dick Folio of Original and Favorite Songs; 1947; Peer International Corp.; New York, NY
  • National Hillbilly News; November - December 1949; "Matt's Chats" by Matt Pelkonen; The Vias; Hunting, WV
  • WIBW Round-Up; March 1951; Issue No. 72; Topeka, KS

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