Red Thompson was born Marion Francis Thompson, the son
of Herman and Jennie Jones Thompson in Pulaski, Illinois.
He came by the nickname "Red" naturally, due to his red hair.
Trivia and music fans will be interested to know that Red was the great-nephew
of the WSM Grand Ole Opry's first star, Uncle Jimmy Thompson, a legendary fiddler.
During his career, Red worked with Fred Oliver's group, the Prairie Pioneers
when they were at WLDS in Jacksonville, Illinois.
Later, Red got his own show, "The Red Thompson Show" on WLDS in the 1940s
and 1950s. When the time
came to leave WLDS, Red moved to radio station WJIL in Jacksonville, a fan
of the older music he came to play and entertain fans with, he continued
his efforts to promote it though the industry was rapidly changing it into
a new direction even then.
A 1946 article on the Prairie Pioneers mentions that Red was a military
veteran and his eleven year old brother at the time, Jeff, would often
appear with the group.
In our archives, we found a feature article on Red and Lois Thompson when
they were at WLDS in mid-1949 by Mary Jean Shurtz in the National Hillbilly
News. It happened more than once we've seen where the artists seemingly
stopped in at Mary Jean's house or the homes of the other columnists that
often gave them more personal insights into the artists and of course, treated
to some of their fine music. The visit by Red and Lois was one of those instances.
Mary Jean told the readers that Red and Lois wrote ahead of time and let her
know they'd bring their instruments so they could sing some of their songs.
As a treat, Hal Hartmann, president of the Hart-Van Record Label was also with
Mary Jean mentioned she enjoyed the harmonies that Red and Lois did on their
tunes, and especially liked their version of "Dreaming Dreams". And they didn't
even need the sheet music to sing the tune during their visit. The next day,
they all drove up to Akron, Ohio to visit Cliff Rodgers and take in his
"Melody Round-Up" radio show. He played their "Dreaming Dreams" recording
and was impressed, too. As they got to talking with Cliff, Lois mentioned
her father's name, Fred Oliver - the leader of the Prairie Pioneers at WLDS. Cliff
told Lois he had played some shows together with her father. We also learned
in that 1946 article that Fred and Lois were a father - daughter act for a time,
and would always stop the show when they were with the old WOWO Hoosier Hop show
that aired out of Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Mary Jean was also excited to learn that Red and Lois were going to record some of
her tunes. Mary Jean's daughter, Norma then showed them some of her song lyrics, too
and out of that, Norma got a contract and Red and Lois were going to record that
tune in an upcoming recording session. That tune we think is mentioned below as we
found mention in a later issue.
Mary Jean wrote in the September-October 1949 issue that Red was getting good airplay
with his Hart-Van recording of "Honeymoon Waltz" that was penned by Jeff Thompson and had
also been recorded by Eddie Kirk.
Next came a move to Monmouth, Illinois. Here he began to enjoy what came
to be his first love, writing songs, especially country gospel tunes. In early
country music publications, we find mention of some of those early songwriting
efforts and who he collaborated with.
In late 1949, Red had a song placed with Fairway Music, "When Your Heart Calls" that
he wrote with Eddie Cardon and George Walker. In the column "Your Song and Mine" by
Mary Jean Shurtz she wrote that the song was getting aired by Red and also Eddie Sosby.
In that same column, she noted that the tune, "My Dog 'N Me Together" by Lois Thompson,
Red Thompson and Norma Shurtz was out in sheet music form, published by the Ancheta
Music Publications. Later on we read that Capt. Servais was recording the tune. They
also wrote another tune together, "Waltz That Was Mine In The Past" that appears to have
been recorded by Big Slim, the Lone Cowboy on the Page label.
In a November-December 1948 article in Walter Hudnall's "Along the Song Trail" column, mention is made that Fred Oliver's Prairie Pioneers
were featuring a tune by Red, "The Illinois Waltz", published by Chaw Mank's Blue Ribbon
Red entertained fans all through his life. Later in his career, he would often sing
in nursing homes while living in Monmouth, Illinois from 1976 until his death.
Red would pass along some home style phrases to the fans on occasion, some
that stayed with him for many years such as:
- Keep it country,
- Keep a song in your heart
- We all have valleys to go through
- Whatever happens today me and the Lord can handle it
Near the end of his life, Red contracted cancer and died in March of 2000.
His daughter, Debbi, continues to promote and publish Red's music.
The Jacksonville Journal-Courier obituary for Red Thompson written by Edward Glad
wrote of several remembrances of Red and his work at the local stations. Dave
Walden, said to be a kindred spirit of Red's told Mr. Glad that Red was at WLDS,
he helped "...create a revival of country music by making it a mainstay at the radio
station." Mr. Walden also said, "The Red Thompson Show" was as popular as anything
I can remember in recent history on that station."
Mick Higgerson, a brother-in-law, noted that Red taught many others to play
the acoustic guitar, mandolin and banjo. "He played music by ear. All he
had to do was listen to a piece of music and he could play it."
Mick's wife, Freda, Red's sister noted that counted several WSM Grand Ole Opry
stars among his friends, including Stringbean, Lonzo and Oscar and Grandpa Jones.
Credits & Sources
- Hillbilly-Music.com wishes to express its appreciation
to Red Thompson's daughter, Debbi, for providing biographical and other details.
- National Hillbilly News; April 1946; Poster Show Print Co.;
- National Hillbilly News; September-October 1948; Jenny & Orville Via;
- National Hillbilly News; November-December 1948; Mr. & Mrs. Orville W. Via;
- National Hillbilly News; July-August 1949; Mr. & Mrs. Orville W. Via;
- National Hillbilly News; September-October 1949; Mr. & Mrs. Orville W. Via;
- National Hillbilly News; November-December 1949; Orville Via;
- Local radio personality dies at age 74; Jacksonville Journal-Courier; March 2000;
Jacksonville, IL (article courtesy of Debbi Thompson)
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