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Brenda Holly
Born:  November 7, 1947
Died:  April 22, 2021


About The Artist

In November 1947, Brenda Joyce Hollingsworth first saw the light of the world in Evansville, IN. She took on the stage name of "Brenda Holly;" a name perhaps easier to remember and promote. Her parents were Leo and Juanita (Davis) Hollingsworth. The 1950 US Census shows that her father was a truck driver while mom was in the role of housewife. She had an older sister (Carol) and brother (Charles).

She began appearing in local amateur contests. One was held as part of the West Side Fall Festival in Evansville, IN. Eight acts appeared each night, Monday through Thursday with the winners competing in the finals on Friday night. Gift certificates were awarded to all contestants. First place winner was to get a $50 prize and trophy. $25 was to be given to each runners-up in the three divisions — pre-schoolers, elementary pupils and high-school students. Then 10-year old Brenda was to appear first on Monday night's program. Brenda Hollingsworth (as she was known then) tied for first accompanying herself on guitar with Ricky Ray Smith in the Junior category.

One of the first mentions of her as a performer was her appearance with the "Western Jamboree" one night on a local March of Dimes telethon. She appeared with Ray Guyce and the Lonesome Valley Boys, Herbie Duncan and Hank Haskins. The 1959 news article noted her name as Brenda Holly.

When Brenda was all of 11 years old, a fifth grader in Culver School, she signed a recording contract with the Brite Star Recording Company. On her first record for the label, she was backed by Ray Guyce and the Lonesome Valley Boys. At the time, she was appearing on a show named "Western Jamboree" and had appeared in the Tri-State area. She had appeared with such stars as Porter Wagoner, Cowboy Copas and Jack Bradshaw. She was touted then as "Indiana's Country Sweetheart."

Evansville held a series of weekly public dances at Burdette Park from 9pm to midnight. "Little Brenda Holly," then 11 years old was to appear each Tuesday night along with the Western Jamboree group - a four-piece string band.

In late June 1959, the Brenda Holly-Ray Guyce Fan Club (about 60 people attended) held their picnic in Burdette Park. After the lunch, Brenda sang with the Ray Guyce and the Lonesome Valley Boys as part of the entertainment.

In July of 1959, she appeared with the Ozark Ramblers on a program that was sponsored by the Dora High School PTA at the school gymnasium.

Readers learned that she had recorded two tunes written by Larry Shipley of Dora, MO for Brite Star Records — "Yankee Can't Go Home" and "A Wedding Band, A Broken Heart." Shipley was 19 years old at the time, a graduate of Dora High School. Larry was previously a member of the Ozark Ramblers string band that performed in the Dora area for the previous three years.

Promo Ad - VFW - Mount Carmel, IL - Little Jo and Ray Guyce - The Lonesome Valley Boys - Little Brenda Holly - Jack Bradshaw - February 1959
Promo Ad - VFW - Mount Carmel, IL - Little Jo and Ray Guyce - The Lonesome Valley Boys - Little Brenda Holly - Jack Bradshaw - February 1959
Promo Ad - Dora High School - Ozark Ramblers - Dora, MO - Brenda Holly - July 1959

Bill Sachs told readers of The Billboard in December 1960 about a new record label - Eunice Records. It was located in the Grein Building in Evansville, IN. A single by Brenda was one of the three initial releases - "My Palomino and Me" b/w "First Love, First Broken Heart."

Photo Cash Box 1959 - Brenda Holly While she enjoyed fame as a child celebrity, her adult life became a string of bad luck once she left the stage. Jari Jackson of the Evansville Courier and Press wrote an article about Brenda and her two daughters, Tammy and Misty in 1987.

Ms. Jackson wrote that Brenda was forced by her health and other circumstances to depend on food stamps and welfare checks. At the time the 1987 article was written, she was to appear in Vanderburgh Superior Court before Judge Robert Lensing to have her former husband, Robert Meredith, declared dead to allow her daughters to get SOcial Security benefits. She quoted Brenda, "It breaks my heart to have to ask to have him declared dead. I still ached and hurt. I'm not worried about me, but these girls deserve something better."

She had divorced Robert in 1977. (Note: Research did not find when they were married.)

Ms. Jackson reported that witnesses had testified Mr. Meredith was an alcoholic and very ill before he disappeared around 1979-1980. Brenda felt he had died and was buried in Evansville or Florida. She made a trip to the Tampa area with the help of James D. Lawson, an elder at the West Side Christian Church in Evansville. She thought he may have tried to find work as a bartender. But the trip was fruitless. She also contacted the Veterans Administration Hospitals where he could have gotten help as an ex-Marine. His father wrote that he had not had any contact with his son since 1978 but had no proof he was dead. He didn't want to be the one "to put the nail in his coffin."

After they divorced in 1977, he still came around each week to see the children. And continued to do so even after marrying another Evansville woman. Brenda said, "He really did love us. But he was real thin and sick and you could see the misery in his face."

She recalled her memories as a performer for Ms. Jackson - appearing on stage with the likes of Porter Wagoner, Johnny Cash and Ernest Tubb. She was a frequent vocalist with Little Jo and the Lonesome Valley Boys in Evansville.

The strings on her guitar were broken, but said she would not hesitate to get on stage again if it would help her daughters. Brenda did do a brief stint as a jockey and exercise girl when she tried a second career in the early 1960's. But when she was galloping a horse at a Virginia race track, she fell and broke her left wrist, which never healed properly. She came home to Evansville to allow the wrist to heal and tried to exercise horses when she got the chance. It was then she met Meredith, and they began dating and later became her second husband.

Photo Country Music Who's Who 1960 - Brenda Holly But her marriage had its own twists of fate. A quarrel with Meredith ended shockingly - she pulled out a gun and when Meredith tried to disarm her, the .22 caliber weapon fired as they scuffled and the bullet hit her head. While the bullet was removed, it left a scar to remind her of that instance. She also "...suffered a cerebral hemorrhage while pregnant and has had to deal with epileptic attacks since then."

That was her story up to the time when she hoped the court would declare Meredith dead and enable the social security benefits to help her daughters.

Reporter Mark Wilson did a follow-up to try and unravel the mystery of Meredith's whereabouts. Meredith's family had contacted Evansville Police Department detective Guy Minnis who agreed to look at the case in 2007. He felt that Meredith did not just take off and assume another ID. He was last seen on September 12, 1979. His wife at the time (not named) asked him to leave after a fight and never saw him again. She did not file a missing persons report. Police were unaware of his disappearance until his sister inquired about him in 1992. Mr. Minnis entered the DNA from Meredith's two daughters by Brenda in hopes they may someday provide a match if his remains were found.

Brenda's mom passed away in February 1975; she was buried in Mount Carmel, IL where her parents were interred. Her father passed on in August 1976 and is buried in Evansville, IN.

Brenda's story ends when her death was listed as April 22, 2021 from cancer in a "On The Record" page of births and deaths filed in the Evansville Courier and Press.

Little Brenda Holly
Record Reviews From The Billboard and The Cash Box
Date Label Rec No. Review
6/6/1959 (CB) Brite Star 763 Lonesome Music On her initial deck for the label, the 11 year old songstress is heard wailing a moderate paced, sentimental blues tune. (Rating: B)

I Don't Know
Brenda continues her soft tones on another middle beat, mournful tale. Charming coupler. (Rating: B)
2/8/1960 (BB) Brite Star 201 A Wedding Band, A Broken Heart
(Rating: One Star)

Yankee Can't Go Home
(Rating: One Star)

Credits & Sources

  • Top Amateurs Entered In West Side Festival; October 1, 1958; Evansville Courier and Press; Evansville, IN
  • 32 Amateur Acts Are Picked For Finals; October 5, 1958; Evansville Courier and Press; Evansville, IN
  • Opening Night Pulls Crowds To Festival; October 7, 1958; Evansville Courier and Press; Evansville, IN
  • Burdette Dance Set Tonight; June 16, 1959; Evansville Courier and Press; Evansville, IN
  • MOD (March of Dimes) Telethon Promises To Be Best Ever; January 29, 1959; Princeton Daily Clarion; Princeton, IN
  • Country Roundup; March 7, 1959; The Cash Box; New York, NY
  • Brenda Holly, 11, Signs Recording Contract; April 21, 1959; Evansville Press; Evansville, IN
  • Parties Honor Visitors; June 30, 1959; Evansville Press; Evansville, IN
  • 'Safe and Sane' Fourth Of July; Bob Hauton; July 5, 1959; Evansville Press; Evansville, IN
  • To Perform At Dora; July 16, 1959; West Plains Daily Quill; West Plains, MO
  • Larry Shipley Writes 2 Songs For Publication; December 17, 1959; The Sedalia Democrat; Sedalia, MO
  • Engaged - Beulah Moss; March 14, 1960; West Plains Daily Quill; West Plains, MO
  • Folk Talent and Tunes; Bill Sachs; December 12, 1960; The Billboard; New York, NY
  • Evansville Man Left Home in 1979 And Disappeared, Case Still Cold; Mark Wilson; March 19, 2019; Evansville Courier and Press; Evansville, IN
  • Life Hasn't Been Kind To Ex-Child Star; Jari Jackson; September 16, 1987; Evansville Courier and Press; Evansville, IN
  • Evansville Man's Disappearance in '79 A Mystery; Mark Wilson; March 31, 2019; Evansville Courier and Press; Evansville, IN
  • On The Record - Deaths Filed - April 16-22; May 16, 2021; Evansville Courier and Press; Evansville, IN

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Recordings (78rpm/45rpm)

 
Brite Star
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  45-763 A Lonesome Music (w/Ray Guyce And His Lonesome Valley Boys)
  45-763 B I Don't Know (w/Ray Guyce And His Lonesome Valley Boys)
  47-765 A Yankee Can't Go Home (w/Ray Guyce And His Lonesome Valley Boys)
  47-765 B A Wedding Band And A Broken Heart (w/Ray Guyce And His Lonesome Valley Boys)
 
Eunice Records
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  45-1002 A First Love, First Broken Heart (w/Darwin Nelson and the Blaze-Makers)
  45-1002 B My Palomino And Me (w/Darwin Nelson and the Blaze-Makers)
  45-1009 A Dear Diary (w/Darwin Nelson and the Blaze-Makers)
  45-1009 B Crazy Little Heart (w/Darwin Nelson and the Blaze-Makers)


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