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About The Artist
Doctor Howard Hopkins (Doctor was his real first name) sang old time ballads over two major Chicago radio stations in the 1930s. Although his recording career was rather meager, he made extensive electrical transcriptions for the M. M. Cole Co. in 1944 that were widely heard over much of the country. Like many of the traditional country musicians who came to Chicago, Doc had initially been recruited by John Lair who later founded the Renfro Valley Barn Dance.
Hopkins was born in Harlan County, Kentucky but grew up in less mountainous Rockcastle County where his parents had bought a farm. He learned to play guitar and sing as a child. He had a stuttering problem when talking, but it didn't affect his singing. Therefore, on stage or behind a microphone, he sang a lot and talked little. Unlike Mel Tillis who turned his stuttering into a plus, Doc did not and that may have impeded his climb to stardom. However, it neither prevented him from army service in World War I nor singing in medicine shows afterward. He also served a stint in the marines and worked in various odd jobs in the 1920's until John Lair brought him to WLS in 1929 as a member of the Cumberland Ridge Runners.
Doc's recording career began in Chicago in July 1931, but nothing was released from the initial session. Four months later he went northward to the Paramount studios in Grafton, Wisconsin. Ten sides were released-two on Paramount and eight on Broadway (their Montgomery Ward related label)-but they are rare or nonexistent today. Many were "covers" from the Bradley Kincade repertoire. He did better in 1936-37 when four out of twenty masters came out on Sears-Roebuck owned Conquerer.
His last commercial efforts were in 1941 on Decca when all six numbers were released. In 1944, he made about 160 songs for the M. M. Cole Transcription Library. Several of these songs have been reissued on long play albums on Cattle. He later made some recordings on small labels
Hopkins did most of his live radio work on either WLS or WJJD. He did go to Kansas City, but always returned to Chicago.
He left radio in 1949 as times for country singers were changing. He went to work as a mechanic, first in Chicago and then went to Los Angeles in 1956.
In August of 1954, he was part of the cast for a new show called "Carnation Milk Time" that was to be on daily at 10:45am. Radio station KNIM in Marysville, MO posted an article in the local news promoting the new program. The stars to appear on the program included Rex Allen, Fiddlin' Dave, the Trail Dusters, The Little Country Girls, Rusty Gill, Doc Hopkins, The Down Homers and the Home Towners among others.
He was rediscovered by Dr. D. K. Wilgus of UCLA that led to his appearance at the UCLA Folk Festival. The UCLA Folk Festival expanded its musical lineup to broaden the audience beyond the first year's focus on bluegrass. The 1964 festival was to include English folksinging, Latin-American tradition and cowboy songs. Some of the performers were to be A. L. Lloyd, Carl T. Sprague, Almeda Riddle, John Hurt and Doc Hopkins.
Doc also appeared at the 1965 UCLA Folk Festival that was held at Royce Hall on the UCLA Campus. Some of the other performers included the Blue Sky Boys, JImmy Driftwood, Dave Fredrickson, Bess Lomax Hawes and Sandy and Carolin Patan.
Some of his songs were recorded which appeared on a long play album on the Birch label.
While on the west coast, he appeared at various events. One was in Fresno, CA on June 16, 1956 where he appeared at the Mission Covenant Church for a Youth For Christ rally. The next day, he was part of a special Father's Day program at the Calvary Tabernacle. He was a guest speaker at 9:45 and 11:00am.
In 1968, he retired and moved back to Chicago where he lived another twenty years.
He continued to make appearances at festivals. One was at Berea College's Celebration of Traditional Music in 1975. The festival would have concerts in the Phelps-Stokes Chapel with square dancing in the Dodge Gymnasium. In 1976, he made an appearance at the Sixth Appalachian "Celebration of Folklife" festival at the convention center in Cincinnati, Ohio. Also appearing at the festival was Asa Martin playing the saw with the Cumberland Rangers.
He married Mary Agnes Locke on August 10, 1933 in Jackson County, Missouri. She was born on November 5, 1913 and died on July 30, 1999.
Doc once claimed: "I just sing the same as all us folks do down in Kentucky."
Credits & Sources