About The Artist
Sally Ann Forrester was a piano, accordion and guitar player who earned a niche in history by being the first female to be a member of Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys (the only other one was Bill's longtime paramour Bessie Lee Mauldin). Sally was therefore the first girl in a bluegrass band. The situation came about in part because of a shortage of male musicians during World War II although Sally had wide musical experience both before and after her Monroe work.
Goldie Sue Wilene Russell was a native of Raton, New Mexico, but was reared by her grandparents who lived near Tulsa, Oklahoma. Sally grew up as a fan of Bob Wills and her grandfather sometimes took her to Cain's Dancing Academy (actually a big dance hall) to see and hear the Texas Playboys in person.
At fifteen, Wilene went to high school at a Baptist Academy where friends praised her singing and piano skills. Although she learned to play several instruments, her favorite was apparently guitar. When a new Jamboree-type show, The Saddle Mountain Roundup, went on the air at KVOO on April 1, 1939, she became a cast member under the name "The Little Orphan Girl." There she met a fiddler named Howard "Howdy" Forrester, who with his brother Joe was part of a band that had previously recorded on Bluebird called Herald Goodman and the Tennessee Valley Boys. The two began an enduring romance.
In March 1940, the Forresters left KVOO in search of work elsewhere. They found it a bit later at KWFT Wichita Falls. In May, he sent Wilene a brief telegram reading, "Come prepared to stay. Bring fiddle. Howard Forrester, KWFT." They married in June, a union that endured for 47 years. Wilene still played as "The Little Orphan Girl," but often sang in trios with Howard and Joe, and fiddled with them as well.
They continued working at radio stations in Texas and Illinois until after Pearl Harbor, Howard returned to Nashville, enlisted in the Navy and as he was not yet called to active duty, spent much of 1942 touring in a Grand Ole Opry tent show operated by the blackface comedy team of Jamup & Honey and starring Bill Monroe. Another couple in the cast was the duo of comedian Goober Buchanan and his wife Dixie Belle.
Wilene and Dixie teamed up as the Kentucky Sweethearts, singing as a duet with Wilene on guitar and Dixie Belle on bass fiddle. When Howdy who also fiddled with the Blue Grass Boys finally went to active Navy duty, Wilene joined the band as accordion player while Chubby Wise became the fiddler. Wilene then took the stage name Sally Ann. She was technically, a Blue Grass "Boy" from 1943 until late March 1946. In February 1945, Sally worked on a Columbia recording session with Bill and the band putting eight numbers on disc.
Howdy was out of the navy in November 1945 and reclaimed his fiddler job with Monroe also remaining until March when the Forresters went back to KVOO where they worked with Art Davis and then to KRLD as part of Georgia Slim's Texas Roundup.
In the meantime, the Forresters became parents in January 1947 when their only child Robert was born.
Although the Texas Roundup recorded on Mercury in 1947 including both Howdy and Joe, Sally Ann was neither on these records nor the transcriptions they made although she played on their personal appearances. The Forresters returned to Nashville in 1949.
In 1951, Howdy began a 36-year career as one of Roy Acuff's Smoky Mountain Boys. Sally Ann retired from music and subsequently went to work for the Social Security Administration retiring after thirty years.
Widowed in 1987, Wilene Forrester lived on another dozen years. Her later years were spent in a nursing home suffering from Alzheimer's disease.
Murphy Hicks Henry, Bluegrass Unlimited columnist and banjo picker, wrote a Master's degree thesis about her career and wrote the first chapter about Sally Ann in her book Pretty Good for a Girl: Women in Bluegrass University of Illinois Press, 2013.
Credits & Sources
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