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About the Group
About The Group
The Cedar Hill Square Dancers were a popular act on the WSM Grand Ole Opry in the 1950s.
They got the attention of the Opry when as the Pleasant View Community Club team they won the Nashville Banner All-Free Square Dance Contest in 1950.
They took their first step to winning that contest by winning a round at the Clarksville Armory in May 1950.
Members of the group back then included Mr. and Mrs. Preston Winters, Mr. and Mrs. Winston Hunt, Jean Fort, Herbert Mitchell, Mr. and Mrs. Logan Traughber, Mrs. Catherine Shepard, D. J. Fort, W. T. Fort (caller), Mr. and Mrs. Johnny Fort, Mrs. Bob James and Walter Hunter.
The band that backed them up was known as the Stroudsville Polka Dots. The Polka Dots included Hubert Mitchell (the twin brother of Herbert Mitchell), Turner Evans, Comer Shepard (who played a 258-year old violin), John Shepard and Glenn Albright.
The article in the Nashville Banner back then gives you an idea of how popular the square dancing was. One guy was quoted as stating "Shucks, I'd stop eating any time to go to a square dance."
That night, the Pleasant View team competed against twelve other teams. They were on the floor for about twelve minutes and won over the crowd easily as "...the gents moved to center for some fancy stepping."
One of the judges, Fred Colby of the University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension Service said that Jean Fort, a thirteen-year old at the time, was one of the best dancers he had seen in ten district events that included over 1,200 dancers.
The Banner took pains to point out that the contest was between strictly amateur groups - no professional groups sought the prize money.
These contests were no small event. At the Clarksville event, the Armory saw a crowd of over 2,500 people.
On May 19, 1950, the team from Pleasant View won the Nashville Banner contest and were featured on the front page of the newspaper on May 20. The event was seen by a crowd of over 7,000 people at a venue known as Sulphur Dell. The Pleasant View team took home the top prize of $500. They beat out a team known as the Timon's Riverwood Riders. The Coffee County Playboys won the $200 musicians prize.
To give you an idea of the depth of this contest back then, the Banner notes that the contest searched for entrants from 60 counties in Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama. Ultimately, 255 musicians and dnacers made it to Nashville for the finals. The events included over 1,8550 contestants at 11 district events.
The crowd starting arriving at 4:00pm, in spite of inclement weather and were still arriving up to the time the first dance group took the floor at 8:00pm.
The band that won, the Coffee County Playboys beat out the Midnight Ramblers of Sumner County, the Stroudsville Polka Dots.
The Banner article goes on to talk about the various groups in the competition, but finally sums up the effort of the Pleasant View group. "This was really old-fashioned square dancing as only the pople down at Pleasant View seem to know it, and caller W. T. Fort sent them through figures that were mighty old. "Now, I've not seen that in years and years," one elderly man remarked as the Pleasnt view group followed "meet your partners and double on the swing" or "Alabama rights and lefts."
From there, the group went on to become a regular feature on the Grand Ole Opry. The group also did personal appearance tours with such stars as Roy Acuff.
A 1955 article notes that the group was seen by national audiences on the Kate Smith show three times. The article notes that they were appearing on the Opry on the first and third Saturday nights each month.
The group was in demand in the Nashville area as you might expect. But the group also got to travel nationally. In addition to the Kate Smith show, Red O'Donnell wrote in an undated article interviewing Roy Acuff of an appearance at the famed RKO Palace in New York City. Roy recalls they had a group of about 30 performers from the Opry, including the Cedar Hill Square Dancers. They were perhaps the first country music acts booked at the venue. What's notable about that appearance was an old photo Roy kept in his scrapbook for many years - a picture showing him getting top billing over an actor who later went on to become president, Ronald Reagan, who was starring in a movie at the time. Roy notes they worked for their money back then - having to do three shows a day. And between their shows, they would show the movie.
The national publication, TV Guide, featured two members of the group, Billy Harris and Lilian Fort in the January 1, 1956 issue, trying to show readers some square dance routines in a series of photos.
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