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
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
Trivia / Timeline Notes
- Married; three daughters - Ann Crawford, Virginia Lee, and
- Ran the Renfro Valley Barn Dance
From WLS Family Albums, Published by WLS, the Prairie Farmer
Renfro Valley Keepsake; 1940