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About The Artist
Fans knew this entertainer by several names. So, you may have to bear with us if it gets confusing trying to keep the names and dates straight as we document his odyssey in country music history. He was born James William Stallard in Wesleyville, Kentucky in 1913 a family member tells us, but we have seen 1918 mentioned in one publication. Though, it could be an early case of a typo. He used the names "Bill Stallard", "Indian Bill" and "Billy Starr" (it was also spelled "Billie Starr" in some articles).
Billy Starr was born into this world in Wesleyville, Kentucky back in 1918. Evidently, he wanted to do something with his life when he was just 15 years old and took off on his own only to end up in Portsmouth, Ohio.
The station manager there was impressed enough with his talents to give him a spot over the air. And was a case of one thing leading to another in his career.
Late 1942 Ivan Tribe mentions the person of "Indian Bill" several times in the chapter dealing with "Tune In: Radio to 1942" in his detailed history of country music in West Virginia. For a time, he was at WSAZ in Huntington, working with Cowboy Copas along with Natchee, known as the Indian fiddler (real name said to be Lester Vernon Storer), Indian Bill and Little Montana (a duo in real life were known as Bill and Evalina Stallard).
He was also apparently a part of a troupe of entertainers that was known as "Hill-Billy Varieties". This group included Arthur (Rusty) Gabbard; the Singing Gabbards; Indian Bill and Little Montana.
Mr. Tribe also indicated that Bill and his wife, Evalina, were dividing their time during the war between stints at WLW in Cincinnati, Ohio and WSAZ in Huntington, West Virginia.
One magazine article reported that on September 16, 1946, Billie Starr as he was known then promoted one of the largest country music shows in Chattanooga, Tennessee. On that particular show was Uncle Dave Macon, the Cackle Sisters, Curly Fox and Texas Ruby, all of the Grand Ole Opry. Natchee the Indian also appeared on the show and did a bit of a dual with Curly Fox on the fiddle, that Curly apparently won. The crowd was said to be over 5,000, one of the biggest events in the south back then.
It was also reported that he had been signed by the Maxwell Agency to do movies in Hollywood and was in fact as of January 1, 1946 to be headed to California for just that purpose. But so far, we have not found any indications that he did indeed appear in any movies under the names we know he used. Later that month in 1946, Ken Maynard and other Opry acts were to do another show in the area.
In our collection, we also find that he was part of the infamous group, The Down Homers during this time. Uncle Dan wrote in one of his columns in early 1945 that Bill had indeed joined the Down Homers. A song folio published around this time shows that he wrote a few songs including:
In February of 1946, Little Jimmy Dickens and Billy Starr had joined the staff at radio station WIBW in Topeka, Kansas.
Buddy Starcher told fans in his "Here 'n' There" column in July 1946 that Billie Starr, once known as Indian Bill and Bill Stallard, was on the air at KMOX in St. Louis, Missouri. Hugh Cross wrote a pretty detailed letter to Orville and Jenny Via of National Hillbilly News in November of 1946, also indicating that Bill Stallard was at KMOX.
The year of 1946 looks like the last time we see mention of him as Bill Stallard.
Norma Winton (who was later known as Norma Barthel, long-time fan club president for Ernest Tubb) wrote that during one of her journeys to the Kansas area, she tuned in WIBW and got to enjoy the entertainment provided by Little Jimmy Dickens and Billy Starr.
In late 1948, Sunny Ciesla wrote in one of her Hollywood round-up columns that Billy Starr was on the air at KXLA out of Pasadena, California. Later on that year, he began working at KMPC.
There's more to be learned about Billy Starr, but we'll close for now by noting that in 1951, Billy was frequently touring with Cowboy Copas and was the manager for Cowboy Copas. Which means, Billy was probably heard by the WSM Grand Ole Opry audiences back then. Also in 1951, he had a hit record of "Steppin' Out" that was covered by other country music artists such as Cowboy Copas, Mervin Shiner, Johnny Bond, Jimmy Wakely, Toby Dowdy. Billy's version was released on the London record label. Around this time, it was reported that he was the personal manager for Cowboy Copas.
Bill Stallard / Billy Starr / Indian Bill's career spanned many a year, with its ups and downs, but it wasn't the most perfect of lives. When he died, he was virtually penniless; his social security benefit check was said to be only $100. He seems to have been married four times, but none of the articles mention his personal life much. His fourth wife still lives in Kentucky.
Credits & Sources