About The Group
The Junior Kentucky Briarhoppers were created and organized by one of the leaders, Helen and Estil McNew, of the adult Kentucky Briarhoppers square dance group that were popular on WLW's Midwestern Hayride. We are grateful to Christine M. Smith, whose aunt was Helen McNew for providing us with information about the group and the members as part of her web page tribute to them in documenting her family's history. (At the end of this page is an email address to contact her in case you have information that you can provide about the family. She also passed along the photo we have of the Junior Kentucky Briarhoppers.)
In the mid 1950’s, since the the adult Briarhoppers were a popular success with the Hayride audiences, Estil decided to try a children’s group of square dancers. This group was at first called the "Tiny Eight", and then finally, the "Junior Kentucky Briarhoppers".
This group was even more successful than the adult group, and the two often performed together throughout the tri-state area of Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio. They also performed on the Grand Ole Opry several times. The Junior Briarhoppers were part of a Christmas Opry broadcast which has been rerun on TNN (now called The National Network, used to be The Nashville Network). The Junior Briarhoppers were a whole show unto themselves. Most of the junior members did some kind of specialty number, either as a solo, or with another “kid”.
Lee Roy Reams sang and danced, and sang with Lois Wilson, Diane Hopper did acrobatic dance, and Della Estes and Tommy Johns did a polka specialty, if Christine's memory serves her correctly. Christine recalls that whenever either group came to Indiana near their home in Madison County, the family traveled to see them.
From the information we have today, the only member of either group to “make it” was Lee Roy Reams, who went on to graduate from the University of Cincinnati, and to success as a dancer, actor and director on Broadway. He also appeared in the movie version of “Sweet Charity” and the PBS special of “Showboat”. His best-known starring role was in David Merrick’s production of “42nd Street”, which ran on Broadway for several years in the late 70’s early 80’s.
Timeline and Trivia Notes
Junior Kentucky Briarhoppers included:
Credits & Sources
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