About The Artist
Charles Elza, a comedian and soft shoe dancer, was generally known on stage as "Kentucky Slim" and less often as the "Little Darlin.' "
Over a long career, he began as a blackface comedian, but changed with the times. From minstrel and medicine shows, he worked with such country artists as Roy Acuff, Manuel "Old Joe" Clark, Carl Story, Esco Hankins, Hylo Brown, and the Stanley Brothers. His career peaked during his time with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs in the middle and late 1950s.
A native of Harlan County, Kentucky, Elza went to work in the coal mines where he made the acquaintance of another miner, Cas Walker. The latter soon left the mines to go to Knoxville where he eventually bought a grocery store which he expanded into a large regional chain, built in part on country music programs he sponsored on radio and later television.
Slim also moved to Knoxville and worked in medicine shows and worked with Roy Acuff and his Crazy Tennesseeans. When Acuff moved to Nashville, Elza formed an act with Manuel Clark, going with him to Knoxville then briefly to Atlanta, back to Knoxville and then to Renfro Valley where "Old Joe" Clark eventually became an institution.
Later "Kentucky Slim" worked with Carl Story and Esco Hankins for sufficient periods of time, retaining much of the non-racial comedy in his act. Although nearly seven feet tall and weighing about 275 pounds, he was amazingly light on his feet as illustrated by his so-called "pork chop dance."
In the mid-fifties he joined Flatt and Scruggs where his popularity hit its zenith. Flatt usually referred to him as the Little Darlin' rather than his usual nickname as did Hylo Brown with whom he also worked during their association with Martha White Flour.
On July 8, 1956, Kentucky Slim was with the Flatt and Scruggs troupe when they performed at Centennial Park as part of the Sunday Park Concert series in Nashville. A picture notes he did a soft shoe tap dance routine in addition to his comedy role.
In 1959, Bert Vincent in his "Strolling" column in the Knoxville News-Sentinel used an inquiry by a reader about the tune "Knoxville Girl" to recall a memory of how Kentucky Slim sang it. The reader wanted to know if it was a true story, but Burt did not seem to have a clear answer. But he noted that Kentcky Slim used to sing the tune on the WNOX Merry-Go-Round show. Burt noted, "(Kentucky Slim) sang it sad, sad. He'd pull off his hat and even cry a little as he intoned the gory words and mournful tune."
Slim left the road for a time, but later worked some with the Stanley Brothers while they were in Live Oak, Florida. Thereafter, he returned to Knoxville and worked as a house painter until he retired.
He made limited appearances such as the 1982 Knoxville World's Fair which paid tribute to Knoxville's country music pioneers. He also sometimes attended shows at Dave's Music Barn and at the celebrations associated with the Museum of Appalachia in Norris, Tennessee. Ironically, Slim never made any recordings as far as is known.
He died a few weeks before his eighty-fourth birthday.
Credits & Sources
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