About The Artist
Webmaster note: The following biography was based on an article originally written by Miss Regina Wells who wrote it as a paper for a class at the University of Kentucky at Campbellsville. Her material was based on interviews by Miss Wells with Gordon Sizemore at Salvisa, Kentucky, in 1969. Further research in 2022 using sources available on the internet, the story was updated and augmented incluidng correcting historical timelines mentioned in her article.
Gordon Sizemore was born September 6, 1909, at Endee, Kentucky in Owsley County. His parents both taught school and worked on their farm which was made up of approximately 500 acres in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky.
Because his parents both taught school, they insisted that Gordon go to school, and at the age of 16 he graduated from the local high school at Scoville, Kentucky. Gordon's mother taught music in school for 18 years; thus Gordon received his basic music lessons at home. Gordon's mother and father both sang in a local quartet, and they won many of the music contests which were held throughout the Eastern Kentucky mountains.
At a very early age Gordon developed a love for the country and gospel songs which were sung regularly in his part of the mountains of Kentucky. Gordon spent many hours singing all night long with his neighbors and friends who would visit one another frequently.
At the age of nine, Gordon got his first stringed instrument, a home-made five-string banjo. A neighbor killed a ground-hog and tanned the hide to make the head for the instrument. With instructions from another neighbor, it was but a short time until Gordon was able to play several of the old mountain songs on his home-made five-string. He played this instrument for some time before he traded it for a factory manufactured banjo.
He began singing some of the folk tunes and decided that he preferred guitar accompaniment for his vocal work. Gordon's parents bought his first guitar for $12.95, and within a few months he learned several chords and was being invited to sing at the local gatherings along with friends who accompanied him with fiddles, banjos, mandolins and other instruments.
During his four years at high school, Gordon and his musical friends formed a band and performed for many of the school programs and they also worked up a minstrel show to do at the other schools throughout the area.
In 1926, at the request of his parents, Gordon enrolled at Eastern Kentucky State College in Richmond, Kentucky. He attended the school for three years until his father started prohibition work with the government and the family moved to Lexington, Kentucky. After the move, Gordon enrolled in Fugazzi Business College. He graduated with a degree in bookkeeping and banking. He started work with the 2nd National Bank with a salary of $66 per month.
Gordon's father bought a farm in Garrard County near Lancaster, Kentucky. In 1930, Gordon met and married the former Berndena Engle on August 7, 1931. A short story in The Interior Journal newspaper indicated they were accompanied by Miss Mary M. Engle (her sister) and Roy Davis, also from Garrard county. Her father was an attorney.
The couple had three daughters:
1932 — WCKY — Cincinnati, OH
Ms. Kelly wrote that it was during this time Gordon decided to organize a band and try to get into radio work. That decision took him to WCKY in Covington, Kentucky. In 1932, local news reported that four Garrard musicians had secured a radio contract for a daily program over WCKY in Covington. They were known as the Bluegrass Ramblers.
A July 1932 article mentions the group included Gordon, Marion Underwood, Curtis Underwood and John W. Mastin. The article mentioned they played guitar, mandolin, banjo and violin. They were known for the mountain ballads they performed. Their show was to air at 6am each morning.
The article also mentioned his cousin was Asher Sizemore, also performing over WCKY. Radio logs of Cincinnati papers show that the Bluegrass Ramblers aired at 7:00am on Thursday, February 4, 1932 and Asher Sizemore and Little Jimmy were on at 7:30am. The Bluegrass Ramblers did not stay on the station very long as the April radio log viewed only showed Asher Sizemore and Little Jimmy.
1936 — WHAS — Louisville, Kentucky
In 1936 Gordon put the four year old Betty on the radio programs with him to do a song each day and the response in mail was tremendous. Considering the positive reaction of the public, Gordon decided that he would do a program each day with Betty and himself alone. This started the act of "Gordon Sizemore and Little Betty." In 1936, Gordon's program was airing over WHAS in Louisville.
In 1936 they went to Chicago and signed a contract with the Benson & Dall Advertising Agency, who immediately assigned them to a daily program on WGN radio station in Chicago. They worked at WGN for approximately six months, until Harry O'Neal, president of Benson & Dall, transferred them to WHAS in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1937. Note: Research has not shown any mention of Gordon Sizemore on WGN in the years mentioned or any other year. He may have been part of an ensemble show and was not promoted nor named separately. Gordon and Little Betty did the show at WHAS 15 minutes each day at 5:00 p.m., after children were home from school.
Their sponsors were Color-Back, Peruna, Shampoo, Stuarts Dyspepsy Tablets, and many other drug products advertised by the Benson & Dall agency. They gave away Little Betty's photo with a carton top from a product they were advertising, and had fabulous mail response.
Because of favorable public reaction, Benson & Dall decided to hire more acts and buy more radio time at WHAS. The agency hired The Texas Rangers, Sunshine Sue and the Rock Creek Rangers, Uncle Henry and the Kentucky Mountaineers, and Cousin Emmy and her Band. This program became known as "The Morning Jamboree Show," broadcast Monday through Saturday, 7:00am to 8:00am for seven years.
During this time Gordon and Little Betty made personal appearances at several theaters and high schools throughout Kentucky and the territory where they could do a show and get back to WHAS in time for the radio program. Since Gordon enjoyed gospel music, he and Betty always included a gospel tune as the last number on the radio program. Their theme song was "I'm Riding Up The Old Kentucky Mountain."
In January of 1940, the Courier-Journal in Louisville featured the acts on the WHAS Jamboree that aired in the morning. Randy Blake, was the announcer and also sang tenor in old time hymns done on the show. Gordon and Betty were on the show as well. The article claims she started singing in front of a microphone when she was only 18 months old. In 1940, at six years old and in the second grade, she considered herself "...quite the veteran entertainer." She mentions she had two younger sisters that "...aren't near big enough" to join the act with her father. Others on the show were Doc and Carl, the Virginia Boys, Uncle Henry and his Kentucky Mountaineers; Chuck Wagon Joe on the bass, Accordion Al, Curley (Eliott Thurman?) Bradshaw on harmonica.
Ms. Kelly wrote that in 1943, Benson & Dall transferred Gordon and Betty to KMOX in St. Louis, Missouri. There they spent the next two years doing their own fifteen-minute daily program on the radio, along with a daily one-hour show with Skeets (Yaney) & Frankie (Taylor), The Miccolis Sisters, The Ozark Mountaineers, Banjo Murphy, Sally Foster, and Pappy Cheshire.
However, Frank Absher, St. Louis Radio Historian says the name of Gordon Sizemore is not familiar to him and has no record of him being in St. Louis.
Gordon and Little Betty also performed on the Uncle Dick Slack's Barndance which was broadcast over KMOX each Saturday night.
It became necessary for Gordon to hire a personal tutor for Betty who traveled with her all the time, teaching her while on the road or backstage before and after a show.
1941 — KFAB — Lincoln, Nebraska
After two years at KMOX, Gordon arranged with Earl Williams, manager of KFAB radio station, to go to Lincoln, Nebraska. Research using newspaper archives sites shows that the move to Lincoln actually occurred around 1941. A question and answer column indicates that Gordon and Little Betty started with KFAB on March 1, 1941. The answer also told readers that they had come from radio station WHAS in Louisville, Kentucky. He and Little Betty stayed here the next seven years doing their regular daily fifteen-minute program at 5:00 p.m. They were very well received by the radio audience and after the first show were flooded with over 5,000 pieces of mail. Little Betty started doing nursery rhymes on the program for the children and later had a book published with songs and rhymes she used on the program and also photos of herself. There was a terrific response among the listeners and it was necessary to hire 16 people to keep the orders filled and the books mailed out.
During their stay at KFAB, they compiled about six different books of the same nature as the aforementioned. While working at this radio station, they performed with such people as Texas Mary, Roy Faulkner (The Lonesome Cowboy) , Billy Dean, Tex Hall, Erma Cartwright, Lilly Pickens, Joe & Louis Cook, Lysle Bremser, and The KFAB Bohemian Band.
Gordon and Betty didn't want to leave Nebraska, but they moved back to Salvisa because Gordon's parents were getting on in years and Gordon, being their only son, thought it best not to be so far away from them.
1945 — WAVE — Louisville, Kentucky
Gordon and Betty spent the next two years driving from Salvisa to Louisville, Kentucky, commuting about 120 miles round trip each day to do a program at WAVE for the Howell Furniture Co., at the request of Bert Howell.
To test the listening audience Mr. Howell and Gordon offered to give away some of the 8,500 songbooks they had in stock, if the listeners requested them. The next two deliveries of mail brought in 18,000 requests for the book.
1947 — WBT — Charlotte, North Carolina
In 1947, at the invitation of their good friends The Singing Rangers , Gordon and Little Betty went to work at WBT radio station in Charlotte, North Carolina. Charles Crutchfield, manager of WBT, cleared the station time for them to start their program at 5:00pm. Vernon Hyles of The Texas Rangers bet Mr. Crutchfield that The Sizemores would get over 1,000 pieces of mail from the first show. The next two mail deliveries brought in 4,800 responses.
Gordon and Betty performed on "The Carolina Hayride" which was broadcast by WBT each Saturday night from the armory in Charlotte, North Carolina, and drew capacity crowds. Some of the acts on the Hayride show included Claude Casey, Fred Kirby, The Texas Rangers, The Johnson Family, The Carter Family, Whitey and Hogan, Arthur Smith and his Band, and Grady Cole.
It was with "The Carolina Hayride" that Gordon's daughter, Glenna, started her career on the radio. During their free time at the radio station, Glenna and Betty would play doctor and nurse. Since Glenna always wanted to be the doctor, she acquired the nickname of "Little Doc" and kept this title throughout her radio career.
Little Doc started appearing regularly on the shows with Gordon and Betty. Larry Walker, program director at WBT, insisted that Betty and Doc do the commercials on their show and of course they did with astonishing results.
Based on radio logs for WBT found in newspaper archives sites, Gordon's last appearance on WBT in Charlotte was at 5:00pm on Saturday, June 26, 1948.
1949 — WLVK — Lexington, Kentucky
After two years at WBT, they decided to return to Salvisa where Roy Ellis convinced then to broadcast a show at home by direct line from WVLK, which was located in Versailles (a town just outside Lexington), Kentucky. The sponsors were John Deere Farm Equipment and Plymouth and DeSoto automobiles. They started broadcasting from home with a 15-minute program at the regular time of 5:00 p.m. and later lengthened the broadcast to 30 minutes. This show aired for five years.
While at WLVK they appeared on the Kentucky Mountain Barn Dance show that was held at the Clay-Gentry Stockyards and broadcast over WLVK. A promotional ad shows that Bill Monroe's band then working under the name of Foggy Mountain Boys, '...stars of WSM Grand Old Opera' was on that show in September 1949. Other acts on that show that night were Smoky Ward and Little Eller, from the Renfro Valley Barn Dance as well as Jerry Barron, Chuck Follis, The Wanderers and "...a host of others."
Betty ended her singing career when she started college at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Kentucky. Betty graduated from the University of Kentucky with an A.B. degree and went on to get an M.A. degree from the University of West Virginia. Gordon and Glenna (Little Doc) continued the show until Peggy slso started college at Campbellsville, Kentucky. Peggy graduated from Campbellsville Junior College, then went to Eastern Kentucky State College graduated with a BS degree. Similar to her sister, she then to the University of Miami for her M.A. degree.
1951 — Kentucky Stock Car Racing Association, Inc.
In 1951, Gordon became part of the "Kentucky Stock Car Racing Association, Inc." The charter for the company was issued in February 1951. Its purpose was to conduct rading of "hardtop" and "modified" stock cars. The charter listed Gordon Sizemore, Chuck Fallis, Martin R. Brock and Ernest Woods.
The association held their first meeting in Richmond, KY on March 8, 1951. The meeting was to register stock car owners and the drivers that planned to participate in their races during the summer of 1951. The premise was to conduct races one night a week at three different tracks: Richomnd, Somerset and Lebanon.
At the March 8 meeting, officers were elected. Gordon Sizemore of Salvisa was elected president. Martin R. Bock of Richmond was elected secretary-treasurer. The meeting was attended by about 50 people who were Central Kentucky amateur stock car racers. A decision was made to hold its first race at the Richmond Sports Arena on April 29, 1951. One of the rules adopted by the association was that all drivers had to be amateurs and that all vehicles must be stock cars — 1939 through the current year.
The first races were held on Sunday, April 22, 1951 at the Richmond Sports Arena on Route 52. Time trials were scheduled to start at 1:00pm; the races would begin at 2:00pm. About 40 new amateur race drivers were expected to participate. The first event was to also include the Kentucky Foreign Cars Association which would display on the track foreign sports cars from manufacturers such as Dusenberg, Delahave and British M. G.
After the initial fan fare, no further news reports were found involving the association.
Aunt Josie Sizemore's 112th Birthday
In August 1958, a birthday party was held to celebrate the birthday of a lady known as Aunt Josie Jackson Sizemore. At the time, she was believed to be the oldest person living in the United States - she was 112. She lived in Ashers Fork, KY, about 20 miles southeast of Manchester. Several politicians were scheduled to speak at the fete. The affair had several contests, "Mis Clay County," "Ugly Man's Contest," "Most Hen-Pecked Husband," and the "Most Love Sick" couple. Several hillbilly entertainers were to provide entertainment. Among them were Asher Sizemore and Little Jimmie; Gordon Sizemore, Betty and Little Glenna were there. Ex-Judge Pleaz William Mobley was to be guest soloist. About 500 were expcted to attend. She received greetings from the President Eisenhower and Vice-President Nixon. Her secret to a long life, "...go to bed early, get up early and take the Lord with you." However, she had no 'papers' from the time she was born in 1847. She married Gillis Sizemore on April 18, 1880 in Clay County, Kentucky. Sources said the couple had at least eight children. Gillis died on October 20, 1912 — he had been shot. Her 110th birthday was said to be attended by over 5,000 people. She acted as midwife to the birth of over 2,000 babies during her life. She charged two dollars for her services, but did not push to collect if families could not afford it then. She had lived with a daughter, Maude Sizemore Smith for several decades. She passed away at the age of 113 on February 21, 1960. It was reported she had over 500 descendants. Upon her death, her daughter, Maude, told the newspaper that once her mom left home on horseback to deliver a child somewhere in the hills. She returned home dressed in her petticoat. She felt sorry for the poverty-stricken mother; she took off her dress and left it with the new mother. She was religious and felt her service to the mothers during her life was a service to the Lord.
The Later Years
After the girls left, Gordon became less active in live performing and started writing songs and cutting records, making only occasional appearances. He also worked with Leonard Prather insulating houses.
In 1965 Roy Ellis, Leonard Prather, Gordon Sizemore and Wally Fowler incorporated "Ken-Ten Productions" in Nashville, Tenn., and started producing the syndicated "Wally Fowler Gospel Music Show" on television. Among the acts used regularly were The Sego Brothers and Naomi, The Cloud Indian Family, Lois Jane Neal, The Stamps Quartet and The Bill Cobb Trio.
Ken-Ten Productions also started producing "The Country Music Holiday" using such acts as Billy Walker, George Morgan, Warner Mack, Skeeter Davis, Junior Samples, Johnny Cash and June Carter, Marion Worth, Charlie Walker and Red Sovine.
During this time Ken-Ten Productions have also been making records with many entertainers using some of the songs Gordon has written. The record labels owned by Ken-Ten Productions included the "Dove" label, and the "Nash Wood" label.
Gordon was on the Process Records label owned by Norman Kelly. He did an album with Rex Roat, also on the label roster called "The Sound of Two Martin Guitars." The album was also released in Canada on the Frontier label owned by Scotty Gibbs.
In 1967, Gordon was seen in a picture with Jimmy Adams holding a new gospel album that featured one of the songs they wrote, "In The Footsteps of Jesus" on the album "Nashville Gospel Sound."
The "Nash Wood" label made the news when it had Irene Ryan, who played "Granny" on the hit
television series "The Beverly Hillbillies", recorded the tune "Granny's Mini Skirt" in Nashville, Tennessee.
Gordon and friends are presently working with Clyde and Marie Denney and The Kentuckians of Salvisa, Kentucky, and J.C. Young of Salvisa. They were said to also be working with Darlene Bentley of Shelbyville, Kentucky. All of the above mentioned are recording many of Gordon's songs as well as their own.
Gordon Sizemore and Little Betty did very little recording based on what our research shows. An outfit named Keyy Music Publications formed its own label called "Process Records" around 1944. Gordon and Little Betty were one of the first artists to record for the company. Billboard described them as a "southern harmony team." They recorded the tunes "I'm Gonna Ride That Train To Heaven" b/w "Wrinkled and Old." The tunes were written by Gordon Sizemore and Tex Hall.
Our collection of material indicates that Gordon received songwriting credit for quite a few tunes. The tunes co-written with Billy Dean appear to be from the time they were both working at radio station KFAB in Lincoln, NE.
He also wrote or co-wrote several tunes on the LP he did with Rex Roat on the Frontier Records label.
In July of 1985, Charles Gordon Sizemore died at his home in Salvisa, Kentucky at the age of 75.
Credits and Sources
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