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: With Sugarland, the wait was worth it – A few songs into Sugarland's show, Kristian Bush referenced the band's five-year gap between tours saying, "A lot of people think Jennifer and I have been on a five-year vacation. Actually, we've been very busy." Clearly a lot of that time was spent in rehearsal. The duo put on a two-hour high energy gem that started out big... »»»
Concert Review: With Tuttle, the music's in good hands – Molly Tuttle, preternaturally talented artist and current reigning IBMA Guitar Player of The Year (2017) lives up to the hype. Her songs are well-crafted and soulfully delivered. Boothbay Harbor Maine is a typical seaside resort town (perhaps slightly more upscale than most), which is somnolent, if not downright dead, 8 1/2 months of the year.... »»»
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

Tyminski goes dark Dan Tyminski (known simply as "Tyminski" on his 2017 release "Southern Gothic") has traditional music roots and unassailable bluegrass street cred especially given his membership in Alison Krauss' Union Station. He is also a powerful songwriter and has been writing songs for himself and others for years now.... »»»
Washburn, Fleck create "Echoes" Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn have powerhouse individual talents; each has followed an estimable career path to where they find themselves today: making complex, but spare, records, writing music together and touring with their son Juno. Their new release, "Echoes In The Valley" features mostly songs written by Fleck and Washburn, banjos, Washburn's strong vocals and very little else.... »»»
Hillman bides his time Legends don't come any more legendary than Chris Hillman. The roll call of bands that comprises Hillman's half century in music reads like a wing exhibit at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame; Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers, Manassas, the Souther Hillman Furay Band, the Desert Rose Band,... »»»
The Tree CD review - The Tree
It's difficult to know where to start when praising Lori McKenna's "The Tree." It's so good in so many ways. Artists like Little Big Town and Tim McGraw have benefited greatly from recording McKenna songs, yet it's unlikely many mainstream country music fans recognize her name. »»»
Circus of Life CD review - Circus of Life
"Circus of Life," the title of Kinky Friedman's album, is a little misleading. It conjures up images of carnival barkers and circus freaks and songs as odd as its cigar-manufacturing, politically-astute novelist author/songwriter. The album is far more sensitive than that title suggests, though. In fact, it's a welcome respite from modern day circus-like life. »»»
Outlaws 'Til The End: Vol. 1 CD review - Outlaws 'Til The End: Vol. 1
Many mainstream country artists will point to their Southern roots as proof of their country music credentials. These roots seemingly give them liberty to stray just as far from typical country music instrumentation as they like. However, how does this rule apply to Santa Barbara, Cal.'s DevilDriver, which applies its hard-rocking groove metal chops to a set of outlaw country music? »»»