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About The Artist
This biography initially began with Mary's obituary and then other details were merged from research as well as the personal recollections and memories of those mentioned.
Corrine Arleta Stumpf, professionally known as Mary Randolph, passed from this life Sunday April 25, 2004 at the St. James Nursing Center. She was 79 years of age.
Corrine had a remarkable career that spanned more than 50 years. She had an unusual voice that critics called a cross between Patti Page and Mary Ford, without imitating either lady.
Born at High Gate, Missouri, to John and Eliza Stumpf on January 31, 1925. Their father worked as a road construction worker. In 1931, the family moved to a farm about two miles outside of town. The children got a taste of the farm life at an early age.
Corinne, her younger sister Carmolee, and older brother Clifford, began singing together at an early age. Mom played the organ and they had one in their parlor. Clifford learned to play it as well. Corrine and Carmolee began to sing duets together as Betty Hindman wrote in the "KWTO Dial" in January 1947, "as soon as they could learn to sing "Jesus Loves Me." In fact, when they were just three and four years old, the made their way to the choir loft at church and entertained the congregation.
Their brother had other ideas. He took up hunting and trapping rabbits. He would sell them and when he had saved up the handsome sum of $3.50, he was able to buy his first guitar. He told his sisters - hands off his new possession. But Corrine would wait until their brother when off to work and would start to learn the guitar herself.
At first, they concentrated on doing duet numbers. Corrine and Carmolee would pair up; Corrine would also pair up with her brother Clifford. It wasn't until later they thought of doing a trio.
In 1940, the Stumpf kids decided to go to St. Louis and enter a talent contest. They did not win a cash prize, but impressed talent scouts enough that they were asked to stay on and entertain audiences at various venues in the St. Louis area. They played at the St. Louis Theater, the Mikado and Gravois.
But World War II was on the horizon. Clifford received notice to return to High Gate. He was inducted into the U. S. Army at the Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis. Clifford went through the usual basic training and moved from base to base until he finally ended up in the Aleutian Islands for nearly two years. He came back home and after a furlough, was sent to Camp Atterbury, Indiana. From there he was sent to England and into France and Belgium. In the battle of the Belgium Bulge on December 19, 1944, Cliff was taken prisoner by the Germans.
Meanwhile, the two girls made their way back to St. James, Missouri to find work and where the family eventually moved. It was there that Carmolee met Don Cornick at a music party in 1942 and a romance blossomed. They were married on January 8, 1944. Don entered the service in September 1945. Carmolee joined him in Alabama for his first month of basic training, but then returned to St. James to join her siblings.
The three of them learned that they could do trio harmonies quite well. They came up with the name "Sagebrush Serenaders" and went to KWTO for an audition. However, the station did not have an opening for them at the time. Undeterred, they found work on January 2, 1946 at radio station WDZ in Tuscola, Illinois, backed by a recommendation from KWTO.
That stint lasted only three months as Cliff suffered a broken back in an auto accident. The three of them returned to St. James. After Cliff recovered, they went to KWTO for another audition in May of 1946 and were then hired.The highlight of the week was an appearance on the (M)utual (N)etwork program that aired each Saturday night, Korn's-A-Krackin'. It was at KWTO they were privileged to work with musicians Chet Atkins, Red Foley, Porter Wagoner, Billy Walker, the Haden Family, the Goodwill Family and others.
While at KWTO, Clifford married Martha Mayfield. At this time, Don Cornick, Carmolee's husband, who had just returned from tour of duty in Korea, was also a talented musician. The original "Sagebrush Serenaders" broke up and went their separate ways. Corrinne remained at KWTO as a soloist until a talent scout from KWK, St. Louis, heard her sing on the air as he was traveling. She was hired immediately to join their live entertainment staff, which included the Dunnigan Trio, and Myron Floren with the "BuckEye Four". Later Myron left to join the Lawrence Welk Orchestra. About a year later, a popular radio personality, Uncle Dick Slack, asked Corrinne to join them at Radio Station KMOX. Another singing opportunity was offered, Corrinne left KMOX, St. Louis, and moved to Renfro Valley, Kentucky, to join the Renfro Valley Barn Dance which aired remote from WHAS, Louisville. At this time, radio pioneer, John Lair, gave her the professional name of Mary Randolph.
Gertrude Carson wrote in her "Mid-West Microphone" column in the January 1947 issue of Mountain Broadcast and Prairie Recorder that The Sagebrush Serenaders were being heard each day over KWTO at 6:15am and again at 4:35pm. In that same issue, Mary Jean Shurtz wrote in her "I've Been Listenin'" column that the Korn's-A-Crackin' show was being heard over the Mutual Network at 9:00pm CST.
Mary's time at KWTO appears to have been around 1947. A January 1949 issue of "KWTO Dial" tells us in their "Out of the Files" column where they looked back at past years that the Sagebrush Serenaders were in the spotlight then, which included "Cliff and Corrinee in St. Louis and Carmolee in St. James". That same year, Korn's-A-Krackin' was celebrating its first network anniversary.
The May 1949 "KWTO Dial" in their "From the Files" column writes that in 1947, the "Dial" snapshot section featured pictures of Corrine Stumpf. In this 1949 issue they note that Corrine was with the Renfro Valley gang and touring Florida.
This proved to be a successful move and she was invited to tour the state of Florida with the Barn Dance entertainers whose home base was Orlando, Florida WDBO. Later, Lonzo and Oscar of Grand Ole Opry fame, contacted her to tour 18 states to entertain at State Fairs. Lonzo and Oscar linked Corrinne with a recording company in Nashville to cut a record, where she was given the name of Cathy Kelly. Accompanied by the well known Owen Bradley musicians, she recorded multiple times over her own voice, which was a new technique at the time. Unfortunately, due to contract disputes, beyond Corrinne's control, that record was never released. Later she did record a gospel cassette tape using the name Mary Randolph, which she distributed.
The July 2001 issue of the "Renfro Valley Bugle wrote of Mary's arrival to join their cast in January of 1949. She was known as "The Old Fashioned Girl" and as such was part of the reason for the popularity that came from the warm and friendly Renfro Valley atmosphere that John Lair strived to create. She also appeared on the CBS Sunday morning broadcasts of the Renfro Valley Gatherin', the famous Renfro Valley Barn Dance as well as the Country Store programs. The article stated, "Mary never had professional training, but sang simply and naturally the homey, nostalgic songs her mother had taught her in childhood."
Her next move was to WHO, Des Moines, where she was hired as a girl soloist with Dusty Owens and the Rodeo Boys. She later became the third female of a new girl's trio being formed which became a favorite act and was always in demand for personal appearances.
While at WHO, she had her own 15-minute morning radio show airing at times at 6:15am or at 5:45am. She also did one show that is presearved on the USAF Country Music Time recordings, show No. 26 where she was backed by Dusty Owens and the Rodeo Boys.
Hillbilly-Music.com Note: We've had the privilege of corresponding with several members of the WHO Iowa Barn Dance Frolic who knew and worked with Mary. Here are some excerpts:
Another WHO Iowa Barn Dance Frolic alumnus, Dusty Owens, wrote of Mary:
With the invention of television, live radio entertainment fell by the wayside. Corrinne returned home to join the Austin Wood group who had a regular program on KTTR, Rolla. She was also a regular guest on his television show which aired from KRCG TV, Jefferson City. While working with Austin, a request came from Springfield for the "Sagebrush Serenaders" to make a guest appearance on the popular Red Foley Show "Ozark Jubilee." Don Cornick had taken the place of Clifford who was no longer singing with the trio.
An operator's job came open at United Telephone Company and Corrinne began a second career. She retired after 26 years of service when the operation moved from Rolla.
An active Christian of the Baptist faith since her youth, she was a member of the First Baptist Church of St. James where she was faithful through the years to the church music program. For much of her life she was asked to sing at community events and many weddings. Loved ones will long remember her comforting words sung at countless funerals.
The later years of Corrinne's life was devoted to being a volunteer at the St. James Nursing Center. Her life touched so many people she will be missed by not only her family but a host of friends near and far. Corrinne was preceded in death by her parents, an infant brother and brother Clifford. She is survived by a sister, Carmolee Cornick and husband Don, of Fulton; a nephew, John Cornick, wife Cary, and their children Jamie and Jessica, of Blue Springs; two nieces, Carol Jo Stumpf, of St. James, and Catherine Roster, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, and a sister-in-law Martha Stumpf, of St. James.
Funeral services for Corrinne were held at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, April 29, at the First Baptist Church with Dr. Jerry Baumann officiating. Violin musical selections were provided by Cary Cornick. Organ music by Connie Rhea. Pallbearers will be friends and family. Interment will be in the High Gate Baptist Cemetery in High Gate, Missouri.
Memorials may be made to St. James First Baptist Church Organ Fund. Cards are available at the funeral home.
All arrangements were under the direction of the James and Gahr Mortuary of St. James, Mo.
St. James Leader-Journal Editor's Note: According to James and Gahr Mortuary, Corrinne Stumpf sang at over 2,100 funerals over a period of 35 years at their facility alone. She was truly an amazing woman, and will be sorely missed.
In closing, it seems appropriate that we include a little anecdote first told to us by Ray Barnard of Ray and Kay, the Banjo Kids of WHO and again by Zelda Scott, long-time entertainer over WHO about a reunion they had with Mary back in September 2002.
The Renfro Valley Bugle remembered Mary in their June 2004 issue, noting her passing:
"Her velvet-smooth vocals and tasteful guitar works were matched by her gentle smile and winning personality."—Dusty Owens
—Ray and Kay, the Banjo Kids
Credits & Sources
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