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Karen Wheeler
Born:  March 12, 1947
Renfro Valley Barn Dance
WWVA Original Jamboree

About The Artist

Promo Ad - Onie Wheeler and Karen Wheeler - Oak Grove Inn - Sikeston MO - July 1961 Karen Wheeler, the daughter of country artist Onie Wheeler, grew up and became part of the country music scene from childhood. While the high level stardom the Wheelers sought never happened, they did both make notable marks on the industry. Karen Deen Wheeler was born in Sikeston, Missouri and by the late 1960's was beginning to attract notice as one of the increasing number of girl singers on the country scene.

Her father was recording for K-Ark; Karen did also, having her first of three releases at about thirteen, a number titled "Wait Till I'm Sixteen." In addition to solo work, she made semi-regular appearances on the Renfro Valley Barn Dance and Jamboree, USA.

In 1962, she did one side of an Epic single with Onie doing the other side. Karen also worked some as part of The Hardin Trio between 1968 and 1970. Billboard reported in October 1968 that the "new" Harden Trio consisted of Bobby Harden, Karen Wheeler and Shirley Michaels. The group would not sign with the Columbia label. The original Harden Trio had become the Harden Sisters, Arlene and Robbie, and stayed with Columbia. In 1969, she recorded a duet with Bobby Harden on Starday.

Among other activities, Karen worked as an opening act for Conway Twitty off and on for a dozen years. In fact, Bill Williams reported in Billboard in 1973 that the Conway and Karen "...team up well together." She guested several times on the Grand Ole Opry, appeared on package shows, and entertained troops in Viet Nam and Thailand with a Roy Acuff entourage.

Promo Ad - Bootheel Jamboree - Karen Wheeler - Sikeston MO - November 1974 Promo Ad - Conway Twitty with Cal Smith and Karen Wheeler - Des Moines, IA - May 1975

In the summer of 1970, it was reported that Karen and Sonny Throckmorton had signed with Hilltop Records. She did four sides for the label.

Promo Photo - Karen Wheeler Her Chart single "The First Time for Us" entered the Billboard listings in 1972. It probably led to what appeared to be a big break when she signed with RCA Victor in 1973. Billboard indicated that she had been contemplating changing labels around that time and reported that she had bought out her contract and then moved to the RCA label. Her first session was produced by Jerry Bradley. Her first single "Born to Love and Satisfy" spent twelve weeks on the charts in 1974, peaking at No, 31.

On March 10, 1973, she was on a show of the revived "Old Dominion Barn Dance" at the Fair Grounds in Richmond, VA. Conway Twitty, Anthony Armstrong JOnes and Karen were the featured acts that night. The show drew an audience of around 5,000 with reportedly an additional 3,000 turned away. The audience that got in was "vacuum packed" for the show. But that success did not last as the attendance the following week dropped to around 900. The show had to undergo some changes or was competing with other entertainment in the city.

Sadly, the next release "What Can I Do (to Make You Happy)" only made No. 97 and the next release didn't chart at all. Neither did a later single on Capitol.

Promo Ad - Karen Wheeler and Onie Wheeler - Epic Records - Billboard - November 1962 Promo Ad - Karen Wheeler and Jerry Lane - West Room - Bloomington IL - January 1967

Meanwhile, while opening for Conway Twitty, Karen developed what would be her signature song although she did not record it until the 1990's. At her father's urging, she worked up a rousing version of the old Jimmie Rodgers classic "Muleskinner Blues" which had been successfully revived by Dolly Parton in 1970. Although Karen's version did not differ significantly from Parton's except for her own sound-effects, she continued doing it after Dolly had stopped singing it. It continued to be a part of her act and was an arrangement to remember!

Karen was part of a contingent of country music artists on one of the first "Country Music Cruises" put together by the Carnivale Cruise Lines with the help of Mission Broadcasting Co. stations and WWOK in Miami, FL. Seven cruise ships reportedly left Miami on the weekend of September 5, 1976, the T.S.S. Mardi Gras was the only one that left port with more than its capacity. This first ever Country Music cruise included in addition to Karen, Hank Williams Jr., Nat Stuckey, Billie Jo Spears, Merle Kilgore, Nate Harve, Don Gerald and Jenny Lee and their Sun Country band. The group played to an audience of 400 each night of the seven day cruise of the Caribbean to Nassau, San Juan and St. Thomas.

Book Cover: My Father's Daughter by Karen Wheeler - 2018 Moving into the 1980's, Karen suffered another career and health setback when she was diagnosed with cancer. This took a four-year bite out of her musical work, but by 1990 she got a clean bill of health.

With the support of husband Glen Shoffner, she recorded three cassettes on the Fox Fire label: one country which contained "Muleskinner Blues," one sacred which included her dad's numbers "Mother Prays Loud in Her Sleep" and "I Saw [Dad] with God Last Night," and one a Christmas tape, all released in 1992. During that and the next decade she recorded more songs and even some comedy on Foxfire.

In addition to appearing on many shows in the Nashville area, she often toured extensively in Florida and Texas until 2010 when her husband Glen Shoffner broke both legs in a work-related accident.

Since about 2010 Karen has confined her musical activities to the Nashville area. While her cancer has not returned, she has suffered some strokes which impacted her speech and singing. As of November 2017 when her heavily illustrated autobiography My Father's Daughter was published, Karen's full recovery was near.

Over the years, Karen had one child, was stepmother to Glen's three children, and adopted three more, making a total of seven.

Through various ups and downs, she credits her Christian faith with providing her with the strength to survive. She closed her life story with this sentence,

"I'm very thankful to the Lord up above that I'm alive and I don't regret anything even though I didn't become a "Star!"

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.
  • Country Music Cruises Latest Click In Salty Sea Air; Sally Hinkle; October 23, 1976; The Billboard; Cincinnati, OH
  • Nashville Scene; October 19, 1968; The Billboard; Cincinnati, OH
  • Nashville Scene; October 25, 1969; The Billboard; Cincinnati, OH
  • Signings; July 4, 1970; The Billboard; Cincinnati, OH
  • Revived 'Old Dominion' Show Suffers Relapse; Due Changes; April 7, 1973; The Billboard; Cincinnati, OH
  • Nashville Scene; Bill Williams; April 7, 1973; The Billboard; Cincinnati, OH
  • Nashville Scene; Bill Williams; September 15, 1973; The Billboard; Cincinnati, OH
  • Nashville Scene; Bill Williams; November 24, 1973; The Billboard; Cincinnati, OH

Related Web Links

Karen Wheeler

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Recordings (78rpm/45rpm)

Boone Record Co.
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  1074 A Best Of Two Worlds
  1074 B I've Heard A Big Wind Blow Before
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  4697 A Ain't No Mountain High Enough
  4697 B How Will I Get Over You
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  5166 A The First Time For Us
  5166 B A Special Day
  5179 A Life Is Life and Life's Like That
  5179 B Keeper Of The Key
  5185 A I Miss You Already
  5185 B One Hurt At A Time
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  9540 A What About Tomorrow
  9540 B Sandyland Farmer (by Onie Wheeler)
Fox Fire Records
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  117 A I'm A Soft Touch For You
  117 B I'm A Soft Touch For You
  138 A To Close To Goodbye
  138 B You've Got All I Am
GBS Records
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  718 A Summer Lullaby (w/Gil Veda Orchestra)
  718 B Mosquito Joe
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  3027 A Listen Spot
  3027 B Deception
  3031 A Mama's Kitchen
  3031 B Stand By Your Man
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  616 A Wait Til I'm Sixteen
  616 B Going To Hold My Baby
  641 A The Bad With The Good
  641 B I've Been There
  654 A More Of Mr. Peters
  654 B I've Been There
RCA Victor
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  APBO-0223 A Born To Love And Satisfy
  APBO-0223 B A Woman In Love
  PB-10034 A What Can I Do To Make You Happy
  PB-10034 B You're Smothering Me
  PB-10196 A I'm Getting Tired Of Holding Hands
  PB-10196 B A Woman In Love
  PB-10611 A In The Middle Of The Night
  PB-10611 B Love Made
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  45-879 A We Got Each Other (w/Bobby Harden)
  45-879 B The Love For A Child (w/Bobby Harden)

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