Every now and again, a fan will write us and ask us about someone, perhaps
to identify a picture or simply to find out more about a picture they
found in their family's collection or was given to them. That often leads
us to follow-up ourselves and document that person if we can. Our article
about Susie, the Gal From The Hills came such an experience.
We turn back the pages of history to the year of 1919. The top movie box
office stars of the day were such stars as Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford;
movies such as Broken Blossoms with Lillian Gish and Richard Berthelmess and ANne of Green Gables
with Mary Miles Minter were in the theatres; folks were humming along to tunes
such as "Swanee", "Indian Summer", "Daddy Long-Legs", "Let The Rest of the World
Go By"; Ziegfeld Follies opened on Broadway; Babe Ruth won the home run
title with just 29 home runs; Ty Cobb won his 12th batting title
and it was the year of the "Black Sox" scandal after the heavily favored
White Sox had lost the World Series. It was nearly the end of 1919 when
Mary Louise Wesnitzer was born to Harvey and Thelma (nee Sheffler) Wesnitzer
in the small town of Casey, Illinois about
half-way between St. Louis, Missouri and Indianapolis, Indiana on today's I-70.
She was an only child. The family was quite musical we learned in a 1945 article
by Miss Elizabeth Stavana. Mary Louise learned to play classical tunes
on the piano at a very early age. When she was nine years old, she played
such tunes as Schumann's "The Joyful Peasant" and Le Hack's "Grande Valse
Caprice". But by the time she was 12 years old, she was finding that people
really enjoyed hearing the "...simple home folk songs", so when folks asked
her to play for them at various social activities or at school functions,
she sang "...hill, country and western songs".
It was said that she learned over 5,000 tunes, many by heart. She was a lady with
many musical talents. She played not only the piano, but the guitar, bass,
harmonica, mandolin and banjo.
Along the way, the family had moved to the St. Louis area
She graduated from East St. Louis High School in 1937.
Not long after that, she began her professional entertainment career with a show
over radio station WTMV in St. Louis called "Can You Stump Susie?" IF she knew
over 5,000 tunes, not many fans would be able to stump her. She enjoyed a run
of nearly six years over WTMV. From there, she worked for a time over WEW and KWK
in St. Louis as well.
Around 1939, she formed her own band, called the "Sons of the Ozarks". That band
consisted of Alvin "Junior" Lieber who played the bass and did comedy as often was
the case in such bands back then. Bill "Zeke" Boggs, Joe Lieber, Cliff Trusty
and Bill Kirkpatrick rounded out the group. We wonder if Bill Kirkpatrick isn't the
same Bill that we know worked for a time at WIBW in Topeka, Kansas. The 1946
article pointed out that the band had disbanded by then due to the war as most of them
were in the armed services.
It seems even early on in her career, she was making a bit of a name for herself
in the St. Louis area. Variety reported in 1938 that she was already the female
singing champion in a contest put on by the National Hillbilly Association at the
'convention hall of the local municipal auditorium'. She competed in 1938 with
thirty other damsels and she was the incumbent champion.
In 1939, she was in a "Hillbilly Stars' Championship Jamboree"
along with performers from the WLS National Barn Dance according
to a 1939 Variety article. The article mentioned they had over 400 performers
at this event from 24 states. Perhaps an early version of Fan Fair?
In 1943, Susie began performing with the "Shady Valley Gang" radio show that aired
over the Mutual Network and KWK in St. Louis. She stayed with the Shady Valley folks
for nearly two years.
She participated as well in the 1940 National Hillbilly Championship Jamboree that
was sponsored by Larry Sunbrock, president of the National Fiddlers' Association. These
events were no small affairs as this article mentions that the 1939 event drew over 20,000!
In late 1944, she headed to radio station WJBO in Baton Rouge, Louisiana where
she worked with the band that backed Governor Jimmie Davis. In a March 1945 column
for Mountain Broadcast and Prairie Recorder, Uncle Dan mentions that Polly Jenkins
and Rose, who were working together at the time, tried to look her up while
they passed through Baton Rouge, but missed her both times. An early 1946 article
indicates that Susie had left WJBO (or WJOB as we've seen in other magazines)
'shortly before Christmas' and was resting up before starting up with her band again.
Then, the Sons of the Ozarks consisted of Bill Kirkpatrick, accordion; Bill "Zeke" Boggs
on fiddle; Clifford "Shorty" Mason on guitar and Al "Junior" Marcus. With the note
of Bill playing the accordion, we're pretty sure he's the same Bill Kirkpatrick
that later entertained audiences over WIBW. It would also appear that "Junior" Marcus
was Susie's husband at this time based on other research we've done.
No mention has been found of when Susie got married but in a small note in
a 1944 Billboard magazine article, it mentions that she was in Louisiana
and her husband was a part of Governor Jimmie Davis' band. She had co-written
a tune called "Born To Be Lonesome" at that time, too. It appears that Susie
was married more than once as in searching the song "Rose of the Rio" in the
Broadcast Music Incorporated database, the writer is listed as Mary Louise Marcus.
While at WJBO, the a Billboard magazine snippet mentions that the
station asked her to organize a band to play various venues
such as theaters and high schools as well as entertain listening audiences
over their station.
The fall of 1945 saw Susie returning to the "Shady Valley Gang" but ended her
radio shows with them by January 1, 1946.
She continued to make personal appearances in the St. Louis area and was looking
to return to the air waves again.
By 1946, she had written over 30 songs. Songs such as "Rose of the Rio" (not to
be confused with the same song title that is associated with Hank Snow which he
is shown to have written in 1944. Susie's song was written in 1943 according
to the sheet music we've seen published in a folio of Pete Pyle's. Other tunes
she was credited as writing were "In The Sunshine of Your Smile", "Born To
Be Lonesome" and "Headin' For Heaven".
An article in 1946 notes makes mention of her affiliation with Rudolph Song
Publications company out of Phoenix, Arizona. The publishing company was run
by Frank Rudolph.
Arlie Kinkade wrote in his column in 1948 that Susie was back at WTMV
doing a show on Sunday afternoons at 2:30pm handling requests from listeners.
Arlie wrote that she was doing such tunes as "My Queen of the Range", "There's
No Tears In My Mothers Eyes", and one called "Visions of Mother" which was
co-written by Arlie and Babe Proctor. Some of the columnists back then were
shameless in the way they would plug the songs they had written in their columns,
which isn't to detract from the details of artists and others back in that era.
Susie seemed to know how to get mentioned in some of the publications back
then that would let fans know who was doing various songs. In 1946, she
got a short mention for doing "Down In Lilac Blossom Land" that was written
by the legendary Chaw Mank along with Arlie Kinkade and Lewis Knowlton.
Around September/October 1948, Walter Hudnall wrote in his column that Susie
was "plugging" a tune called "Riding T'ward The Sunsit" over WTMV; the song
was written by Walter Hudnall and Frances Whitaker with Johnny Smolen doing
the music. Later she was plugging another Walter Hudnall tune he had written
with Frances Whitaker, called "I'll Always Keep Your Picture (In A Frame Around
My Heart") while mentioning she was still at a station in East St. Louis. Hudnall
again wrote in 1948 that she was doing a tune written by Geraldine Cross out
of Decatur, Illinois called "Two Withered Violets".
A 1949 Mary Jean Shurtz article we think contains an error when it mentions a "Sallie, The Gal From
The Hills" and probably refers to Susie. And in another typo, we think Ms. Shurtz
meant radio station WIL in St. Louis and not WTL that we see in the article. But it
does mention Susie (or Sallie) was doing the tune "I'll Tell The World" by Bob
Levell, Will Isel, Fred Stryker and Ted Mathewson for Fairway Music. The article
also mentions she had a radio show on Sunday.
Her obituary mentions she entertained listening audiences over WLS in Chicago,
Illinois at one time.
We learned from her obituary that she had been married Herman A. Hanradt, who preceded
her in death. She was a lifetime member of Belleville Musicians Local 29. She
was interred at Lake View Memorial Gardens in Fairview Heights, Missouri.
Timeline & Trivia Notes
Group members (Sons of the Ozark)
- Susie, the Gal From The Hills
- Alvin (Junior) Lieber, bass and comedy
- Bill (Zeke) Boggs, fiddle
- Joe Lieber
- Cliff Trusty
- Bill Kirkpatrick, accordion
- Clifford (Shorty) Mason, guitar
- Al (Junior) Marcus
Credits & Sources
- Variety; October 19, 1938; pg 30 (Information courtesy
of author Wayne W. Daniel)
- Variety; January 11, 1939; pg 27 (Information courtesy
of author Wayne W. Daniel)
- Variety; November 15, 1939; pg 27 (Information courtesy
of author Wayne W. Daniel)
- Billboard Magazine; September 9, 1944; page 65; (Information
courtesy author Wayne W. Daniel)
- Billboard Magazine; February 3, 1945; page 63; (Information
courtesy author Wayne W. Daniel)
- Mountain Broadcast and Prairie Recorder; March 1945; New York,
- National Hillbilly News; April 1946; Poster Show Print Co.;
- National Hillbilly News; May 1946; Poster Show Print Co.;
- National Hillbilly News; August 1946; Poster Show Print Co.;
- National Hillbilly News; March-April 1948; Orville and Jenny Via;
- National Hillbilly News; September-October 1948; Orville and Jenny Via;
- National Hillbilly News; November-December 1949; Mr. & Mrs. Orville Via;
- National Hillbilly News; July-August 1949; Mr. & Mrs. Orville Via;
- National Hillbilly News; November-December 1949; Orville Via;
- The Columbia Chronicles of American Life 1910-1992; Lois
Gordon and Alan Gordon; 1995; Columbia University Press; New York, NY
- Marylouise Hanradt; Obituary; May 2003; Belleville News-Democrat;