He was born in 1913 in Chester, West Virginia as Charles Erwin Arnett, but fans came
to know him as Old Brother Charlie. When he was three years old, the fmaily
moved to Fairmont, West Virginia. He wrote in one of his booklets that he stayed
in Fairmont until he was 17, talking of the hills and valleys, the coal mines
and factories in that area.
After he graduated from high school, his life took him to Washington, DC where he attended
law school and worked for the federal government for some six years.
He moved back to Morgantown, West Virginia in 1936 and found a job at a coal company.
He writes that after three years working around the coal mines, he decided he wanted
to try to find work on the radio. His first effort took him to WAJR in Morgantown.
In September 1946, Buddy Starcher wrote in his "Here and There" column that
the Franklin Brothers were to be under the tuteledge of Charlie at a station
in the Shenandoah Valley in West Virginia. This may indicate that Old Brother Charlie
was at WSVA.
From there, he moved to radio station WMMN in Fairmont, where he was an announcer
and then promoted to musical director. He continued to hone his talents and later
found himself at the legendary Renfro Valley as chief announcer and business manager.
Mary Jean Shurtz in her legendary "I've Been Listening" columns in the old Mountain
Broadcast and Prairie Recorder magazines wrote in February - March 1947, that
Old Brother Charlie along with Daisy Mae were working with Jackie Osborne over
WMMN with two shows a day, one at 9:30am and the other at 3:00pm. Mary Jean gushed
all over her being able to hear Charlie play the piano and do his poems.
He notes that while he was in the nation's capital, a fellow by the name of Hugh (Ike)
Shott asked him to work at WHIS in Bluefield, West Virginia.
After their Renfro Valley days, Old Brother Charlie was said to be a partner with
Daisy Mae and Toby Dowdy as owners of the Country Barn Record Shop in Tampa, Florida
back around July/August of 1949.
He met his wife one day on the stage of the Palace Theatre in Fort Worth (Wayne?), Texas.
They hit it off almost instantly and stared working together and before you know it
about nine months later, they were married.
Charlie played a variety of instruments including the paiano and ogran and was also
Around 1952, the duo was working at radio station WAYS in Charlotte, North Carolina.
They had four shows a day back then - 6:45am, 8:40am, 12:45pm and 4:30pm. All were 15 minutes
except for the 4:30 program which ran a half-hour.
He became known a bit for the poems he would recite over the air. A booklet we found
contains some of those poems. We include a couple here as an example of the type
of work fans came to enjoy from him.
The Mother Watch
She never closed her eyes in sleep, till we were all in bed
On party nights till we came home, she often sat and read;
We little that about it then, when we were young and gay
How much Mother worried, when we childeren were away.
We only knew she never slept, when we were out at night
And that she watied just to know that we'd come home all right.
Why, sometimes, when we'd stay away til one or two or three
It seemed to ust hat Mother heard the turnining of the key,
For always when we'd step inside, she'd call and we'd reply,
But, we were all too young back then to understand just why,
Until the last one returned, she always kept a light
For mother couldn't sleep, until she kissed us all good-night.
She had to knwo that we were safe, before she went to rest,
She seemed to fear the world might harm the ones she loved the best,
And once she said, "When you are grown to women and to men,
Perhaps I'll sleep the whole night thru, I may be different then."
And so it seemed that night and day we knew a mother's care
That always when we got back home, we'd find her waiting there.
Then came the night that we were called to gather round her bed,
"The children all are with you now," the kinldy doctor said
And in her eyes there gleamed again the old time tender light,
That told she had been waiting just o know we were all right.
She smiled the old familiar smile, and prayed to God to keep
Her children safe from any harm, and then she went to sleep.
The Biggest Lie Ever Told
By Old Brother Charlie
My story goes back about 50 years ago, at about this time in the year at hog butchering time. In other
words the biggest hog that I have ever seen. Why don't you know that this hog was so big
that we didn't iknow how to kill him, but after some thuought we decided to borrow the
cannon that stood in front of the court house and don't you know that when we shot this old hog&mdashp; of course it was
in a rainy season—and when we shot him he fell so hard that he caused a landslide which
took two weeks with fity men working to clear the road that ran by our house. Well sir we had
the awfullest time getting that old hog scalded that you ever saw and to get him into the big tub that
we had to build we had to go to a nearby famer's house and borrow a set of block and tacle and a team of horses.
Well we finally got the hair off him and then came the job of cutting him up. Well to make a long story short the sawdust from sawing him up made
20 bushels of sausage. Just as we wer cutting him up a representative of the B&o Railroad happened by and we sold the otes of this hog to the B&O Railroad for $100.00
a piece to be used as cow-cathchers on the locmotives—Well that gave us an idea so we sent a letter to a Piano manufacturer and they gave us $3,000 for the tusks
of this old hog from which I later learned they made piano keys— and I was told that even yet
these people are still making piano keys from the tusks of that hog. Well sir, don't you knwo— we needed
a new fence around the house so we decided to build a panel fence and you wouldn't believe it but
we took the ribs of this old hog an dbuildt 420 feet of panel fence which is still standing. By this time
we had the old pig pretty well cut up and we found out that the city of Fairmount was building
a new reservoir so we contacted the city council and don't you know that we sold the bladder
to them and that's what they used to line the reservoir and I was just talking to one of them the other day and he told me
the =reervoir has never given them any trouble as far as the lining was concerned. Of course we smoked the meat in them
days and we had to build an addition to our smoke house so we could hang up the meat. Such
a hog killin' I've never seen since and never expect to see again but let me tell you friends that's the truth and I
can prove it.
A Miner's Life
By Old Brother Charlie
A miner's life is a black one,
His work is neer done.
He goes to work so early
He scarcely sees the sun.
He puts his life in his pocket
in which there is a hole
Praying to God that it stays there
While he is digging coal.
And if it should happen to slip thru
And get lost there in the dark,
Oh, how his family will suffer
For there will be left a big mark.
My heart goes out to the miners.
Theyve to work so hard,
And if they don't do everything right,
The boss soon says, "You're Fired!"
They go to work when they are sick
And don't feel like working at all,
But this man's job is urgent
Or we're going to have a fall.
But I guess that's the life of a miner.
He knows just what's to be done.
He sticks to his job and does it well
If he never sees the sun.
Credits and Sources
- Mountain Broadcast and Prairie Recorder; February - March 1947;
Mountain Broadcast Pub. Co., Inc.; New York, NY.
- Mountain Broadcast and Prairie Recorder; September 1946;
Mountain Broadcast Pub. Co., Inc.; New York, NY.
- National Hillbilly News; July-August 1949; Jenny and Orville Via;
Huntington, West Virginia
- Cowboy Songs; No. 21; July 1952; American Folk Publications;
- Old Brother Charlie's Scarp Book of Poems; Publisher Unknown;