In 1943 a young fiddler from Indianapolis, Indiana, named Linda Lou
had received a telegram from John Lair offering her a job at Renfro
Valley. Shortly after taking the job she went out to one of the tent
shows where she met Emory Martin. Before the year was over Linda Lou
and Emory were married, living two miles from Renfro Valley at
Mt. Vernon, Kentucky, and working on the Barn Dance and other stage
and radio shows. They fit in perfectly with the image of the Renfro
Valley Barn Dance that John Lair worked hard to projecta show
produced in a real community featuring performances by the actual
residents of the community.
Linda Lou Martin was born Wanda Arnold, a few miles from Gate City,
Virginia. During the Depression she moved with her family to
Indianapolis, where she grew up. "My family liked country music,"
she says, and she heard it so much on the radio and phonograph records
that she learned to like it also.
Linda's musical education began with the Hawaiian guitar: "I had an
older sister who started taking Hawaiian guitar lessons. I was
about ten. She came home [from her lesson] and sat down and started
practicing, and I'd sit there and watch her. She'd show me what
she learned. So I learned right along with her. Then I started
taking lessons, too. When I was in about the eighth grade I
started taking violin lessons at school. I went on to high school
and played [the violin] in the orchestra. I'd come home and try
to learn to play a breakdown. One day between classes I was
fiddling around and played a breakdown and the instructor caught
me. He laughed and said, Well, you're certainly getting a broad
Thanks to a father who was active in politics Linda got a lot
of early experience playing before an audience. "My dad was a
Republican," she says. "He went to every convention and rally,
and he took me with him to play for them." In addition, she played
for Shriners' meetings and in church.
Linda landed her first professional job as a result of an
amateur contest put on by John Lair at the high school in Mt.
Vernon, Kentucky. "I didn't win the contest," Linda recalls,
"but Mr. Lair talked to me after [the program]. He asked me how
long I had been playing and wanted to know all about me. Right
after that, in 1941, I got a telegram from him telling me that
Aunt Hattie was going to be taking a show to Atlanta. She was
going to be starting an all-girl band, and he offered me a job
with her. I was 15 at the time."
Aunt Hattie, whose real name was Ricca Hughes, had been working
as a comedian on the Renfro Valley Barn Dance, replacing, according
to Linda, another female Barn Dance comedian, A'nt ldy, who had
died. Aunt Hattie had also worked on the WSB Barn Dance in Atlanta.
Linda met Aunt Hattie in Renfro Valley and went with her to Atlanta
where they worked on radio station WGST. In the meantime, Lair and
Aunt Hattie had decided on the name Linda Lou for the latest member
of the all girl band. Other members of Aunt Hattie's troupe, at one
time or another, were Elsie /ones; accordionist Jane Carrier (also
known to radio listeners in Tennessee and Kentucky as Little Sister
Lillie]; and former Renfro Valley performers Bertha Amburgey and
her sister Opal Amburgey [also known as Mattie O'Neil and Jean
Constance Keith, a writer for a country music magazine, visited
Atlanta in December of 1941 and wrote the following report on Aunt
"At 6 a.m. WGST opens with Aunt Hattie and her Folks. Aunt Hattie
is a veteran in entertainment having formerly starred on WSB, and
was also with the Renfro Valley Show for some time. Aunt Hattie now
has a fine all-girl band that can really hand out the music, all
the way from the real old-time square dance hoe-downs right down to
the sweetest duets and solos. Bonnie Jones, smallest member, plays
the guitar and sings the old-fashioned hymns. She has a rather
husky voice and really puts them over. Ruby Wells plays the bass
fiddle and is the yodeler of the act. Wanda Arnold, as Little Linda
Lou, is the little girl who handles the fiddling, about the best
we've heard for girl fiddlers. Linda also plays sweet music on the
steel guitar and joins with Ruby on some swell duets. The girls are
comparatively new on the station but they tell me that their mail
is growing steadily and that all show dates are fine. Aunt Hattie
herself is MC on both stage and radio shows and does comedy."
"We were on WGST about a year," Linda recalls, "and played bookings
all over Georgia and some in Florida. I played steel guitar, and
we sung trios. I played the banjo some, but I never did count myself
much of a banjo player." In 1942 the band began to break up, and
Linda returned to Indianapolis. "WIBC, a fairly new radio station
in Indianapolis had started a barn dance called the WIBC Jamboree,"
she says, "and I got a job there. I played fiddle, and steel, and
sang. We had programs during the day. They had a program at five
o'clock in the morning with the whole group, a program at noon with
the whole group, and the Saturday night barn dance. We would go out
and play bookings every [other] night. 'here were two other girls
up there called the Blue Mountain Girls, a girl duet [Virginia Sutton
and Bernice Scott, who later joined the Renfro Valley cast]. The
manager talked to us one day, and asked us to form a Coon Creek
Girls-type band. One girl played a guitar, one was learning to
play bass, and I had a fiddle and banjo and steel. So they put us
on a program together as Linda Lou's Sunshine Special. I stayed up
there until 1943 when Mr. Lair sent me a telegram and offered me a job."
Activity at Renfro Valley, was at its peak when Linda signed on:
"Mr. Lair had two big tent shows out all the time [in the summers].
In the winter time we'd play auditoriums and theaters. Emory and I
were on the road one year straight." Back in the Valley, Linda
replaced Jerry Byrd on steel guitar playing Take Me Bark to Renfro
Valley, the theme for the Sunday Morning Gatherin'. In addition
she played fiddle on the Barn Dance and worked as one of the Coon
After 26 years in show business, Emory Martin, in 1958, had grown
weary of life on the road: "I sold my banjo and quit. But it didn't
take me long to find out that people weren't going to hire me, so I
went to work for myself. I ran a service station for 14 years right
there in Renfro Valley. It was a Gulf station located where the Renfro
Valley ticket office is now."
Linda decided to call it quits in 1958, too. She went back to school,
studied to be a practical nurse, and has spent the time since working
in hospitals. The Martins still make their home in Mt. Vernon, Kentucky,
which is also home to their only child, Roy Arnold, who is a mortician
and co-owner of a Mt. Vernon funeral home. Linda and Emory make
occasional appearances on stage at Renfro Valley and are usually
present for the annual reunion of former Renfro Valley entertainers.
Linda is also a frequent performer at the annual Renfro Valley Fiddlers'
Linda has been busy lately writing and publishing a biography of Emory
called One Armed Banjo Player, Emory Martin: Early Years of Country
Music; with Emory Martin, which covers his life and career in
considerable detail. Emory Martin fans an also learn about this
well-known one-banjo player by visiting the Renfro galley Museum
where he is featured in one of the exhibits devoted to former Renfro
Click here for Part One of this story - Emory Martin
Credits & Sources
- Adapted from the article,
"Emory & Linda Lou Martin, Sweethearts of Renfro Valley";
By Wayne W. Daniel; Originally published in Old Time Country, Fall 1992;
Used by permission of author.
Wayne W. Daniel is a retired college professor engaged
in research and writing in the field of country music history. He
is the author of the book "PICKIN' ON PEACHTREE: A HISTORY OF
COUNTRY MUSIC IN ATLANTA, GEORGIA" published by the University
of Illinois Press.