Sign up for newsletter
 

Rockabilly singer Bonnie Lou dies at 91

Wednesday, December 9, 2015 – Trailblazing rockabilly singer Bonnie Lou, considered one of the first female rock and roll singers, died Dec. 8 at 91 in Cincinnati.

Bonnie Lou, both Mary Joan Kath, achieved success in country as well and was a a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.

Bonnie Lou, born on Oct. 27, 1924 in Towanda, Ill., grew up listening to Patsy Montana and Dottie and Millie Good (Goad) also known as The Girls of the Golden West whom she heard on Chicago's WLS. She learned how to yodel from her maternal grandmother, Mary. At 16, she performed on WJBC in Bloomington, Ill. A year later, she sent an audition record to KMBC in Kansas City, Mo. and signed a five-year deal to sing on the Brush Creek Follies barn dance as Sally Carson with a group called The Rhythm Rangers. The show was broadcast nationwide on CBS, leading her to gain more prominence.

Bonnie Lou shifted to WLW in Cincinnati after an executive there learned of her from a salesman while on a train. She had to change her name because KMBC owned the name Sally Carson. Bonnie Lou was featured on Boone Country Jamboree, later the Midwestern Hayride Country & Western Radio Program.

While at WLW, she performed in Nashville on weekends, including the Grand Ole Opry.

On Aug. 26, 1945, she married Glenn Ewins, a banker, and returned to Illinois because of his work. Seven years later, they moved back to Cincinnati where Bonnie Lou continued working on the Midwestern Hayride.

While Bonnie Lou continued dong radio performances until the end of the '40s, she did not sign a record deal until 1953 when she signed to King Records in Cincinnati. She soon had top 10 country hits with "Tennessee Wig Walk" and "Seven Lonely Days," each selling about 750,000 copies.

Bonnie Lou soon went for rockabilly, recording "Two-Step Side-Step" in 1954, written by Murry Wilson father of The Beach Boys Carl, Brian and Dennis Wilson. She became a star with the hit record "Daddy-O" in 1955. She did not have another hit for three years - "La Dee Dah" in 1958, a duet with Rusty York.

While Bonnie Lou could have signed with a major label, she went with the local Fraternity Records label after the King deal expired. Bonnie Lou said she wanted to stay with a Cincinnati label.

One of Bonnie Lou's problems in not having a bigger career was that WLW would not let her have time off to promote her recordings.

Bonnie Lou made the transition to TV, co-hosting a weekday program, the Paul Dixon Show. She played on WLWT's Midwestern Hayride, which grew from a regional to nationwide show. Dixon's show ended in 1974, and Bonnie Lou semi-retired from the entertainment business.

There was renewed interest in Bonnie Lou's career in 1971 after now disgraced BBC disc jockey Jimmy Saville played Bonnie Lou's "Tennessee Jug Walk." In 2000, the CD "Bonnie Lou - Doin' the Tennessee Walk: The Best of the King Year" was released by British Westside Records, featuring all of her King hits. Several more compilations followed.

Even in her 80s, Bonnie Lou still performed occasionally. Bonnie Lou died in her sleep in Cincinnati. She was in hospice care and had dementia.

Editorial: Walking the talk – When names like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Waylon and the Hag are invoked, you're talking hard core country. These are the touchstones of country , the guys who made country music what it was and still is (or maybe can be). When these folks would sing about being down-and-out and the rough-and-tumble, they knew of what they were singing about. Fast forward a few years to the country singers of today. »»»
Concert Review: There's a lot to be said about The Felice Brothers – The Felice Brothers have soldiered on, occupying the fringes of the musical world with ups and downs. After not knowing whether the group would even continue following the departure of half of the band a few years ago, The Felice Brothers continued with a new rhythm section and a new album, "Undressed," that is heavily political.... »»»
Concert Review: Turner bring it on (to his second) home – Frank Turner opined during the first of four sold-out nights of the Lost Evenings Festival that Boston was his home away from his British home. The likable, accessible singer hit the sweet spot not only with his perspective, but his performance as well demonstrated why. Turner made a major change in this year's festival. For the first time, he... »»»
Follow Country Standard Time  Subscribe to Country News Digest  Follow Country Standard Time on twitter  Visit Country Standard Time on Facebook 

Elsewhere in the news

Currently at the CST blogs

Wilson goes her own way After having huge success at the get go with "Redneck Woman," Wilson eventually went her own way and took a break. During her "hiatus," Wilson started her own label and was a "120 percent mom" to her teenage daughter.... »»»
Carll tells it like it is A visit with Hayes Carll finds him taking a rare day off at home to discuss new album "What It Is" co-produced by Brad Jones and Carll's girlfriend, Allison Moorer. "This album works around three themes; our relationship (he and Moorer), the world and myself.... »»»
Watson gets "Lucky" Dale (The Real Deal) Watson has been releasing hard country albums since 1995 and shows no signs of slowing down on his most recent release, "Call Me Lucky." This record marks his third effort recorded in Memphis, at Sam Phillips Recording Studio, with Watson's regular touring band, The Lone Stars.... »»»
Live at the Grey Eagle CD review - Live at the Grey Eagle
Let's just say Amanda Anne Platt and her five-piece band The Honeycutters had home court advantage playing in their hometown of Asheville, N.C. in what is as warm a live album as you'll hear. »»»
American Highway CD review - American Highway
Buckle up for a rollicking, joyful, adventuresome ride as Marty Brown drives flat-out down the straightaways and hugs tight the curves of the "American Highway." It's great to have Brown, who's written hits for Trace Adkins »»»
Front Porch CD review - Front Porch
Joy Williams' "Front Porch" album is a beautiful collection of acoustic, country-folk music. The title cut, for instance, includes sweet fiddling, while the rest of the album takes an appreciated low-key approach to its instrumentation. »»»
Hellbent CD review - Hellbent
Randy Rogers makes a big, bold statement with his title track, but it's the smaller insightful moment expressed through "Wine In A Coffee Cup" that stands out most. Rogers sings it empathetically over a swaying groove... »»»