About The Artist
Billy Folger (born Cecil Smith) became a country star in an atypical locale, to-wit Minnesota, where he was a long-time favorite on the "Sunset Valley Barn Dance" over KSTP in St. Paul. Ironically, he preferred working in northern states although he was a native of Mississippi who grew up in Louisiana.
His tenure in St. Paul spanned three eras: 1942-44, 1946-50, and 1955-58. Then he left Minnesota and returned to Louisiana and died there just prior to his 72nd birthday.
Born in Topesaw, Mississippi, Cecil Smith moved with his family to Winnsboro, Louisiana at the age of twelve and lived there until he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933. When he finished his stay there he and a friend named Jack Holbrook decided they wanted to work in radio, Jack as an announcer and newscaster and Cecil as an entertainer. After being rejected at WCFL Chicago, they did better at WWAE in nearby Hammond where Cecil took the radio name "Louisiana's Boyfriend." For a time his 15 minute daily program was even heard on the ABC network.
Then in mid-1938, Holbrook wanted to take a job near his hometown at a brand new station in Mankato. Both he and Cecil remained there until March 1942 when Jack went to WGN back in Chicago and his singing buddy decided to try out for the biggest country show in that region, the Sunset Valley Barn Dance at KSTP in St. Paul. This popular program had been founded in 1940 by David Stone who had once been an announcer at WSM and the Grand Ole Opry. This time, Cecil took another stage name, Billy Folger.
His years at the Barn Dance endured two interruptions: the first for World War II service, the second when he battled a nervous condition. Returning in February 1955, he remained until April 1958 when he got out of music for good, saying he'd "seen too many musicians end up in the gutter" and wanted to avoid becoming one. During his years in St. Paul, he won acclaim as a songwriter including ones about states in his listening area such as Minnesota and Wisconsin. However, his best known song "Rock My Cradle Once Again" was about a dying soldier. It was recorded by Johnny Bond and even by Tex Morton in Australia. Folger also composed songs for the several editions of the KSTP Sunset Valley Barn Dance Song Books that were published by M. M. Cole of Chicago. It was said that he could write a song in a half-hour.
Folger's few recordings were on a small label called FM and apparently dated from the late 1940's. They consisted of a combination of his originals and well known numbers from the country field. After leaving entertainment in 1958 he operated a small farm, engineered at a small radio station, and operated nursing homes. Material for this sketch has been condensed from an article in W. K. McNeil's journal Old Time Country (Winter 1993-1994) probably written by McNeil himself.
Credits & Sources
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