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John Lair
Born:  July 1, 1894
Died:  November 12, 1985
Renfro Valley Barn Dance
WLS Chicago, IL
WLW Cincinnati, OH

About the Disc Jockey / Emcee

John was a native of Kentucky and a leading authority back then on American folk music. At times was in charge of the WLS music library and later, one of the announcers on the Barn Dance.

John had a lifelong love of the land he grew up in - Renfro Valley. It was something that drove him a bit, for he ended up going back there to do some things. If you read the history of the Renfro Valley Barn Dance, it was almost like a small vision of a theme park that grew from an idea of a barn dance. It was more than just a show. You can read more about it in our "Programs" section.

The Renfro Valley Keepsake of 1940 said that John worked for about 8 years at WLS after various other trails that got him there. He gained a lot of experience there, and contributed heavily to the development 'of so-called hill-billy music', and while then he was a rookie at it, acquired the 'rather empty distinction of probably knowing more about American Folk-music and "homefolks" radio than anyone else in the business."

He had helped develop the National Barn Dance. But they wrote it left him still feeling there still was something missing. So, he set out to do that in the Renfro Valley Barn Dance. He thought the shows needed less showmanship and more 'realism'. He heard the voice of Renfro Valley calling and set out to do something for it.

He got Red Foley and Whitey Ford (aka Duke Of Paducah) to come along as one of the original investors with him. Slim Miller signed up. He got Lily May Redford (Coon Creek Girls) was encouraged to form an all female fiddle band - the first of its kind at the time. Milly and Dolly Good were talked into performing their sweet harmonies again. Margaret Lillie and Harry Mullins were teamed up as A'nt Idy and Little Clifford.

They may have scoffed at his idea. But, like a movie, build it and they will come. And they did. The critics told us - no one's gonna drive a hundred miles to see a barn dance out in the country. But they had to stop that and observe radio history.

They said that in the attic of The Trading Post and directly over the big water wheel of the old mill, John had a music library that was second to none. He said he had spent his own money over 30 years collecting for it and was used by the Renfro Valley Barn Dance performers. And was available to those who were students of Folk-music interested in serious research. Even the collection was probably a good story. The oldest original edition song book in the collection he had was from 1673! He had unusual items such as a Mormon song book owned by Brigham Young. A hand-made copy of Davy Crockett's song book. And a hymn book containing the first song young Abe Lincoln ever learned to sing as well as the song he is said to have written to sing at his sister's wedding.

He'd probably be someone we'd like to all sit down with and hear the tales he probably has to tell about what he saw along the way in his career and of his collection.

Trivia / Timeline Notes

  • Married; three daughters - Ann Crawford, Virginia Lee, and Nancy Carolyn.
  • Ran the Renfro Valley Barn Dance

—From WLS Family Albums, Published by WLS, the Prairie Farmer Station
—Renfro Valley Keepsake; 1940

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