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Mary Ann Estes
Born:  November 10, 1919
Died:  January 8, 2003
WLS National Barn Dance
WBAL Baltimore, MD
WCKY Cincinnati, OH
WIBW Topeka, KS
WLS Chicago, IL
WLW Cincinnati, OH
WMMN Fairmont, WV
WSAI Cincinnati, OH
WSVA Harrisonburg, VA
WWVA Wheeling, WV
WXEL Waterloo, IA

About The Artist

Mary Ann Vasas was born in Crescent, Belmont County, Ohio, the daughter of Hungarian-American parents, Louis (B: April 21, 1899 — D: July 30, 1987) and Mary (B: January 3, 1904 — D: August 26, 1987) (Kovach) Vasas.

Mary Ann began her singing career as Mary Ann Vasas. Her first effort was part of Floyd Houser's Rhythm Rangers group being heard over the WWVA Jamboree in 1937 at the age of 18. A souvenir program from the Second Annual Good Will Tour sponsored by WWVA lists her as Mary Ann Vasas, as part of a listing of artists who had appeared on the Jamboree in its first seven years. Radio Varieties indicated she enjoyed performing in front of audiences, playing the guitar and singing. That led to her being invited to be a part of a minstrel show in Wheeling, West Virginia. The Rhythm Rangers were also a part of that show and felt Mary Ann might be a good addition to the quartet, so they had her audition. She was at WWVA for about three years, with some time off while she worked at other radio stations.

In the fall of 1938, she was working with Hugh Cross. In August 1938, she was known as "Mary Ann" and a featured yodeler with Hugh Cross and his Radio Pals on their 2:15 pm program "Hot Stove Musicale" heard over WSAI. She was also part of the "Top o' The Morning" program heard over WLW. A newspaper photo in October 1938 indicated she was still living in Bannick, Ohio, presumably with her parents. She was appearing on WCKY and WLW. During that time she was known for her contributions as a singer and yodeler and heard on the "Early Birds" and "Renfro Roundup" programs.

Promo Ad - Floyd Houser - Grandpa Jones - Mary Ann Vasas - Monongahela, PA - 1937 Promo Ad - Mary Ann Vasas - Cincinnati, OH - 1938

Promo Pic - Mary Ann Estes - WMMN - March 1946 Promo Pic - Mary Ann Estes - Radio Varieties - December 1940

Portrait - WLS Family Album - Mary Ann Estes - 1941 Later in her professional life she was known as Mary Ann Estes (from her first husband). While no records of that marriage could be found, it must have been between late 1938 and 1939. She married Raymond George (Gordon?) Estes and they a son George Raymond Estes (his father's name was on the wedding registration), born on August 15, 1939, but the marriage did not last.

In the spring of 1940, Lucille Ritz was reporting that Mary Ann "with her high yodels and sweet personality" had joined the Hickory Nuts group at WMMN in Fairmont.

Radio Varieties told readers she joined the WLS staff in September 1940, as Mary Ann Estes, replacing Patsy Montana who had hitherto been their girl vocalist. She worked at the National Barn Dance and on daily programs such as Smile-A-While that aired from am to am in the mornings and with the Prairie Ramblers at 6:30 am on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. If that wasn't enough, she was also on the Merry-Go-Round show at 2:00 pm on Saturdays. When she got to WLS, it felt familiar to her. She was from Fairmont West Virginia, where she had worked with Joe Rockhold, Smiley Sutter and Jimmie James.

Radio Varieties offered some personal insights as to Mary Ann's efforts in the kitchen. It seems she had a fondness for pickels and home made bread that fans would give to her. But her reputation may have spread a bit as she was known for her "...periodic feats that included Hungarian goulash." Her beef stew was also well known. While she down played her kitchen skills, she added that her favorite dish was pork chops - fried pork chops. She said, "I like the smell; they smell so good when they're frying that it's just like eating pork chops for half an hour at a time."

Within a year, Mary Ann went to Baltimore, Maryland where she worked with Happy Johnny, and then to WSVA in Harrisonburg, Virginia and WMMN Fairmont West Virginia where she first worked with Buddy Starcher's All-Star Roundup. Buddy himself told readers in his column that she had joined his group in early 1945. The two had met earlier at a show in Farmington, West Virginia, but this was their first effort in the same group.

Moving to KXEL in Waterloo, Iowa, their band was decimated by the World War II draft. Then Buddy moved to KMA Shenandoah Iowa and Mary Ann to WIBW in Topeka, Kansas.

With the war winding down, Mary Ann returned to WSVA Harrisonburg where she again found herself working with Starcher. Going to Fairmont again, he reformed his All Star Roundup which by now also included the Franklin Brothers, Jackie Osborne, and Paul Buskirk. By that time, Mary Ann and Buddy had become romantically involved and on June 3, 1946 the pair married. Their union endured for 55 years, a remarkable feat considering that Buddy was already forty.

Promo Ad - Buddy Starcher and his All-Star Round-Up; Mary Ann (Estes) Starcher; Meyersdale, PA - October 1946 Promo Ad - Hayes Maple Grove - Dawson, PA - Buddy Starcher and his All Star Round-Up; Red Belcher; Franklin Bros; Mary Ann (Estes) Starcher - June 1946

From there on, the Starchers were musically linked although Mary Ann was not necessarily active in their travels to various stations where Buddy played. By the time they were back doing radio and TV in Harrisonburg in the later 1950's, she was part of the show again. Buddy and Mary Ann began recording for Starday in this period, and while Buddy did numerous solo numbers, they also did a duet extended-play effort (SEP 178). She was a key figure on the popular Buddy Starcher Show on WCHS-TV in Charleston, West Virginia which ran for six years from 1960.

After Buddy had his major hit with the recitation "History Repeats Itself" in 1966, the pair went to Nashville where his new-found fame proved temporary. He went into radio station management until he retired at the age of seventy and the couple moved to Craigsville, West Virginia.

They played an occasional show for reunions thereafter where Buddy had attained legendary status in his home state. As the pair became increasingly elderly, they moved to Harrisonburg where they had better access to medical care. It was also where Mary Ann's son George resided. Buddy expired at age 95, and Mary Ann lived on until January 8, 2003. Her only child George died in 2016.

Credits & Sources

  • Hillbilly-Music.com would like to express its thanks to Ivan M. Tribe, author of Mountaineer Jamboree — Country Music in West Virginia and other books that can be found on Amazon.com and numerous articles in other publications for providing us with information about this artist.
  • Sings With Hugh Cross; October 2, 1938; The Cincinnati Enquirer; Cincinnati, OH
  • Radio Artist Is Yodeler; August 28, 1938; The Cincinnati Enquirer; Cincinnati, OH
  • Meet Mary Ann; December 1940; Radio Varieties; F. L. Rosenthal, Publisher; Chicago, IL
  • Friends of the Air-Waves; Lucille Ritz; Song Exchange News; Vol. 2 No. 3; Spring 1940; Arlie Kinkade - Editor; Graysville, OH
  • Here and There; Buddy Starcher; March 1945; Mountain Broadcast and Prairie Recorder; New York, NY
  • Radio Varieties; December 1940; F. L. Rosenthal Publisher; 1056 West Van Buren Street; Chicago, Illinois

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