Red River Valley

Twenty-seven-year-old Bradley Kincaid was a classically trained vocalist who came to Chicago from Berea Kentucky in 1924 to enrol in the YMCA College. Radio station WLS learned that he knew some traditional folks songs and old ballads, so they invited him to to appear on the National Barn Dance.

From 1926 to 1930 Kincaid was one of the most popular performers on WLS. He was receiving over 100,000 fan letters a year. Listeners began requesting copies of lyrics and music for his songs like “Barbara Allen” and “Red River Valley”. He met their demands by publishing a series of songbooks that he copyrighted under his own name, and sold over the air.

By the time he left The National Barn Dance in 1930 Bradley Kicaid had sold over 200,000 copies of his songbooks and introduced traditional American Folk Music to millions. He was one of the first superstars of early radio.
One of America’s favourite folksongs, it started out as “A Lady in Love”, or as “The Bright Mohawk Valley”, as published by James J. Kerrigan in 1896. An early version written by a traditional singer in North Carolina in 1921 had the title “Laurel Valley”. The first recording, by cowboy singer Carl T. Sprague, was issued in 1925 with the title “Cowboy’s Love Song”. Many southern old time singers recorded it as “Bright Sherman Valley”, until a 1927 disc by Hugh Cross (who later performed on The National Barn Dance) and Riley Puckett popularized the title “Red River Valley”. That same year, “Red River Valley” appeared in Carl Sandburg’s The American Songbag. Before 1940, over thirty commercial “Hillbilly” recordings of the song were issued, including versions by WLS artists Chubby Parker and the Ranch Boys. A half-century later, Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion used the song as emblematic of the “good old days” days of live country radio.
I Want to Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart
A young singer and fiddler from Hope, Arkansas named Ruby Blevins came to Chicago in 1933 to enter the “World’s Largest Watermelon Contest” at the Century of Progress World’s Fair. While in Chicago, she auditioned for lead singer of the Prairie Ramblers at renowned radio station WLS. Ruby was hired on the spot and adopted the stage name, Patsy Montana. Listeners voted Patsy Montana and the Prairie Ramblers as one of the three most popular acts on The National Barn Dance.

The twenty-six-year-old singer’s first major recording session produced her signature song, her self-penned “I Want to Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart”. She became the first female artist to sell over a million records with that song. Patsy’s intricate yodelling, Western songs and her independent female image became her trademarks. Her fifty year career in Western music led to her induction in the Country Music Hall of fame. She inspired many other female singers through the years, including Suzy Bogguss, the Dixie Chicks and LeAnn Rimes.
Ruby Blevins (aka Patsy Montana) of Hope, Arkansas, wrote her signature song in 1934, soon after she joined The National Barn Dance as the “girl singer” with the Prairie Ramblers. The idea for the song came from the words “cowboy sweetheart” written on a slip of paper handed to her by Gene Autry’s manager.  Patsy modeled the song, even borrowing some lines from the third stanza, from her previous self-penned hit, “Montana Plains”.  She recorded the song with the Prairie Ramblers in 1935 and, though not an instant hit, it continued to sell until it became the first million seller by a “girl singer” in the country field.  In 1938, she sang it in the Gene Autry film Colorado Sunset.  For the rest of her Country Music Hall of Fame career, everyone knew Patsy Montana as “The Cowboy’s Sweetheart.”
My Horses Ain’t Hungry

Carolyn and Mary Jane DeZurik were farm girls from central Minnesota. The sisters found musical inspiration in the sounds they heard while doing chores on the family farm. They pushed the creative boundaries of vocal music by adding bird chirps, barnyard animal sounds and triple tongue machine gun yodels to their songs.

An agent of the WLS Artists Bureau discovered the DeZurik‘s at a talent show in Minnesota in 1936, and they were invited to join The National Barn Dance. The sisters also performed as regulars on the syndicated, Purina Mills Checkerboard Time radio show, where they were known as The Cackle Sisters. This version of “My Horses Ain’t Hungry” features the unique yodelling style that made them famous.
This snippet of lyric belongs to the family of traditional folksongs associated with the title “The Wagoner’s Lad”.  Other relatives include “On Top of Old Smoky” and “Jack of Diamonds”.  The song first saw print in the Journal of American Folklore in 1907.  In 1916, English collector Cecil Sharp noted down a version from a North Carolina singer for his seminal English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians. National Barn Dance artists Mac & Bob made one of the half-dozen pre-World War II recordings of the song in 1926, using the title “Pretty Polly”. None of these early versions included the chicken clucks devised by Caroline and Mary Jane DeZurik, aka the Cackle Sisters.
Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?

Lulu Belle and Scotty were cast as a musical comedy team with Scotty (Scott Wiseman) playing the soft-spoken straight man to Lulu Belle’s (Myrtle Cooper’s) sassy country girl image. They were both raised in the mountains of western North Carolina, but first met in Chicago at The National Barn Dance. The couple had a dynamic chemistry on stage that apparently worked backstage as well. Their relationship blossomed into one of dozens of Barn Dance romances, and they were married in 1934.

In 1936 readers of Radio Guide magazine voted Lulu Belle “National Radio Queen” beating out famous radio stars like Kate Smith, Gracie Allen, and Helen Hayes. Scotty was a prolific songwriter. His most famous song, “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?” has been recorded by dozens of artists including Willie Nelson and Elvis Presley. “The Hayloft Sweethearts” spent over a quarter century in front of National Barn Dance audiences.
This song has been recorded more often than any other song originating from The National Barn Dance.  Written by Scott Wiseman, and published in 1945, it captured the bond between the “Hayloft Sweethearts” that endeared them to millions of listeners.  It was one of the first country songs from the Barn Dance that also captured the attention of artists and producers in the pop music field.  It perseveres in the repertoires of romantic balladeers, country crooners, and wedding bands in all parts of the U.S.
I Was Born About 4,000 Years Ago

Arkie The Arkansas Woodchopper was the stage name for Luther Ossenbrink, a farm boy from knob Noster, Missouri, who decided that entertaining on radio beat clearing brush. Arkie had one of the longest careers of anyone on The National Barn Dance, from 1928 to 1959.

The cast always had a running joke to try to make him break up laughing while he was singing on the air. They tried everything, from tickling him and setting his sheet music on fire, to pulling his guitar out of tune and unlacing his shoes. Good natured Arkie, always sang right through it all. His laughter was known coast to coast on The National Barn Dance.

An accomplished banjoist, old-time fiddler and square dance caller, Arkie is best known for his guitar accompanied, old-time cowboy songs, mountain ballads and novelty tunes like “I Was Born About 4,000 Years Ago”. This live version of the song was performed on The National Barn Dance sometime in the mid-1940s.
Early printings of this song, called by Carl Sandburg "a vest pocket encyclopedia," appeared in a 1913 scholarly collection of Songs and Rhymes from the South and in #70 of Delaney's Song Book, a commercial series, under the title “I Am a Highly Educated Man”.  Between 1924 and 1931, a dozen country artists recorded the song under a variety of titles.  Most versions contain a stanza commenting on the narrator's education amid eyewitness details of Biblical stories. Nearly all end with accounts of his secret marriage to Queen Elizabeth and enlistment with General Hooker.  The Arkansas Woodchopper's shortened version from circa 1940 is unique in its inclusion of such non-Biblical events as the adventures of Caesar, Hannibal and Nero and the building of the Great Wall of China. This version comes from a live broadcast during which Arkie's fellow cast members play pranks trying to get him to laugh. This time it worked.


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