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WRVA Old Dominion Barn Dance
WRVA
Richmond, VA
Year Started:  1946
Date Started:  September 19, 1946
Year Ended:  1957
Date Ended:  June 8, 1957

WRVA Old Dominion Barn Dance

Documenting the history of the WRVA Old Dominion Barn Dance and its iterations over the years includes some challenges. One is the history of the radio station from its inception. A second is how the show itself evolved over the years from "WRVA Barn Dance" to the name that became known and finally the "New Dominion Barn Dance" when it finally ended. But the main thrust will be the time period (Or should we consider it an 'era'?) when Sunshine Sue (Workman) was the "femcee" of the show and helped manage the roster. Then there is the venue where the show broadcast from - the studio, the Mosque Theater, the Lyric Theater that was later purchased by WRVA and renamed the WRVA Theater as well as other places such as the Venus Theatre when the WRVA Theater was booked. Over the years, the reader will see that many country music legends graced the stage of this show.

The Radio Station — WRVA

The station was created and put on the air by the Larus and Brother Tobacco Company and began operating as the "House of Edgeworth". The call letters were seen as a short abbreviation for Richmond, Virginia - WRVA.

Local Richmond newspapers in the mid-1920's covered the development of the new radio station, often with front page stories. The station's first day of broadcast was at 9:00pm on November 2, 1925. The News Leader (Staunton, Virginia) reported on November 1 that the station was the best of its time and would have an initial power of 2,000 watts. It was to be broadcast on a wave length of 256 meters (1170AM).

The first week on the air, WRVA was only on the air on Monday night and Thursday night, with special ("elaborate") programs.

WRVA Broadcast Schedule Nov 2 1925 WRVA Broadcast Schedule Nov 5 1925

Already on the air by WRVA's November 1925 debut were such well known stations as KDKA in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; WSM in Nashville, Tennessee; WLW in Cincinnati, Ohio; WHO in Des Moines, Iowa; KPO in San Francisco, CA; KFI in Los Angeles, California; WGN, WJJD and WLS in Chicago, Illinois.

The studio was located in downtown Richmond on Main Street between 21st and 22nd Streets. Its initial power was said to enable it to drown out the powerful signal from KDKA that was next to it on the radio dial.

The Bee in Danville, Virginia reported on November 3 how the initial broadcast was heard over the air in Danville. The reception was said to be good, but evidently the frequency was very near that of a station in Chattanooga, Tennessee that interfered with the broadcast at times. The paper reported that Governor Trinkle gave a "...warm eulogy of Virginia in his characteristic flamboyant style." But Governor-elect Harry Flood Byrd was unable to attend in person and sent a message of regrets.

The commerce department licensed the station to Larus and Brothers, Inc. on November 13, 1925.

Reading some of the early program listings in the newspapers shows a mixture of entertainment. Country music was heard perhaps during the "Country Fiddlers" 10-minute program at 10:35 on November 16, with Messrs. Wallace Sr. and Jr. performing. Also on the air was the Sabbath Negro Glee club, the Bedouins Orchestra and various piano, violin and tenor soloists. On another air date, the station featured a string quartet from the Confederate Old Soldiers' home and old-time camp songs. The station appears to end each broadcast day with the tune "Carry Me Back To Old Virginny".

The News Leader in Staunton, Virginia reported that the New Year's Eve broadcast over WRVA in 1925 would feature the inaugural broadcast of the "Edgeworth Party Night". The station wanted to provide three solid hours of dance music starting at 10:30pm and running through 1:30am. The idea was to enable anyone who had a radio and could pick up the station to plan a party and be assured they would enjoy three hours of dance music. It was to be a regular feature each month going forward. One might see that the station was already beginning to see how such a 'live' program could attract an audience.

By February 1925, the new station in Richmond was capturing the mind set of reporters for newspapers who were seeing the possibilities of this new medium. The News Leader in Staunton cited a Richmond News Leader article:

"...it emphasizes anew the amazing interlocking of interests that have been wrought by the radio. From the narrow confines of a court or Senate chamber, the voice and personality of a leader is now spread to the farthest confines of his state. The whole country will soon be at the other end of the receiver, and we may well live to see the day when the world will be an audience."

Snippets of potentially music of a country style were seen in the WRVA program listings in early 1926. The Berry Blackwell String Band who performed twice in one evening caught our eye but we could not find any other information about this group. The Country Fiddlers returned one evening. On another day, a Ukulele artist got air time. The Smithers Hawaiian Players appeared several times in April. Otto Kibler was a young harmonica player who appeared on the air several times and was said to be quite popular in the area. One of his tunes was "Wreck of the Old 97" that generated favorable response, both over the air and in personal appearances. J. Harold Lawrence, a blind piano player was another who was featured in several broadcasts.

Early on, we read that the station in its earliest days was a "non-commercial" station. Studio Director of WRVA wrote the Staunton Chamber of Commerce about the station's invitation to have the city be featured on a WRVA broadcast with its local artists. Mr. Holtzle stated:

"We do not sell time on the air; we do not charge for broadcasting, and in return we do not offer any financial compensation to the artists, who broadcast on these programs. In fact, you can have no paid artists on the program as this is a strictly non-commercial station in every aspect and our license with the Authors' and Composers' association (ASCAP?) does not permit paid artists to broadcast."

This type of featured broadcast caught the attention of other local cities. WRVA even heard from far away cities who wished to promote their locales. The cities of Newport News and Charlottesville, Virginia had their chambers of commerce plan for such a broadcast for their cities as well.

On June 15, 1927, the station changed its frequency to 254.1 meters or 1180 kilocycles on the AM dial. The same news story indicated that the WRVA broadcast schedule was Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 8:00pm to 12:00am (midnight). Also their were noon time programs aired. However, that move on the dial may not have helped as much as they thought. The Daily Press in Newport News reported in November 1927 that a broadcast featuring local acts received many compliments via phone, but reception in Newport News was not as good as hoped. It seems a station in Chicago, Illinois was causing interference with reception that night. The Bee in Danville, Virginia reported in February 1928 that the WRVA signal was not getting through to Danville during the day. It seems that AM radio reception was better at night which is still true today.

The News Leader in Staunton reported in October 1928 that a decision had been made in Washington, DC to allow 24 radio stations to have "cleared channels" for their broadcasting full time. In the south, WRVA as well as WSB in Atlanta, Georgia and WSM in Nashville, Tennessee were given this status that was to be effective on November 28, 1928. In an interesting note, prior to this date, WSM was broadcasting on the 890 frequency on the AM dial. WRVA was moved to 1110 on the AM dial.

The station saw some local groups get over the air exposure on multiple occasions. The local newspapers would write of their appearances and in a couple of instances provide information of the members of a group. One such group was "The Virginia Mountaineers". The group was from Waynesboro, Virginia. A February 1928 article mentions the group consisted of Mrs. Guy Wilson as pianist, Mr. Fred Calfee as banjoist and Mr. Frank Shifflett as harpist. This article mentions they had seen a demand for personal appearances due to their appearance over WRVA. In October of 1929, the group had a change in personnel. Fred Calfee was their manager. Other members were Miss Ethel Sandridge, Miss Bernice Sandridge, W. P. Vint. This 1929 article mentions some of the "popular ballads and folk songs of the Virginia Mountains" the group performed: "Jessie James", "Rock Candy", "Who Will Be The Leader?", "Little Brown Jug", "Old Log Cabin In the Lane", "Blue Ridge Mountain Home", "Nellie Gray", "Shenandoah", "Waynesboro", "Cairo", "Home, Sweet Home", "Maple On The Hill", "Golden Slippers" and "Turkey In The Straw". Mr. C. T. Lucy commented in a separate story about the quartet. He stated the group was getting a lot of letters "commending the program" that aired over WRVA. The station got letters from all parts of the East Coast, as far south as Florida as well as Canada with letters from the Far West beginning to arrive. Mr. Lucy indicated the station would send the group an "applause memo" telling them that their performance over WRVA "...not only means a lot to Virginia, but are good publicity for Virginia throughout the entire country." In December of 1929, the group had introduced a new tune, "East Side Highway".

In 1937, Ethel Sandridge had formed her own group, "Shenandoah Valley Hot Shots" and was to broadcast over WRVA on Saturday October 17, 1937 from 11:30am to noon. Her band consisted of Ruth Sandridge Burkholder, Nelson Burkholder, Jack and Sam Dodd and Fred Calfee was doing a guest appearance. She had been with the Virginia Mountaineers for eight years to that point. Bernice Sandridge quit the group also and took a position with radio station WCHV in Charlottesville, Virginia.

On April 27, 1929, General Manager C. T. Lucy announced the immediate construction of a new 5,000 watt transmitter to be located in Mechanicsville, which was about five miles outside of Richmond in Henrico County. The FCC had just approved it and total cost was said to be about $100,000. The construction of the new transmitter was to be completed by August 1, 1929. The article stated that the existing 1,000 watt transmitter and auxiliary equipment, including the towers that were on the roof of Larus and Brothers Company's plant at 22nd and Cary Streets would be sold. The 1929 article stated that there were several interests expressed for the equipment. The new transmitter ended up costing $125,000 and began airing programs on Friday, August 23, 1929.

Another program that perhaps is hinting at things to come in terms of "live" programming was the return of the "Corn Cob Pipe Club" to WRVA on November 13, 1929 at 9:30pm. A news article stated the show "...consists of a typical Virginia rural gathering, with old Virginia fiddlers, old time dance music, negro spirituals, anecdotes and comic specialities." The host of the show was Anthony Endne who was said to be "...an old timer in every sense of the word." The "club" meetings or broadcasts proceeded "... in an extremely informal and extemporaneous fashion."

May 3, 1930 - WRVA Barn Dance In February 1930, the station applied with the FCC to increase its power to 50,000 kilowatts. Approval of the application was expected in the following spring. The cost of the new transmitter was estimated to be $500,000. Its location was planned to be about 20 or 30 miles outside of Richmond. Plans were pending approval of the application. The station wanted to boost its daytime coverage. Station General Manager C. T. Lucy stated coverage could extend as far as the middle western states.

In the early 1930's, the newspapers in Danville, Staunton and Newport News, Virginia discontinued publishing the radio programming for WRVA and instead focused on a couple of stations in New York (WEAF, WABC, WJZ).

The station struggled with getting reception to its audience, especially during the day as its signal would not reach long distances. At night, the struggle was with other stations at or near the same frequency causing interference. In May of 1935, the station ran ads touting its new transmitter. The signal was said to be increased and fading decreased. It was asking listeners to let the station know if they heard an improvement.

May 1935 - New WRVA Transmitter Ad

Even in its early days, WRVA had notions of having a 'barn dance'. A program listing from May of 1930 shows a program airing on a Saturday night at 10:00pm called "WRVA Barn Dance", featuring "Adventure Day Fiddlers". Not much else can be found about this show, but one can imagine it was fiddle music similar to rural gatherings where dances were held.

In April 1930, Richmond held an event called "Adventure Days" which featured a fiddlers contest on May 3, 1939 ("Play Day"), which was open to all fiddlers in Virginia. The winner would get a trophy along with an invitation to be part of a broadcast over WRVA. The event was to be held at 3:00pm at the Byrd Park House. A 1930 article spoke to fiddling in Virginia:

"The place of fiddling as an ancient and honored art in Virginia has given it a place on the Adventure Days program, which depicts the history of the Commonwealth. Fiddlers for generations have scraped pleasing tunes at barn dances and halls, at weddings and around homely firesides in the wilderness to shut out the loneliness and long miles between homes."

The year of 1931 saw the emergence of another local group that reached some popularity due to its appearances over WRVA — The Churchville Brier-Jumpers. This group broadcast a program of "string music". The group consisted of Jesse MacManaway, Jesse Baylor, Wade Whitesell and G. W. Shull.

Another group that may have been another of the rural string bands that were appearing now and again on WRVA — Grand Caverns String Band. The band members included C. W. Morrison, violin; C. H. Morris, banjo; and Avia Eakle, guitar. It appears that Mrs. C. H. Morris was a vocalist with the group.

In the 1930's, many stations were joining the networks that were growing at the time. Some point out that it was of financial necessity due to the economy in the 1930's. WRVA joined the CBS Network in November of 1936. The initial contract was for five years and would have WRVA broadcasting 25 hours of network programming a week.

During the 1930's, newspapers began to just carry the network program listings instead of individual radio stations. This included those newspapers in Staunton, Newport News and Danville that previously listed much of WRVA's programming.

On March 15, 1939 at 8:00pm, WRVA dedicated a new 50,000 watt radio transmitter with a seven hour broadcast marked with special programming for the occasion. It was the only station in Virginia broadcasting with that kind of power. The station was then a part of the Columbia and Mutual networks.

1939 - WRVA Grows to 50,000 Watts

In researching some of the names or acts found in WRVA program listings one can find some interesting tidbits. In April 1939, Burt Repine was doing a show called "WRVA Swing Club" at 10:00pm. He would later become music director for WRVA for a time, then he was the personal manager for Janis Martin while she was at WRVA in 1956. Emcee for Burt's show was Ward Adams, who would also later be emcee on the WRVA Old Dominion Barn Dance shows.

December 1939 - Old Dominion Barn Dance Begins

WRVA Broadcast Schedule January 27, 1940 By the late 1930's, WRVA had become a CBS network affiliate and was broadcasting many network shows. The station began to also broadcast more local, live shows. One of them was the WRVA Old Dominion Barn Dance. Prior to the start of that program, the station had brought in a couple of new acts to become part of their broadcast lineup.

One was a group Hoyt "Slim" Bryant's was working with at the time, the Georgia Wildcats that was led by Clayton McMichen. Hoyt would later move on to KDKA in Pittsburgh with his own group, the Wildcats. We are privileged to have access to correspondence between Hoyt Bryant and Phil Collins (son of fiddler Curley Collins). In a letter to Phil dated October 7, 2002, he writes that when they started the Old Dominion Barn Dance, the show had many guests that appeared. These included such acts as the Sons of the Pioneers, Carson J. Robison, the Harmonica Rascals and Sunshine Sue. The show started in a high school gym (see the accompanying ad from January 1940). But the show was proving to be too popular. The show had to be moved to the Mosque Theater where the crowds were 2,000 to 3,000 every Saturday night. The show was then broadcast on the Mutual Network. Hoyt told Phil that Ward Adams was the emcee of the show. He also noted that Pat Binford was one of the original cast members of the barn dance.

Hoyt (Slim) Bryant - Circa 1945 Slim had come to Richmond in the late 1930's with Clayton's group and indicating they were playing on the Old Dominion Barn Dance (published radio logs in newspapers have only shown the January 1940 show as the first one seen). Slim indicated that Clayton left the group and went back to Kentucky - he preferred a more big band sound. Hoyt, though, liked the low overhead of a small string band and stayed in Richmond. By this time Hoyt's brother, Raymond (Loppy) Bryant was playing bass in the band. But sometime during 1940, there was a union work stoppage. Hoyt traveled back to western Pennsylvania to visit with his wife's family. During that visit, he had a meeting with the program director of KDKA, George Heid, who was also an old friend of Hoyt's. Mr. Heid offered Hoyt a job. On August 10, 1940, Slim Bryant and His Wildcats began a 20 year stint with KDKA radio and television.

The Mosque - Richmond, Virginia

Also on the scene at WRVA during the same time was a group known as the Tobacco Tags. In 1938, that group consisted of Luke "Looney Luke"(Beucom), Reid "Roly Poly Reid" (Summey), Bob (Hartsell?) and Harvey "Hash House" (Ellington?). They also appeared on the Virginia Farm and Home Hour show regularly.

There was also an act known as the Domino Hillbillies that had a show on Tuesday and Thursdays from 2:00pm to 2:15pm. Presumably the group was named for one of the cigarette brands of the tobacco company that owned the station.

From November 1939 through end of May 1940, there was a version of the Old Dominion Barn Dance that aired over WRVA and was on the Mutual Broadcasting Network. The show was not always staged in Richmond. The Daily Press in Newport News, Virginia published a detailed WRVA program listing in that year and would include where the show was being held on Saturday nights.

The first program aired on November 11, 1939 and was held at the Bainbridge Junior High School Auditorium in Richmond. WRVA must have foreseen the popularity of the show for they scheduled two performances in one evening expecting a large turnout.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch did include an interesting tidbit about one of the acts, Jake and the Boys. They were on the WRVA "reliable list" due to their Thursday night shows with Pat Binford as their emcee. But the article notes that Pat had tried his best and well, "...they make no particular point of finishing a tune together. They're individualists, each a temperamental artist in his own right, so it really doesn't matter..." Pat was there to keep them in line or was that wishful thinking?

That first show was indeed a hit. The station received numerous requests from the attendees and from others who could not get in. The next show was immediately scheduled. A new article notes that the cast "...put on one of the most entertaining performances ever enjoyed in this area." It was reported that nearly 400 persons could not attend that first show due to seating capacity. More seats were added for the second show. What is interesting to note is that the "profits" from the show went to the South Side Athletic Club, who endeavored to help the welfare of the youth.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch continued to gush over this new live broadcast. And provides even more details about acts that were on the shows. A November 23, 1939 article mentions that one act was the Goule Sisters were on the second show and had been booked for the third show. It also mentions they were initially directed by Larry Drinard (Poky of Smoky and Poky) when they first started doing radio work. In addition, it was reported that the Georgia Wildcats along with Smoky and Poky were being sponsored by a local tobacco manufacturer to do electronic transcriptions of programs that were to be distributed to 20 different cities.

The momentum continued for the show and a fourth show was booked. A December 2, 1939 article mentions that the cast was the same as previous shows, "...an entirely new routine has been arranged."

A look at the WRVA Dialog of April 1940 shows that the Carter Family had a one hour show Monday through Saturday from 6:00am to 7:00am. The Georgia Wildcats were on for 15 minutes from 7:00am to 7:15am. They would perform again between 3:00pm and 3:15pm on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The Tobacco Tags were on from 8:00am to 8:15am.

WRVA Old Dominion Barn Dance - Venues 1939 - 1940
Date Venue City Stars Listed in Ads or Articles
11/11/1939 Bainbridge Junior H. S. Richmond Georgia Wildcats; Tobacco Tags; Domino Hillbillies; Smoky and Poky; Jake and the Boys; Ward Adams; Pat Binford
11/18/1939 Bainbridge Junior H. S. Richmond Georgia Wildcats; Tobacco Tags; Domino Hillbillies; Smoky and Poky; Jake and the Boys; Little George; Goule Sisters; Ward Adams; Pat Binford
11/25/1939 Bainbridge Junior H. S. Richmond Georgia Wildcats; Tobacco Tags; Domino Hillbillies; Smoky and Poky; Jake and the Boys; Doris Andrews; Goule Sisters; Wonder Valley Boys; Ward Adams; Pat Binford
12/2/1939 Bainbridge Junior H. S. Richmond Georgia Wildcats; Tobacco Tags; Domino Hillbillies; Smoky and Poky; Jake and the Boys; Doris Andrews; Goule Sisters; Wonder Valley Boys; Ward Adams; Pat Binford
12/9/1939 South Norfolk H. S. South Norfolk Georgia Wildcats, Tobacco Tags, Smokey and Pokey, Ward Adams, Pat Binford
1/6/1940 Bainbridge Junior H. S. Richmond Guest Stars: Southside Ramblers;
Cast: Georgia Wildcats; Tobacco Tags; Domino Hillbillies; Jake and the Boys; Johnny Hughes; Doris Andrews; Johnny Warren; Little George; Smoky and Poky;
1/13/1940 Bainbridge Junior H. S. Richmond Georgia Wildcats; Tobacco Tags; Domino Hillbillies; Ward Adams' Gang; Little George; Smoky and Poky; Doris Andrews; Johnny Warren; Johnny Hughes; Little Mary Latimer; Pat Binford
1/20/1940 Bainbridge Junior H. S. Richmond Georgia Wildcats; Domino Hillbillies; Tobacco tags; Ward Adams' Gang; Smoky and Poky; Little George; Doris Andrews; Johnny Hughes; Sunrise Hillbillies
1/27/1940 Bainbridge Junior H. S. Richmond Georgia Wildcats; Tobacco tags; Domino Hillbillies; Jack and the Boys; Ward Adams' Gang; Little Mary Latimer; Smoky and Poky; Little George Haab; Doris Andrews; Johnny Warren; Johnny Hughes; Pat Binford
2/3/1940 Bainbridge Junior H. S. Richmond Guests: Sunrise Hillbillies;
Cast: Georgia Wildcats; Tobacco Tags; Domino Hillbillies; Jake and the BOys; Ward Adams' Gang; Smoky and Poky; Doris Andrews; Johnny Warren; Johnny Hughes; Little George Haab; Pat Binford
2/10/1940 Bainbridge Junior H. S. Richmond Guest: Sunshine Sue and Her Rangers (first appearance);
Cast: Georgia Wildcats; Tobacco Tags; Domino Hillbillies; Jake and the Boys; Smoky and Poky; LIttle Georgie; Doris Andrews; Johnny Hughes; Johnny Warren
2/17/1940 Bainbridge Junior H. S. Richmond Tobacco Tags; Georgia Wildcats; Domino Hillbillies; Ward Adams; Sunshine Sue and Her Rangers; Smoky and Poky; LIttle GEorge; Doris Andrews; Johnny Warren; Johnny Hughes; Pat Binford
2/24/1940 Bainbridge Junior H. S. Richmond Guest: Sunshine Sue and her Rangers;
Cast: Georgia Wildcats; Tobacco Tags; Domino Hillbillies; Jake and the Boys; Smoky and Poky; Doris Andrews; Little George; Johnny Warren; Johnny Hughes; Ward Adams; Pat Binford;
3/2/1940 Bainbridge Junior H. S. Richmond  
3/9/1940 Bainbridge Junior H. S. Richmond  
3/16/1940 Mosque Auditorium Richmond Guests: Sons of the Pioneers;
Cast: Georgia Wildcats; Tobacco Tags; Sunshine Sue and Her Rangers; Smoky and Poky; Doris Andrews; Little George Haab; Johnny Hughes
3/23/1940 Mosque Auditorium Richmond Guest stars: Sunrise Hillbillies with Bill Stell from WRNL; Rural Rhythm Boys of Harrisonburg;
Fiddling Contest: Emory Stroop versus Kenny Newton of Ga. Wildcats;
Cast: Georgia Wildcats; Tobacco Tags; Sunshine Sue and Her Rangers; Smoky and Poky; Doris Andrews; Johnny Warren; Bob Dyson; Little George Haab; Pat Binford; Ward Adams
3/30/1940 Mosque Auditorium Richmond Guest Stars: Sunrise Hill Billies with Bill Stell of WRNL; Jerry Montana and Her Boys; Jake Tyler's Gang;
Band Contest: Jerry Montana's Band versus Sunrise Hillbillies;
Cast: Georgia Wildcats; Tobacco Tags; Sunshine Sue and Her Rangers; Smoky and Poky; Doris Andrews; LIttle George; Bob Dyson; Ward Adams; Pat Binford
4/6/1940 Mosque Auditorium Richmond Guest star: Carson J. Robison;
Cast: Georgia Wildcats; Tobacco Tags; Sunshine Sue and Her Rangers; Smoky and Poky; Little George; Doris Andrews; Everett Baughman; Bob Dyson; Johnny Warren
4/13/1940 Mosque Auditorium Richmond Big Laff Show; Swingbilly Wedding
4/20/1940 Mosque Auditorium Richmond  
4/27/1940 Mosque Auditorium Richmond Sunshine Sue and her Rangers; Tobacco Tags; Georgia Wildcats; Ward Adams' Gang; Pat Binford; Smoky and Poky; Little George Haab; Bob Dyson; Doris Andrews; Everett Baughman; Dancing Famerettes; Fred Jackson; Comedy: Mock Court Scene: Newlyweds Delphinia and Luke air trials and tribulations to Judge Slim Bryant; Smoky gets "chicken disappearing charge".
5/4/1940 Petersburg Highschool Petersburg Sunshine Sue and her Rangers; Tobacco Tags; Georgia Wildcats Bob Dyson; Doris Andrews; Pat Binford
5/11/1940 Newport News H. S. Newport News Sunshine Sue and her Rangers; Tobacco Tags; Georgia Wildcats; Ward Adams; Pat Binford
5/18/1940 Petersburg Highschool Petersburg Sunshine Sue and her Rangers; Tobacco Tags; Georgia Wildcats; Bob Dyson; Doris Andrews; Pat Binford
5/25/1940 Mosque Auditorium Richmond Guest stars: Rouse Brothers;
Cast: Sunshine Sue and Her Rangers; Georgia Wildcats; Tobacco Tags;
6/1/1940 Mosque Auditorium Richmond Guest star: Harmonica Rascals;
Cast: Georgia Wildcats; Tobacco Tags; Sunshine Sue and Her Rangers; Smoky and Poky; Ward Adams; Pat Binford; Joe Brown's Junior Hillbillies; Broad Rock Hillbillies; Jerry Richardson (3yr old tap dancer); Otie Bridgman (14 yr old yodeling cowboy);
6/8/1940 Mosque Auditorium Richmond Guest stars: The Musical Aces of Tidewater, Virginia
Cast: Georgia Wildcats; Tobacco Tags; Sunshine Sue and Her Rangers; Bob Dyson; Doris Andrews; Little George; Ward Adams; Pat Binford;
Feature Night: (1)Battle of the Sexes: Bass Fiddle Contest: Pearl McMullen of Aces versus Loppy Bryant of Wildcats; (2)"The Great Western Love Scene" with Roly Poly Reid (as Prairie Nell), Looney Luke (as great cowboy lover) and Slim Bryant (as domesticated husband)
6/15/1940 Mosque Auditorium —Final Show Richmond Guest stars: Kid Smith and the Smith Sisters of WFVA; Joe Brown's Junior Hillbillies; Rio Valley Rangers of WMBG;
Cast: Georgia Wildcats; Tobacco Tags; Sunshine Sue and Her Rangers; Smoky and Poky; Ward Adams; Pat Binford;

1940 - Sunshine Sue Arrives At WRVA - First Time

Personal Appearance Ad - Sep 22 1940 Sunshine Sue made her first appearance on the Old Dominion Barn Dance on February 10, 1940. An article in the "Southside Supplement" of the Richmond Times-Dispatch noted that her group "...met with such warm response that they have been engaged for this week's show (sic, February 17, 1940)." The article further noted that though they had only been on WRVA for a short time, they had already gained "considerable popularity" and were seen to have promise as one of the highlights of the show's cast.

The February 15, 1940 article includes a hint of the growing popularity of the show. Management had to arrange for additional seating at the Bainbridge School and in the event of bad weather, also arranged for ample space indoors for those waiting to get in for the second show. The February 17, 1940 show was sponsored by the South Side Athletic Club, which was "...active in welfare activity in South Richmond." The club was putting together a boxing team for an upcoming Golden Gloves tournament.

Sunshine Sue was first mentioned in the April 1940 WRVA Dialog. Her first over the air appearance was a 15 minute program on Monday, February 5, 1940. As you will see, she would later become the Old Dominion Barn Dance 'femcee'. In April had a 15 minute show from 12:15pm to 12:30pm that aired on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. On Thursday, her show was on at 9:15am. The publication mentioned that Sunshine Sue and Her Rangers came to Richmond from radio station WHAS in Louisville, Kentucky.

While that 1939-1940 edition of the Old Dominion Barn Dance ended it does not mean that WRVA gave up on the idea of a 'live' entertainment program of that type.

Old Dominion Barn Dance - Feb 20 1941 Ad Old Dominion Barn Dance - June 21 1941 Ad

Research shows that the "Old Dominion Barn Dance" name was used to advertise personal appearances in the Richmond area that featured acts that were part of that show. In February 1941, ads show the Old Dominion Barn Dance being held on Thursday and Friday nights at the Riviera Tavern. The ads promoted a "complete floor show". The Tobacco Tags and Blackie (Blacky) Skiles and His Lazy K Ranch Boys seemed to be the headliners and driving forces behind those shows.

In one picture seen of Blackie's group, the band included Harold Hensley on fiddle (Harold later joined Cliffie Stone's Hollywood Barn Dance show) and Joe Maphis on bass. The show in February included Smoky and Poky, Johnny Whitaker, the Shapiro Twins (skate dancers) and Gwynn Lewis who was billed as the "Mistress of Songs" for appearances on February 20 and 21, 1941. A week later, the Riviera Tavern was promoting dances on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights. The Barn Dance show was held on Thursday night but the Richmond Times-Dispatch radio log for the day does not show WRVA (or WRNL or WMBG) broadcasting the show.

The familiar faces of the barn dance continued to put on shows in Richmond. Another example was a "Dixie Jamboree" that was held at the Mosque on Saturday March 1 and offering two shows - 7:30pm and 9:30pm. Sunshine Sue was the headliner. Also appearing were the Lazy K Ranch Boys, the Tobacco Tags (who were returning to Richmond as well as Roger Hickey and Sally Flowers.

Old Virginia Barn Dance - Jan 3 1942 Ad Old Virginia Barn Dance - Apr 11 1942 Ad

Research shows a "Virginia Barn Dance Jubilee" being staged on the Petersburg Fair Grounds in Petersburg, Virginia in June of 1941. That show featured the Tobacco Tags and Sally Flowers with Joe Brown as Master of Ceremonies. It was also following the barn dance practice of two shows on Saturday nights. A June ad said the show was every Saturday night, but no other ads for the show were seen after June.

The only "barn dance" show being broadcast in Richmond in the summer of 1941 was the network show for the WLS National Barn Dance.

Starting on Saturday night November 22, 1941, the WRVA program listings in the Richmond Times-Dispatch were showing the Virginia Barn Dance on Saturday nights. A Newport News newspaper indicated that Sunshine Sue was a part of the show. But the show was not running any ads in the local paper. It also appears that this version of the show may have been held in a venue other than the Mosque or Lyric (later, WRVA Theatre).

In January 1942, an ad suggests the show was only doing one performance each night. Sunshine Sue seemed to be the headline act. "Crazy Joe" would be Joe Maphis. An April 11, 1942 ad provides an indication of who was a part of the show, which was at the Mosque. It promoted as a two hour stage show and part of it was to be broadcast.

August 1942 - Sunshine Sue Leaves WRVA

However, it appears that run of the barn dance show was not successful as no further broadcasts were seen in the remainder of 1942. In fact the end of the summer saw more changes to WRVA. Saturday, August 29, 1942, appears to have been Sunshine Sue's last show during this particular stint with WRVA. She was moving to Cincinnati to become part of the WLW staff.

Sunshine Sue and Her Rangers initially had a 15 minute broadcast over WLW. The station had quite a few well known acts on their program schedule. A look at the Saturday morning programs for September 12, 1942 shows Curly (Fox), (Texas) Ruby and Jim Day; the Golden West Girls; and The Drifting Pioneers (which included Merle Travis). On Saturday evening, the Boone County Jamboree was aired.

When Sue left WRVA for WLW, one might want to know who was in her group the "Rangers". Research shows that she made her first appearance on the WLW "Boone County Jamboree" on the evening of August 29, 1942. The Cincinnati Enquirer actually had a photo accompanying this announcement. In the picture was: Ramona Riggins (she was cast as an Indian at WRVA). Ramona would later meet Grandpa Jones and get married while at WLW. John Workman, Sue's husband was in the group. Sam Workman - John's brother as well. Another member was Joe Maphis. Another female singer by the name of Jane was also part of the group but we have not figured out her last name. The three female performers in the group were billed as the Happy Valley Girls. Sue and her group would then be on the air Monday through Friday between 5:00am and 6:00am.

One starts to think that she is gathering some business insight into what it takes to run a successful live jamboree or barn dance show with her tenure at WLW and previously at WLS earlier in her career. Other acts on the Boone County Jamboree when she first joined included Bradley Kincaid, Grandpa Jones, Merle Travis, Curly Fox and Texas Ruby, Happy Hal O'Halloran, Dolly Good, Prairie Sweethearts, Hugh Cross, Pa and Ma McCormick, Roy Starkey, Delmore Brothers, Buddy Ross, Boone County Buccaneers (who were also known as Captain Stubby and the Buccaneers), Grand pappy Doolittle as well as Sunshine Sue and Her Rangers and her female trio, Happy Valley Girls.

In the months subsequent to her departure, it appears WRVA was undergoing programming changes. Little hillbilly music programming seemed to be on the air in the radio logs seen. Joe Brown's Radio Gang seems to be something that survived. Perhaps the war time effort was also impacting the availability of performers. An ad for Miller Roads asked for readers to turn in their "Junk Jewelry" as it could help the soldiers serving in the Asian and African war zones.

September 18, 1944 - Sunshine Sue Returns to WRVA

Carter Sisters - Labor Day 1944 Ad Perhaps a preview of the return of familiar entertainment to the Richmond area was seen when the Carter Sisters (Helen, Anita and June) and Mother Maybelle were promoting a Labor Day appearance at Red Water Lake. Then a couple weeks later, another familiar face and voice returns.

On September 17, 1944, the Richmond Times-Dispatch had an ad from WRVA touting the return of Sunshine Sue to WRVA with a daily show at 3:30pm, Monday through Friday. But it did not seem to herald any new live "barn dance" type shows yet.

Perhaps it was just the beginning and planting the seeds for what was to come. She had by that time experience with successful shows at WLS in Chicago and WLW in Cincinnati.

The WRVA program listings through the end of 1944 do not show any other acts that one might term hillbilly or country music.

Towards the end of 1944, Rufe Davis brought a "Barn Dance Revue" to the Mosque. It received an article in the local paper telling readers of who would be a part of the revue.

One also finds the marketing efforts of Sunshine Sue as ads appear promoting her personal appearances.

Sunshine Sue Returns to WRVA - Sep 1944 Ad Rufe Davis Barn Dance Revue - Nov 1944 Ad

Sunshine Sue - Oct 1944 Ad Sunshine Sue - Nov 1944 Ad

November 1944 saw John Lair bring his Renfro Valley Barn Dance show to Richmond as part of cities participation in buying war bonds. The show was held on November 21, 1944 at the Mosque. Tickets were based upon the amount of the bond purchased at local theaters. If a $100 bond was bought, that would get a person a seat in the front part of the orchestra or a loge seat. If one bought a $50 bond, a seat in the rear of the orchestra or in the front part of the mezzanine was to be had. Finally, a $25 bond got one a seat in the rear of the mezzanine or in the balcony.

Renfro Valley Barn Dance Bond Show Ad Nov 1944 The article promoting the show also stated that it was customary for all War Bond shows in the city to reserve a portion of the Mosque for Negro bond buyers, who purchased their bond and tickets at the Negro theaters.

Appearing on this show would be the Coon Creek Girls, Lilly May, the Turner Brothers, Slim Miller, Jerry and Elsie Behrens and others.

The article states the overall quota for Richmond for the "Sixth War Loan Campaign" that was to run from November 20 through December 16 was $39,850,000. The quota for E Bonds was $5,550,000 and only people that bought the E Bonds were eligible for tickets to the Renfro Valley show.

The day after the show, the Richmond Times-Dispatch headlined an article, "2,246,900 In Bonds Sold At Mosque". Individuals who bought the E Bonds purchased $246,900 worth; $2,000,000 was purchased by the Life Insurance Company of Virginia. They turned over their box seats to wounded veterans near-by camps and hospitals.

The theater was reported near capacity for the show and fans kept the Renfro Valley group on stage until the show had to be brought to an "abrupt end" to catch their train back to Kentucky. The article noted that the favorites of the audience seemed to be Slim Miller, 83-year old Granny Harper, Lonnie Glosson with his 'talking harmonica', Jerry Behrens who did a version of "Look Down That Lonesome Road" as well as six foot four Little Eller.

Corn Crackers - WLS - 1944 During 1944, one of the early familiar voices had moved elsewhere. "Crazy" Joe Maphis had moved to Chicago and was part of the WLS National Barn Dance. He was part of a group called the "Corn Crackers" that included Lee Lunsford, Eli Haney and Curley Covard. Joe was shown playing the fiddle for that group.

But World War II was having its impact on country music entertainers as many well known names were serving their country. In 1945, Cowboy Music World listed many of the artists were in various branches of the service. Its November 1945 issue indicated that names such as Gene Autry, Bob and Randy Atcher, Georgie Goebel, Floyd Tillman, Blaine Smith, Ken MacKenzie, Ray Little, Rusty Gill, Joe Maphis, Buddy Durham, Big Jim DeNoone, Cy Williams (Milo Smick), Jimmie Pierson Chuck Harding and others were in the United States Army. In the United States Navy were Kenny Roberts, Olivio Santoro, Bud Bailey, The York Brothers, Joe Barker, Eddie Peabody, George Long and others. The United States Marines counted Doye O'Dell, Bill Nettles, Jack Shook and Texas Jim Robertson as part of their ranks. The Coast Guard included Sleepy Jeffers and others.

Early 1945 seems to show that country entertainment over the radio was coming back in Richmond. March program listings show that the Carter Sisters and Sunshine Sue each had their own programs on radio stations WRNL and WRVA respectively. Jim Hall and His Radio Mountaineers had a program on radio station WMBG and were promoting their performances in the area as well, using the term 'radio barn dance' perhaps to evoke an image of past shows seen in the area.

Radio Programs March 22 1945 Jim Hall Mountaineers Radio Barn Dance

In the summer of 1945, the Tobacco Tags were playing over radio station WPTF in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Old Virginia Barn Dance Sep 1945 In the fall of 1945, another attempt was made to revive a barn dance type of show. This one was called "Old Virginia Barn Dance" and was advertised as being every Friday night beginning September 14, 1945. It was to be held at Grand View Beach. Pete Fraiser and his Smoky Mountain Boys was the band offering up the music. Round and Square Dances were to be featured.

The nation was still raising funds with War Bond drives and Sunshine Sue and her Rangers were featured in some of those efforts.

In October of 1945, the Manchester Lions Club held their Ninth Annual "Roaring Revuew" over three nights at the Bainbridge Junior High School. Proceeds from these shows were to go to the city's underprivileged children for food and medical care. The Thursday night show included Jim Hall and His Radio Mountaineers.

The Friday night show was emceed by Harvey "Juke Box" Hudson of WRVA. Acts that performed that night were Burt Repine (who later became personal manager for Janis Martin) and his orchestra featuring Kitty Breeze as vocalist, the Sunrise Hillbillies and the Rangers' Quartet among others.

Saturday night's show had Joe Brown and Harvey Hudson of WRVA sharing emcee chores. On the program that night were Sunshine Sue and Her Rangers, the Carter Sisters with Mother Maybelle Carter, Snowball Crump, a well-known Negro dancer as well as other acts. The veteran hillbilly performers associated with WRVA appeared on more than one occasion with Snowball Crump which raised some eye-brows of the local audiences and promoters. But Phil Collins, son of Curley Collins indicated that his father told him that if they had to exclude Snowball, there would be no show. The "hillbilly" performers were remembered for their support at Snowball's funeral.

Sunshine Sue and Jack Gillette 1946 Ad In March of 1946, WRVA began airing a program called the WRVA Barn Dance that ran Monday through Friday at 3:15pm. It would star Sunshine Sue and Her Rangers. Also on the show would be the Tennessee Ramblers with Jack Gillette. A 'new singer' named Jimmy Gould would also be a part of the half-hour show. Jack's group had a program called "Dixie Hayride" that aired at 4:30pm for a half-hour. Not much else was said about this show and presumably Jack Gillette's group did not stay long at the station.

But changes started happening at WRVA. On June 15, 1946, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that "WRVA Signs Lease for Lyric". General Manager C. T. Lucy, general manager at WRVA indicated that it was a long term lease ("number of years"). The article outlined the "policy" of how WRVA would manage the old Lyric Theater, located at Ninth and Broad Streets in downtown Richmond. The first change was renaming it to WRVA Theater. The approach would be an "aggressive live show" policy. They wanted to maximize the number of bookings at the theater. WRVA had already begun contacting various booking agencies including concert and musical booking bureaus.

Management also stressed that while there would be some changes to modernize the theater and make it more comfortable, an effort to "...made to preserve the nostalgic charm the old house has for Richmond theater-lovers and old-timers of the stage." Mr. Lucy envisioned that they would merge the "oldest of the entertainment arts, the stage, ... join hands with the newest, radio."

WRVA was to take over the theater operations in the fall of 1946 and had started with proceeding to renovate the theater and get its new name up in neon to 'brighten' the corner of Ninth and Broad.

Times-Dispatch columnist Edith Lindeman discussed the plans that Jack Stone and Barron Howard of WRVA had for the theater. Neither gentleman had ever run a theater but were aware of the local audiences who wanted a variety of theater presentations. The two indicated they needed to make the theater "presentable and comfortable", so large expenditures would be made for refurbishing and decorating. Alluding to the need to make performers comfortable, a good deal of effort would be made behind or below the stage area that performers used for changing. In the past, that could have meant freezing or sweltering or rushing to get their costumes away from water from sudden rains and repairing the stairs that led to the stage.

The gentlemen indicated that "We'd like to have the house alive eery night of the week. Perhaps we can't arrive at that goal during the first year of operation but we keep mulling over possibilities." They wanted to revive the theater experience in Richmond where it would have a reputation as a "good" theater town.

Mr. Stone was quoted as stating, "In the days of the old Academy, only a few Richmonders felt it necessary to go away for their annual dose of drama and comedy. We'd like to bring those days back. We have the theater and we have the enthusiasm. We'll get the plays or die trying."

Perhaps Ms. Lindeman was not quite convinced. She told readers at the end of this article, "For future developments, watch this—and the obituary— column.

Sep 14, 1946—Sunshine Sue Leads New Era of WRVA Old Dominion Barn Dance

WRVA Theater First Show Ad Sep 1946 WRVA Theater ODBD Ad Sep 12 1946

The transformation of the old Lyric Theater to the WRVA Theater was complete. Opening night was to feature two performances—7:30pm and 9:30pm. Ticket pricing was simple, 60 cents for adults and 30 cents for children. The Richmond Times-Dispatch ran an ad for the show on September 12, 1946 that would be the beginning of an ad appearing each week for the show through the departure of Sunshine Sue in June 1957.

The following day, the local newspaper provided a review of that first show. Governor Tuck and "...approximately 2,500 other devotees of hill-billy music" enjoyed the two shows. The unnamed reporter, (only the initials E.L. were given at the end of the article, perhaps that was Edith Lindeman who was unsure of the happenings when she did her interview just a few weeks earlier) indicated that the show generated a warm reception which was a good omen for the show that was to be done each Saturday night going forward.

"Youngsters who ganged up on the first rows squealed with delight, whistles, applause and yowls of approval echoed from the galleries, babies gurgled and grandma and grandpa tapped their feet and grinned behind their bifocals as old favorite folk tunes and mournful new cowboy ballads rolled off the tongues and out of the instruments of the tireless cast. For the hill-billy fans, it was their night to howl, and howl they did in no uncertain terms."

A fifteen minute portion of the first show was broadcast over the air to give listeners a sample of what was to come in the future. The WRVA radio programming list in the local paper that day show a fifteen minute portion from 9:15 to 9:30pm. A full hour broadcast was done from 10:00pm to 11:00pm. Governor Tuck was introduced to the audience by Sunshine Sue on-stage in the second show. The Governor who enjoyed hillbilly music, made a request to Sunshine Sue. She and her band complied and did "Red River Valley".

The reporter introduces the performers she saw in her own editorial fashion. There was Pappy Ridgeway "who, in less bewhiskered moments, is WRVA's Scott Jarrett." Then she notes Cousin Joe Maphis "..was imported from WLS's National Barn Dance" and made a guest appearance. Perhaps she did not know of Joe's previous stints at WRVA prior to his move to WLS. The audience would see and hear a familiar voice. She noted Joe "...was received as if he were the Sinatra of the sagebrush."

Then there was Chester Atkins; he "...plucked a wicked electric guitar." She noted that Curley Bradshaw, known as King of the Harmonica, "...blew out a reasonable facsimile of a fox chase complete with barking dogs and snarling foxes." She goes on to note that Loony Luke and his Tobacco Tags were back in Richmond by popular request. Cousin Elmer "...supplied much of the hayseed humor." The show featured the debut of Claire and Arlene, two young singers from the Richmond area. The team of Lilly and Curly "...teamed up for backwoodsy love songs and lonesome ballads." Curly's real name was Sloan Kimbler; Lily's name was Lily Pickens.

"Corn and ham blended with "gittars", bull fiddling and yodels to make the evening a happy occasion for the followers of the Old Dominion Barn Dance."

The opening proved to be a success and show began its run of Saturday night shows. In the early ads in this iteration of the show, Sunshine Sue was the main star and WRVA was promoting as "the thing to do Saturday night". The WRVA Theater began to see new bookings besides the Barn Dance as the managers wanted to do with other productions. On October 18, 1946, the Musicians Club of Richmond was to feature a recital by Maryla Jonas (a pianist from Warsaw, Poland) who had received instruction from Paderewski. However only club members could attend and there were no guest cards nor were tickets sold. In December of 1946, The Barter Theatre gave a presentation of Noel Coward's "Blithe Spirit" play. What is interesting to note is the contrast in ticket prices. The barn dance was charging 90 cents for reserved seats, 60 cents for adults and 30 cents for children. The ticket prices for the play for the evening performance were $2.40 for Boxes and Orchestra, $2.40 and $1.80 for Balcony and $1.20 for the Gallery.

WRVA Old Dominion Barn Dance Ad - Theme - Oct 12 1946 WRVA Old Dominion Barn Dance Ad - Sunshine Sue - Oct 12 1946

Sidebar: Chester / Chet Atkins

While doing research, one becomes aware of things or aspects that have been discussed about this show or are in question. One aspect is the time that Chester / Chet Atkins was with the WRVA Old Dominion Barn Dance. History shows he was part of that first show in September 1946. But history does not give a definitive answer as to when he left. His biography indicated he was fired by Sunshine Sue. But when that Chet's biography was released, the local Richmond newspaper interviewed Sunshine Sue to get her take on Chet's tenure and departure from the Barn Dance. Her interview was discussed in the May 26, 1974 issue of the Richmond Times-Dispatch by Norman Rowe. Chet's book mentions his departure in this review / interview by Mr. Rowe. He had just gotten married, was out of work and wanted to be on a national radio show. But he was homesick for Nashville. He also noted that the WRVA gig 'did not excite him'.

But Sunshine Sue offered her perspective of Chet's tenure at WRVA. She said she thought then and still did that he was "...one of, if not the best guitar players in the country." Her thoughts were that he was with the show about six months.

Sue then went into some detail about how personnel decisions were made. Sue and her husband, John Workman, were hired by WRVA to 'secure talent'. They reported to Sam Carey, then program manager and Barron Howard, general manager and Jack Stone, publicity manager. "All decisions were either made or approved by them."

Sue indicates the decision was not hers alone and "...certainly not for lack of ability." One gets the impression that perhaps Chester's / Chet's stage persona was a part of the decision as he himself noted he was a bit shy. But one cannot argue what the body of Mr. Atkins' career eventually morphed into and eventually a part of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

But further research indicates it may have been much less than that. Juanita Milligan wrote in her column "South of the Mason-Dixon Line" in the December 1946 issue of "Mountain Broadcast and Prairie Recorder" that Chester was playing guitar for Red Foley on WSM back in Nashville.

Back to Our Story

The beginning of this new version of the barn dance did not mean that competition would not be on the scene. In fact, on September 29, 1946, the "Ole Virginny Jamboree" was going to be held at the Mosque Ballroom, offering four hours of entertainment and square dancing. A local radio act, The Sunrise Hillbillies were providing the music, with Fred Lauterbach calling the dances. Between sets, Dickie Radford's Orchestra would be providing entertainment. This show also included broadcasting a 15 minute portion over WRNL.

As a geographical point of reference, the WRVA Theater was located at 9th and Broad Streets in Richmond. The Mosque was at the corner of Laurel and Main Streets in Richmond, just over one and a quarter miles from the WRVA Theater. The Bainbridge Junior High School that was often used as venue in earlier years was located at the corner or near Bainbridge and Cowardin Streets in South Richmond. The school was closed in 1975.

In early 1947, WRVA added a Saturday afternoon matinee show for the Old Dominion Barn Dance that started at 2:30pm.

WRVA also developed a network of Virginia radio stations to widen the listening audience for the show. The Virginia Electric and Power Company sponsored an ad in January 1947 listing the stations.

WRVA Old Dominion Barn Dance
Radio Network
Station City State AM Frequency
WRVA Richmond Virginia 1140AM
WGH Newport News Virginia 1340AM
WFVA Fredicksburg Virginia 1230AM
WCHV Charlottesville Virginia 1240AM
WKEY Covington Virginia 1340AM
WLPM Suffolk Virginia 1450AM
WTON Staunton Virginia 1400AM
WCNC Elizabeth City North Carolina 1400AM
WCBT Roanoke Rapids North Carolina 1230AM

As the show continued to grow in popularity, research starts to see milestones. The station was keen to promote the popularity of this show and would brag about attendance when it reached certain totals. One such show was on August 2, 1947 when they were to celebrate the 100,000th attendee. To ensure it was a real celebration, WRVA advertised that the show would include a "Hillbilly From Mars! He arrives on a Flying Saucer!". One could only wish a picture existed of such events and antics.

Virginia's Governor William Tuck was a big fan of the show and the music. On Saturday night, August 9, 1947, he was going to be on both shows and crown or coronate Sunshine Sue as the "Queen of the Hillbillies". As a special giveaway that night, fans were to get a recording of Sunshine Sue and Her Rangers doing an arrangement of "Red River Valley" (the Governor's personal favorite) and on the other side, "Barn Dance Boogie". An article touting the coronation mentions some of the musical numbers fans were to hear. The Tobacco Tags were going to sing "Honey, Do You Think It's Wrong". June Carter was going to do a "comedy version" of the song "Temptation". Crazy Joe Maphis was going to do his composition, "Barn Dance Boogie." (Note: This is possibly the record on the Astra Record label—number 1215)

It Was Hillbilly Music and People

One of the aspects that stand out in this review and research of the WRVA Old Dominion Barn Dance was its 'affectionate' use of the term "hillbilly" in various ways to sell the program. Catherine C. Morris wrote a dissertation that touched upon this aspect a bit in her chapter she titled "It Was A Hillbilly Operation". While she did write that WRVA shied away from network programming to adopt hillbilly and other types of rhythm music versus rock and roll, this author would politely point out that rock and roll did not happen until the mid to late 1950's.

She attempted to identify this "hillbilly" persona that was a part of the country music culture in that 1940's and 1950's era.

"When WRVA decided to use the hillbilly to secure WRVA’s position in an increasingly competitive media market, it was as yet unresolved whether the hillbilly was an asset or an embarrassment (or both) to either a modern America or a modern South. WRVA’s programming would cast the hillbilly in a nostalgic light, as the loveable and perhaps heroic ambassador of a better way of life, now lost.

Simultaneously a character of derision and respect, of repulsion and longing, the American hillbilly was a vehicle for Americans to come to terms with rapid change throughout the twentieth century. Hillbillies lived in this world, but seemed to follow rhythms of a parallel world, in which industry and commerce were largely invisible, if not altogether absent; in which religion, family, and the land played the largest roles in people’s lives. There were, of course, no real hillbillies, but that did not stop people from applying and acquiring the label.

The American hillbilly was hard to define but easy to identify by the time radio had become a mass medium in the 1930's. Hillbillies, according to popular culture, were people of Anglo-Saxon descent, living in remote rural areas (especially in the southern mountains), with only a passing acquaintance with education or the trappings of modern America. The hillbilly was always white, and almost always male. HIllbilly entertainers feigned confusion with city ways, and peddled heavily in nostalgia. As such, they were depicted as keepers of the past even as they were derided for being ridiculously and maybe even pathologically backwards. They thus held the dubious honor of simultaneously being held up as national heroes and hopeless hicks."

Wedding Bells Were Ringing On Stage in March 1949

WRVA Old Dominion Barn Dance Ad - Hillbilly Style - Dec 17 1949 Another Ad

Curley Collins - Wedding Sunshine Sue seemed to have a knack for promoting the show and generating interest. One such occasion occurred in March 1949 when the show and WRVA promoted the on-stage "live" wedding of Ruey (Curley) Collins to Kathleen (Kaki) Williams.

First there was a show themed around "Curley's Bachelor Party" on Saturday night March 12, 1949. It was also billed as "Dallas Ketcham" night. Then, for the actual wedding, the show moved to the larger capacity Mosque auditorium on March 19, 1949. There was to be only one show that night. Thus, the wedding was to be the featured part of the program and would not be re-done. Country Music fans will recall that Hank Williams married Billie Jean Horton on the KWKH Louisiana Hayride show twice in one day, but they had actually gotten married prior to those shows. The ticket prices did not change for this special wedding night program.

The marriage lay the groundwork for a third show - the return from their honeymoon. That show was on March 26, 1949. That night, the cast was to give the newlyweds a wedding shower.

WRVA Old Dominion Barn Dance Ad WRVA Post Wedding

Since WRVA published weekly ads for the show from the beginning of the last great Sunshine Sue era, let us take a look at how the "hillbilly" theme worked its way into the promotion of the show. We will later see that even when Sunshine Sue tried to take the show to Broadway under the name of "Hayride", the urban reviewers could not help but draw back on their perception and bias about "hillbilly".

It can be seen in a couple of ways. The use of the term "hillbilly" in some way or in the terminology or verbiage used in the ads to promote the shows. From a historical perspective, this show was unique and set apart from other well known shows such as the WLS National Barn Dance or the WSM Grand Ole Opry, which while appealling to a rural audience, did not push the "hillbilly" aspect as much.

Let us take a look at the terminology in the ads that seem to be "hillbilly" in nature.

  • Button Buster and Britches Splitter
  • Hee-haw like a mule in a cool pool at that fool—Crazy Joe!
  • The Biggest Hill-Hollerin' Splinter-Kickin' Barn-Shaker You Were Ever On!
  • Come On Down To The Barn Shakin' Hoe Down!
  • Shingle Rattling Comedy Night
  • Hitch Up and Drive Over! It'll Be A Splinter Kicker and a Shingle Rattler!
  • Hitch Up YOur Mule and Come Over!
  • Prepare To Laught With the Craziest Shindig and Shingle-Rattler You Ever Attended
  • Hitch Up And Drive In For a Passle of Fun and Music!
  • A Side-Splitter and a Button-Buster! A Stageful of Fun Not One Serious Second
  • Whoopin' Holler School
  • Saddle The Horses and Tune Up The Shottin' Irons!
  • New Year Show—A Real Shingle Rattler
  • A Bushel and a Peck of Fun and Music

Then there is the use of "Hillbilly" in some way in the promotional ads.

  • Genuwine "Russian Hillbilly" ()
  • Genuwine "Siamese Twin" Hillbillys
  • Genoowine French Hillbilly - Ooh-La-La and Wee-Wee
  • Aahuabemehula The Hawaiian Hillbilly
  • Hillbilly Tarzan With His Entire Family and "Screaming Meemie"
  • Spotlighting Those Two Hillbilly Balladeers
  • Hillbilly From Mars! He Arrives On A Flying Saucer!
  • Queen of the Hillbillies
  • Hillbilly Wedding Night Plus Hillbilly Santa
  • Hillbilly Easter Parade
  • The Hillbilly Who's Who
  • Male Beauty Contest - Come And Vote For Your Favorite Hillbilly!
  • Hillbilly Christmas Party—Crazy Kris Kringle Joe Pmaphis and the entire case welcome the Hillbilly Santa
  • Beloved Hillbilly Lady of Song Back On The Stage
  • Romance for a Hillbilly Valentine!
  • Hillbilly Easter Parade
  • Mr. Hillbilly of 1949
  • Hillbilly Holiday Doin's
  • Rib-Tickling Tuens Everything In The Hillbilly Screwball Manner
  • Songwriter's Night—Hear The Nation's Hillbilly Hits of the Future
  • The One And Only Hillbilly Midget Band
  • Santa Claus Workshop, Hillbilly Style
  • Hillbilly Xmas Party!
  • Happy New Year Party—You have fun! It's VERY informatl! It's hillbilly!
  • 17 Famous Hillbilly Stars Singing and Playing Their Way Into Your Heart
  • Don't Miss the Irish Hillbilly Show
  • America's Top Hillbilly Comic! (Quarantine Brown) Ugliest Man In Radio — He Says
  • School Mam Sue and Her Hillbilly School Kids
  • Hillbilly Goblins, Ghosts and Witches
  • A Hillbilly's New Year's Show Tonight!

Another aspect is to look at the milestones in terms of attendance that WRVA promoted for the Old Dominion Barn Dance:

  • 100,000 — August 2, 1947
  • 200,000 — July 3, 1948
  • 300,000 — June 18, 1949
  • 400,000 — September 30, 1950
  • 500,000 — February 2, 1952
  • 600,000 — August 1953 (not specifically mentioned; July 25 mentioned 594,368.
  • 700,000 — ??
  • 800,000 — January 14, 1956

In August of 1949, Red Murphy, known as a hillbilly comedian who also played the harmonica and tap danced, celebrated his second anniversary with the show. But late in 1949, a new, competing show arrives on the scene. The Atlantic Barn Dance. The first ad for the show appeared on December 3, 1949. The show was held at the Atlantic Rural Exposition Grounds. It advertised 3,000 seats and "new heat" along with free parking. Admission prices were 50 cents for adults and 25 cents for children. Frank Porter of WLEE's "Country Stars" was to be the Master of Ceremonies. Advertised acts included Clyde Moody and His Carolina Woodchoppers, and, Smiley Wilson and His Range Pardners. That first show was to be held Friday and Saturday nights.

The following week, there was only the one show on Saturday night. Red Murphy was now the headline star of the show. Frank Porter was still emcee. Other names seen previously on the WRVA show were Nita Lynn, Bill and Arlene. The show was promoting square and round dances on a 'new floor surface' after the show with a veteran caller and set leader. In addition, special buses were to run from 8th and Broad Streets to the Barn Dance starting at 7:00pm. Keep in mind that the WRVA Theater was at 9th and Broad Streets. One can envision a bit of the large crowds gathered in downtown Richmond and deciding which show to attend.

WRVA Old Dominion Barn Dance Ad - Hillbilly Style - Dec 17 1949 Atlantic Barn Dance Ad - Red Murphy - Dec 17 1949

The competition may have been pretty robust. The promotional ads for each show were larger than past ads the WRVA show had used. Weekly ads for both shows were seen up until about July of 1950. Had the Atlantic Barn Dance ended? In November of 1950, a new ad for the show was seen, but the new headline act was "Brother Slim Williams". The ad mentions that "Brother" Williams' comedy preaching is a riot and he uses a telephone directory and catalogue for his inspiration."

Using Themes

Old Dominion Barn Dance - 1947

The September 1952 WRVA Dialog (a monthly publication) mentions that the Old Dominion Barn Dance was on the CBS Network again the past summer and was under the sponsorship of Dr. Pepper. The fiftenn minute show was heard on Saturday mornings at 10:15am on 55 radio stations, mainly in the south and southwest. The show was heard in Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, TEnnessee, Mississipi, Alabama, Louisiana, Florida, Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas.

The quarter hour show was recorded every Saturday night from the WRVA Theater where the show was held, at 7:30pm and 9:30pm. Harry Monroe was the announcer for the network show while Ray Kennedy was the producer and director.

Old Dominion Barn Dance - 1952 - Dr. Pepper Show Cast

On Saturday night, November 8, 1952, the WRVA Old Dominion Barn Dance was broadcast on the CBS radio network as part of a new series called "Saturday Night Country Style." The Richmond Times-Dispatch told its readers that the new show had "...been set so as to originate in a number of the country's leading hillbilly centers." The WRVA show in Richmond was selected to start the series. Six "live" programs were to rotate each Saturday night. The November 7, 1952 article mentions that a subsequent broadcast would occur on December 20, 1952. The network broadcast portion would occur during the second show of the night between 10:30pm to 11:00pm.

This article also states who the performers would be and the tunes they would perform. Sunshine Sue would do "Smiles Are Made Out of Sunshine" and "Molly Malone". Zag (The Ozark Mountain Boy) Pennel would do "Jambalaya". Benny Kissinger would do "Yodelin' Ranger" and Mary Klick would be making her first appearance since her return from a USO trip to Korea. Sonny Day and his accordion would be on the show as well as Lennie Jones and his guitar and Cousin Elmer with his harmonica.

The six programs that would be in the weekly rotation of "Saturday Night Country Style" would be:

  • The Old Dominion Barn Dance (WRVA - Richmond, Virginia)
  • The WWVA Wheeling Jamboree (WWVA - Wheeling, West Virginia)
  • The Louisiana Hayride (KWKH - Shreveport, Louisiana
  • The Tennessee Barn Dance (WNOX - Knoxville, Tennessee)
  • The Big "D" Jamboree (KRLD - Dallas, Texas)
  • The Old Kentucky Barn Dance (WHAS - Louisville, Kentucky

The show gained in popularity and CBS gave it even more exposure. In April 1953, the show would be featured on the CBS network twice a week (Tuesdays and Thursdays) at 3:45pm. The "live" network broadcast would be played later over WRVA at 5:30pm the same day.

WRVA Broadcast Schedule Nov 2 1925 WRVA Broadcast Schedule Nov 5 1925

The Old Dominion Barn Dance not only got recognition from being on the network, but also from several magazine articles. One of them, "Radio Album" gave them an award for "Outstanding Contribution to American Folk Music in Radio and Theater Entertainment". And on top of that, Governor William M. Tuck crowned Sunshine Sue "Queen of the Hillbillies" in 1949 and she had held it since then.

Last, but not least, each week, a half of the show was recorded on tape, then flown from Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts to Africa where it was then re-broadcast via the Armed Forces Radio Service network.

September 1954 - The Barn Dance Goes To Broadway

The local Richmond newspaper told readers of the upcoming events for the Old Dominion Barn Dance. That weekend, of September 10, 1954, the show was going to celebrate its Eightn Anniversary under the guidance and leadership of femcee Sunshine Sue. But on the following Monday, the premiere of "Hayride" was to occur on Broadway in New York City.

At that time, the WRVA Old Dominion Barn Dance was one of six shows alternating each week on the "Saturday Night Country Style" radio program heard coast-to-coast on the CBS network. The Richmond newspaper notes that in the decade prior to this, "...hillbilly music has come out of the hills to ramble around the big cities and kick up its heels on all musical best-seller lists...". It further noted that the trend was so big that the U. S. Congrees had designated May 26 as the annual National Hillbilly Music Day.

It was reported that the first night was sold out and there were solid ticket sales in the week following the opening.

The New York Times announced to its readers on September 12, 1954 that on September 13, 1954 at the 48th street theater, a "hillbilly show with a cast headed by Sunshine Sue" was to open. Curtain time was 8:00pm.

Hayride - NY Times Ad - Sep 1954 On September 13, a J. P. Shanley wrote of this new show in his "Hot Time Tonight For 48th Street" column. The show was called "Hayride"; he put it simply that ts premise was to be a hillbilly folk musical (he indicated that he would describe it in 'ordinary language' - showing once again the disdain urban reporters had for such shows. He indicated the show was sponsored by Barron Howard and Jack Stone. The cast would include 25 performers led by Sunshine Sue.

So, what price did the urban audience pay to see "Hayride"? The ad included here shows that prices were $2.95 and $1.85 per seat for matinee performances (at 2:40pm) on Wednesdays and Saturdays as well as evening performances Monday through Thursday. For Friday and Saturday evening performances at 8:40pm, prices were $4.05, $2.95 and $1.85.

The writer tried to inject humor into his article written for the New York City urban dwellers telling them that "pickin' and singin' is a 'term' for a musical performance. Then a 'shingle lifter' was a lively party.

The author notes that the "Hayride" would use material "...that originates in the Southern hills, the Western plains, bayous, plantations and crossroad stores."

On September 14, 1954, the New York Times reviewed opening night. The article lists the cast which included:

  • Sunshine Sue
  • Cousin Joe Maphis and Rose
  • Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs
  • Foggy Mountain boys (Paul Warren, Jake Tulloch, Curly Sechler)
  • Coon Creek Girls (Lily May, Rosie and Black-Eyed Susan)
  • Trail Blazers (Ray SMith, Roy HOrton, Johnny Newton)
  • Eddy (Texas) Smith
  • Quincy Snodgrass
  • Mary Klick
  • Zeb Robinson
  • Sonny Day
  • Fiddlin' Irving
  • Zag (The Ozark Mountain Boy)
  • Gene Jenkins
  • Jody Carver

The writer of the review kind of indicates a bias when we read "...The whoopin' and hollerin', however, were not for a masterwork of the drama by a newly discovered genius but rather for the pickin' and singin' of a hillbilly musical revue called "Hayride".

Then the reader is told that the performers on stage seemed to enjoy the renditions by their fellow performers to the extent as if it were the first time they had seen and heard them. The writer further comments, "Indeed, it is doubtful whether a band of more informal and earnest entertainers ever has graced a local professional stage."

But the writer then seems to get into more of an objective analysis of what was seen and heard. Each performer seemd to "...do just about anything with a mandolin, guitar, harmonica, bass fiddle, fiddle or accordion."

But the one that got his attention was Cousin Joe Maphis who was described as a "tall, pleasant-mannered fellow". Joe played a half dozen instruments but his trick fiddling was such that it could "...make a city slicker's eyes pop." The writer observed Joe played the fiddle (note the term fiddle and not violin) under his chin, under his arm, on his back, under his legs and just about any way a human could pull the bow.

Sunshine Sue did "some pleasant ballads". But Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs backed by the Foggy Mountain Boys "...couldn't do anything wrong as far as the balcony was concerned..."

The reviewer concluded his review with this comment: "Reckon those folks who like this sort of thing ought to get themselves over to the Forty-Eighth Street Theatre. This "city square" although not unreceptive to hillbilly music, found a full evening of it somewhat eneverating."

One of the national columnists, Dorothy Kilgallen, wrote a condescending sarcastic few paragraphs about the show before it even opened. In her syndicated column that appeared in newspapers across the country, one headline seen was "You'd Better Head for the Hill, Billy" in an Indianapolis, Indiana newspaper. She notes in her first paragraph:

"For New Yorkers who cannot abide corn except on the cob, the most frightening event of the teatrical season will occur September 13 when a divertissment called "Hayride" — described as the firt hillbilly show ever to open on Broadway — arrives from Richmond, Va., and settles into the 48th Street Theater."

"On opening night the playbill will strive to assist the undeducated by providing a glossary of hillbilly terms (Example: a chili dipper is a ukulele and a mandolin is a tater bug) and as if that were not enough to curl your toes the whole proceeding will be m.c.'d by a gal known as Sunshine Sue."

She went on to sarcastically note that the musicians played without musical score because they play their instruments by ear "...and couldn't read the music sheets if there were any." In another version of the column, a Dayton, Ohio newspaper she says, "It has not been announced, but presumably there will be a dramamine concession in the lobby." One supposes she was writing to her city slicker audience in that particular column.

Per the show's ad in the New York Times, there were shows Monday through Saturday in the evening at 8:40pm. Matinee shows were held at 2:40pm on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

The Playbill web site indicates the show opened September 13, 1954 and closed on October 2, 1954 after 24 performances. Perhaps the timing of the show was good. On August 23, 1955, the theater suffered damage when a 10,000 water tank fell through the roof. This was seen in a news photo for auction on eBay.

The New York Times reported in August 1955 that the wooden water thank fed the fire sprinkler system and stood atop a similar tank that provided the regular water for the theater. Both tanks were mounted on the roof over the stage. The orchestra pit and first seven rows of seats were destroyed and the roof had a 50 by 100 foot hole. The article noted that about 200 of the theater's 917 seats were destroyed. The theater had opened in 1912.

A week later, Sam Zolotow reported in the New York Times that due to the extent of the damage, the site was potentially going to be turned into a parking garage. The theater was under the control of the Joseph Leblang estate which was represented by three daughters. The sisters were said to have had a "theatrical heritage" and were not ready to part with the property. But the offers were perhaps too good to ignore. The insurance money would not have been enough to repair the theater and also increase seating capacity to improve bookings. But a theater contractor who was willing to help noted that there was not enough room to enable any proposed expansion for seating.

Zag Pennel garnered quite a bit of publicity from his Broadway appearance. A syndicated columnist named Inez Robb wrote a feature about him that was carried in many newspapers around the country. But what was interesting was the different column "headlines" that newspapers used to publish Ms. Robb's column. Some examples:

  • Zag, Hillbilly With A Song
    Detroit Free Press (Sep 24)
  • Ozark Mountain Boy is Broadway's Latest Idol
    Daily News (Lebanon, PA) (Sep 25)
  • Ozark Hillbilly LIghts Broadway Horizon
    Austin American-Statesman (Sep 24)
  • Broadway's New Idol
    Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, MS) (Sep 24)
  • Broadway's Hog-Wild Over Hillbilly Who's "Pure Pleasure" on Stage
    Miami News (Sep 24)
  • Alright, Let's Face It Zag's New Matinee Idol
    News-Journal (Mansfield, OH) Sep 26
  • New Broadway Idol Is Boy From Creek in Ozark Hills
    El Paso Herald-Post (Sep 25)
  • Zag, Ozark Mountain Boy, Current Flash On Broadway; But Can't Stay Up Late
    Honolulu Advertiser (Sep 27)

One cannot omit how this show was sold or presented to the audiences attending the musical. The Playbill for the show tries to define the type of music and its roots to the urban audience. On the one hand it says it is the first musical to bring "new folk music in the making and the old folk music which has stood the test of time."

From the Playbill for the Hayride, "The Genesis of the 'Country Style' Musical":

"The people of the mountains were more dependent on their own resources than those on the rivers and plains because of poorer communications. Due to this isolation, they preserved more of their forebears' (English) songs, and contributed more of their own. This, of course, is where the term "Hillbilly" enters into the picture.

The true hillbilly musician is an untrained entertainer, usually both an instrumentalist and a vocalist. As a rule, he writes his own songs about the things he experiences and the events he's heard about, or interprets the songs other hillbillies have composed. It is rare indded if he has any formal knowledge of music or verse form. He is, in every sense a 'primitive' ".

Sidebar: Abbie Neal and Her Ranch Girls

Abbie Neal and Her Ranch Girls - Jan 8 1955 But is the story of the run on Broadway over? In January 1955, it was announced that Abbie Neal and Her Ranch Girls were going to join the cast of the Old Dominion Barn Dance. Abbie's group had just returned from an overseas tour in Greenland. But the January article also told readers that Sunshine Sue had auditioned the group in August of 1954. She was so impressed, she signed them to appear in the "Hayride" musical on Broadway. It was stated that their popularity in that show prompted Sue to invite the group to join the WRVA cast as soon as their schedule allowed it.The Playbill listing of the cast does not mention Abbie Neal and her Ranch Girls at all. The review of the musical by the New York Times does not mention them. The local Richmond newspaper provided a story of the show opening, but was based on wire service reports and did not go into cast details. An October 1954 Billboard article mentions that her group had recently visit Wonderland Ranch in Ontario, Canada.

Not wanting to leave any stone unturned, further research revealed another newspaper article about Abbie Neal in this Broadway series. Harold V. Cohen wrote in his "The Drama Desk" column in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on September 27, 1954 that the group was to appear in the show starting September 27, 1954, a Monday. But due to a previous contractual obligation, they were flying back to Pittsburgh to appear at the Daughters of America banquet. Mr. Cohen stated that is the only way they would agree to appear in the Broadway production and still be able to fulfill their commitment. Based on research, the musical closed on October 2, 1954, likely meaning that Abbie Neal and Her Ranch Girls did not fly back to New York.

WRVA and Sunshine Sue went all out to promote the arrival of Abbie Neal and Her Ranch Girls. One local item of note related to the group was that one of the members, Mary Belle Darden, was from Portsmouth, Virginia. The weekly promotional ads were very different than other Barn Dance ads and featured Abbie's group as the headline act.

WRVA advertised a good-bye show for Abbie and her group for the February 26, 1955 show. But research shows the group was brought back by popular demand for the April 2, 1955 show.

As a point of observation, was this show ahead of its time, doing something different that other shows were not doing? First, take into account that the show was led by a female star for several years, going back to 1946, at least three years before Kitty Wells started recording. Then, in early 1955, the show doubles down and features another female headline act, an all-female band at that with Abbie Neal and Her Ranch Girls.

In 1955, history sees the show is on the down hill of its run with Sunshine Sue. The weekly ads continue, but one starts to see a shift. New acts are advertised in the ads throughout the year. The names seem more bluegrass oriented. Acts such as The Stanley Brothers (March), Carl Story and His Ramblin' Mountaineers (April), Charlie Bailey and his Happy Valley Boys and Girls (March), Hack Johnson (May), Ray Morris and the Morris Family (June), Mitchell Sisters (June), Buz Busby and his Bayou Boys (July), The Cavaliers Quartet (November), and Curley Howard and the Farmhands (November).

Some of the new acts that were showing up became popular enough to become seemingly permanent members of the cast. Mac Wiseman and his Country Boys and Don Reno and Red Smiley and the Tennessee Cutups were two such acts. In fact, Reno and Smiley would have another link to the show's history when they began another version of the show for WRVA in 1957. Janis Martin caused quite a stir and became a member of the cast. Porter Wagoner made a guest appearance on the show. Other Opry acts such as The Carlisles, Hawkshaw Hawkins, and Arlie Duff also appeared as guests.

Other acts that seem to have become permanent members of cast were Pete Pike, Jim Wilson,

The year of 1956 sees a return of Abbie Neal and her Ranch Girls for a few dates on the show. Acts such as Carl Butler are appearing. On June 30, 1956, Richmond music lovers had an interesting choice. Appearing at the Mosque at 5:00pm and 8:00pm was a future legend, Elvis Presley. At the WRVA Theater, the barn dance show was holding fort with shows at 7:30pm and 9:30pm. One notices the staggered show times. One also wonders, how many might have taken in both shows that day.

June 1957 - Sunshine Sue Era of Old Dominion Barn Dance Ends

On June 8, 1957, Sunshine Sue would make her last appearance on the show that she had headlined since September 14, 1946. Attendance had dwindled. Television was coming of age. The rock and roll era was taking hold. The last show was to include Jim Wilson, Janis Martin, Zag Pennell, Shirlee Hunter, Pete Pike and a group known as the Georgia Mountain Boys. The promotional ad for that last show was a far cry from the creative, artistic ads that the show was known for over the eleven year run.

WRVA Old Dominion Barn Dance Ad - June 1 1957 WRVA Old Dominion Barn Dance Ad - Last Show - June 8 1957

The new version of the Old Dominion Barn Dance was to begin the following weekend on June 15. The Richmond Times-Dispatch tried to drum up enthusiasm and even perhaps evoking that rural hillbilly characterization by stating "...An entirely new cast will do the singin' and pickin', the plunkin' and cavorting."

WRVA was bringing in Pee Wee King from Louisville and Little Eller Long ("...popular in the hillbilly comedy set...")as the headline acts. An old familiar face would be returning with the new cast, Red Murphy, who had spent a few years in Nashville on the Grand Ole Opry. From Detroit, Casey Clark would bring his band. Finally the Blue Grass Champs from Washington, DC would round out the cast.

WRVA Old Dominion Barn Dance Ad - June 15 1957 WRVA Old Dominion Barn Dance Ad - Last Show - June 22 1957

Burt Repine was now the manager of the WRVA Theater. The June 1957 article stated that unlike the past eleven years, each show was to feature a different headline act, brought in from around the country. As for the presence of local acts, "...performers who have found favor with local fans will be included in the lineup."

Apparently this new attempt did not go over well at the box office. One sees that a bit of the spirit of the show was missing from the promotional ads for the new version of an old familiar show. Without the audience connection to familiar faces each week, the show appeared to be just a package show of touring acts coming through town for Saturday night. There was no show on Saturday June 29 that we could find. But that did not mean this type of show would go away without future efforts to find the old or maybe a new magic.

October 1957 — New Dominion Barn Dance Begins

New Dominion Barn Dance - Oct 18 1957 A few months went by without any shows being promoted. On October 18, 1957, an ad for "Reno and Smiley's New Dominion Barn Dance" was seen, promoting a new version of the show with some familiar names from the old show. The promoter of the show it was later found to be Carlton Haney. It was going to be at the WRVA Theater, but only one show from 8:00pm to 10:30pm. On the bill of performers were Don Reno and Red Smiley and the Tennessee Cut-Ups, Pete Pike, Bill Haney and the Dixie Buddies, Ronnie Reno and an act named "Chicken Hot Rod". Ticket prices were simple: adults 95 cents, children 50 cents. It was advertised that it would be every Saturday night. The following week showed no ad, but the WRVA radio programming listing on October 26 does show a half-hour broadcast at 9:30pm for "Barn Dance".

The show did not run weekly ads during this time. Some of the other performers listed in other ads seen were Grandpa Jones and Ramona, Clyde Moody, the Blue Grass Champs.

Over the course of the year, Reno and Smiley left the show, but came back for its second anniversary in October 1959. Ads that appeared featured Carlton Haney's name in early August 1958. By then the cast had grown to 40 performers and the show would usually bring in Grand Ole Opry stars for guest appearances.

Some of the cast members in 1959 were Dewey Ritter, the Country Cavaliers, the Cripple Creek Boys, Gene Boggs, Chief Powhatan, Donna Gaye, Rusty (Koko the Hobo) Adams, the Trailblazers, Joe Stone and Bobby Adkins, and, the Mitchell Sisters.

In 1961, the WRVA Theater was reverting to its previous name as the Lyric Theater. The non-profit group, Old Lyric Theater Corporation, was going to operate the show. Burt Repine was said to stay on as manager of the theater. The theater was owned at that time by the Life Insurance Company of Virginia. The goal of the new corporation was to provide a venue for local groups to perform. But the group would also try to bring in touring companies with professional plays. The theater would also undergo refurbishing and redecorating.

It is not our intent to cover in too much more detail about this "New Dominion Barn Dance". This research effort was primarily focused on WRVA, its growth as a radio station, the use of "hillbilly music" in its programming and its early and continued efforts to develop a live 'barn dance' show.

The most successful of those attempts was when Sunshine Sue embarked on the show starting with the premier at the WRVA Theater on September 14, 1946 and its run through June 8, 1957.

Curtain Call

C. T. Lucy
C.T. Lucy was instrumental in obtaining the lease for the Lyric Theater in Richmond. The theater was renovated and renamed the WRVA Theater. This then became the home for the WRVA Old Dominion Barn Dance starting on September 14, 1946.
Barron Howard
Barron Howard worked with Jack Stone when WRVA took over the Lyric Theater and worked to book not only the WRVA Old Dominion Barn Dance program on Saturday nights, but other theater and stage attractions. Hit Broadway plays were brought to the theater.
John (Jack) Stone
As promotion manager for WRVA, he and Barron Howard worked to develop the business for the WRVA Theater when it opened with the WRVA Old Dominion Barn Dance show on September 14, 1946.
Burt Repine
Burt Repine was the Music Director at WRVA. In addition, he had his own orchestra over the years that performed in the Richmond area. He became the program manager of the Old Dominion Barn Dance. He was also the manager of Janis Martin, Shirlee Hunter and other artists. During the run of the New Dominion Barn Dance, Burt was the manager of the theater as he was for many years at the Lyric and WRVA Theaters.
Charles Scott Jarrett aka Pappy Ridgeway
Scott Jarrett was a reporter, announcer and said to manage one of the Old Dominion Barn Dance radio shows. He also was active locally and research has shown he produced stage presentations. He also played a character known as Pappy Ridgeway and was said to be quite the philospher. He had his own radio show in the early morning on WRVA.
Carlton Haney
Carlton Haney was said to be recruited in the fall of 1957 to start the New Dominion Barn Dance on WRVA along with (Don) Reno and (Red) Smiley. Carlton was their manager. He later took over the management of the show until 1964. On Labor Day weekend in 1965,he is credited with starting the Bluegrass Festival concept at Fincastle, Virginia. He was inducted into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame in 1998.



Barbara Allen



The Western-Aires



Salty Holmes



Slim Idaho



The Korn Krackers



Bill and Arline Wiltshire



Joe Maphis

 

Credits & Sources

  • The News Leader; November 1, 1925; Staunton, VA
  • The Bee; November 2, 1925; Danville, VA
  • The Bee; November 3, 1925; Danville, VA
  • The Bee; November 13, 1925; Danville, VA
  • The News Leader; November 15, 1925; Staunton, VA
  • Daily Press; November 29, 1925; Newport News, VA
  • The News Leader; December 30, 1925; Staunton, VA
  • The News Leader; February 20, 1926; Staunton, VA
  • The News Leader; July 18, 1926; Staunton, VA
  • Daily Press; August 12, 1926; Newport News, VA
  • The News Leader; August 17, 1926; Staunton, VA
  • WRVA Dialog; April 1940; Richmond, VA
  • The News Leader; June 24, 1927; Staunton, VA
  • The News Leader; August 10, 1927; Staunton, VA
  • The Bee; February 2, 1928; Danville, VA
  • The News Leader; August 10, 1927; Staunton, VA
  • The News Leader; February 18, 1928; Staunton, VA
  • The News Leader; April 28, 1929; Staunton, VA
  • The Bee; August 22, 1929; Danville, VA
  • The News Leader; October 23, 1929; Staunton, VA
  • The News Leader; October 29, 1929; Staunton, VA
  • The News Leader; November 13, 1929; Staunton, VA
  • The News Leader; December 13, 1929; Staunton, VA
  • The News Leader; February 7, 1930; Staunton, VA
  • The News Leader; May 3, 1930; Staunton, VA
  • The News Leader; November 25, 1931; Staunton, VA
  • The News Leader; December 12, 1931; Staunton, VA
  • The News Leader; April 1, 1932; Staunton, VA
  • Richmond Collegian; November 13, 1933; Richmond, VA
  • The News Leader; October 17, 1936; Staunton, VA
  • THe Bee; November 14, 1938; Danville, VA
  • Daily Press; April 6, 1939; Newport News, VA
  • Daily Press; March 16, 1939; Newport News, VA
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; November 8, 1939; Richmond, VA
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; November 16, 1939; Richmond, VA
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; November 18, 1939; Richmond, VA
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; November 23, 1939; Richmond, VA
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; December 2, 1939; Richmond, VA
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; February 5, 1940; Richmond, VA
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; Southside Supplement; February 17, 1940; Richmond, VA
  • WRVA Dialog; April 1940; WRVA; Richmond, VA
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; February 20, 1941; Richmond, VA
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; February 27, 1941; Richmond, VA
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; March 1, 1941; Richmond, VA
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; March 8, 1941; Richmond, VA
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; June 14, 1941; Richmond, VA
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; December 6, 1941; Richmond, VA
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; December 13, 1941; Richmond, VA
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; December 20, 1941; Richmond, VA
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; January 3, 1942; Richmond, VA
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; April 11, 1942; Richmond, VA
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; August 29, 1942; Richmond, VA
  • Cincinati Enquirer; August 29, 1942; Cincinnati, OH
  • Cincinnati Enquirer; December 30, 1942; Cincinnati, OH
  • Billboard; 1944 Yearbook; page 96; Billboard; Cincinnati, OH
  • Cincinati Enquirer; August 29, 1942; Cincinnati, OH
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; August 12, 1943; Richmond, VA
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; November 20, 1944; Richmond, VA
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; November 21, 1944; Richmond, VA
  • WLS Family Album 1944; Page 20; Prairie Farmer; Chicago, IL
  • Cowboy Music World; March-April 1945; Frank Karpinski; Long Island, NY
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; March 22, 1945; Richmond, VA
  • National Hillbilly News; August 1945; Poster Show Print Company; Huntington, WV
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; October 20, 1945; Richmond, VA
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; October 29, 1945; Richmond, VA
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; March 25, 1946; Richmond, VA
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; June 15, 1946; Richmond, VA
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; June 26, 1946; Richmond, VA
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; September 8, 1946; Richmond, VA
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; September 12, 1946; Richmond, VA
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; September 14, 1946; Richmond, VA
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; September 15, 1946; Richmond, VA
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; September 29, 1946; Richmond, VA
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; October 12, 1946; Richmond, VA
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; December 12, 1946; Richmond, VA
  • Moountain Broadcast and Prairie Recorder; December 1946; Mountain Broadcast Pub. Co., Inc.; New York, NY
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; August 2, 1947; Richmond, VA
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; August 8, 1947; Richmond, VA
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; November 11, 1950; Richmond, VA
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; November 7, 1952; Richmond, VA
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; March 29, 1953; Richmond, VA
  • The Journal Herald; "Voice of Broadway - by Dorothy Kilgallen"; August 28, 1954; Dayton, OH
  • The Indianapolis News; "You'd Better Head for the Hill, Billy" - by Dorothy Kilgallen"; August 30, 1954; Indianapolis, IN
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; September 10, 1954; "Old Dominion Barn Dance to Make Broadway Debut"; Richmond, VA
  • New York Times; September 12, 1954
  • Playbill; September 13, 1954; "Hayride"; New York, NY
  • New York Times; September 13, 1954; "Hot Time Tonight for 48th Street"; J. P. Shanley; pg 19; New York, NY
  • New York Times; September 14, 1954; Ad; New York, NY
  • New York Times; September 14, 1954; 'Hayride' Has Premiere at the 48th Street; New York, NY
  • Pittsburg Post-Gazette; September 27, 1954; 'The Drama Desk'; Pittsburgh, PA
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; January 5, 1955; "Abbie Neal's Ranch Girls To Join Barn Dance Cast"; Richmond, VA
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; January 8, 1955; Richmond, VA
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; June 30, 1956; Richmond, VA
  • Billboard; November 10, 1956; Billboard; Cincinnati, OH
  • New York Times; August 24, 1955; "Water Tank Falls Through Roof of 48th Str. Theatre and into Empty Seats"; New York, NY
  • New York Times; August 31, 1955; "48th Str. Theatre Facing Last Act - by Sam Zolotow"; New York, NY
  • Country Song Roundup; No. 35; November 1954; American Folk Publications; Derby, CT
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; June 1, 1957; Richmond, VA
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; June 8, 1957; Richmond, VA
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; June 15, 1957; Richmond, VA
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; June 22, 1957; Richmond, VA
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; October 9, 1959; Richmond, VA
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; November 4, 1961; Richmond, VA
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; November 23, 1963; Richmond, VA
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch; May 26, 1974; "Atkins New Book Has Local Overtones" by Norman Rowe; Richmond, VA
  • The Old-Time Herald; "The Varied Musical Career of Slim Bryant—93 Years Young"; John Lilly; Fall 2002; Copy courtesy of Phil Collins
  • Letter to Phil Collins from Hoyt Bryant; October 7, 2002; Copy courtesy of Phil Collins
  • The “Voice of Virginia”: WRVA and Conversations of a Modern South; Caroline C. Morris; Dissertation; William and Mary University; Williamsburg, VA


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