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.