Eager fans waiting in front of the 8th Street Theatre, Chicago, IL 1933. Courtesy: Southern Appalachian Archives, Berea College
Steve Darnall, editor and publisher of Nostalgia Digest Magazine and host of Radio’s Golden Age on yesterdayusa.com, recently sat down with The Hayloft Gang’s producer/director, Stephen Parry for a lively discussion about The National Barn Dance.
“The Hayloft Gang: The Story of the National Barn Dance.” It is a well-produced, fascinating program and well worth watching, as it features our very own “Hayloft Sweethearts:” Lula Belle and Scotty.
Photo courtesy of the Avery County Historical Society
The Avery Journal wrote a nice review of “The Hayloft Gang, taking pride in local celebrities Lulu Belle and Scotty Wiseman who are featured in the film.
We still continue to be amazed at the immense popularity that The National Barn Dance enjoyed during its heyday of the 1930s and 1940s. The loyalty of the fans bordered on fanaticism. Listener’s from small towns in Ohio and Wisconsin to isolated farms in North Dakota and Tennessee to urban dwellers in Chicago and Detroit tuned in religiously every Saturday night. The National Barn Dance also appealed to second-generation ethnic immigrants throughout the upper-Midwest, and struck a familiar chord with displaced Southern migrants who came to the “rust belt” in search of better opportunities.
The performers and fans of The National Barn are two of the few primary sources available to us. Since many of these folks were in their 80s and 90s, we realized the importance of interviewing them, if only for the significance of having their oral histories preserved and archived for future generations. We had the pleasure of getting to know Thomas (Slim) Bryant, the guitar player with Clayton McMichen and the Georgia Wildcats, a progressive string band that performed on the Barn Dance in 1933. Slim offered a first-hand account of life on the barn dance radio circuit. Sadly, Slim passed away in May 2010, at the age of 101.
Slim Bryant circa 1933, Photo courtesy of Thomas “Hoyt” Bryant
Our crew traveled to Arizona and interviewed Colleen Allen and Donna Asklund, who performed on The Barn Dance in the 1950s as the sister act, the Beaver Valley Sweethearts. They described how the fans would line up waiting for autographs, and deluged them with baby gifts when their children were born. Patsy Montana’s daughter, Beverly Losey, shared her memories of life backstage at theaters and fair grounds while touring and performing with her mother on The National Barn Dance road shows. Former listener’s like writer, Jerry Apps shared his fond memories of listening to the show while growing up on the family farm in Wisconsin. Another devoted fan, Rose Bezjak told us how the music and comedy offered laughter and escape from the hard times of the Great Depression and World War II.
The Beaver Valley Sweethearts, Photo courtesy of Donna Asklund
Attempting to tell the story of The National Barn Dance within the time constraints of a sixty-minute documentary film has been a challenge. We have only just begun to scratch the surface. We believe this film offers definition, shape, and meaning to The National Barn Dance. Since The Hayloft Gang premiered on PBS in September of 2011, we have seen a renewed interest and appreciation for the once great radio program that left it’s indelible mark on broadcasting history and forever changed the face of country and popular music.
Photo Courtesy of Berea College, Southern Appalachian Archives, Bradley Kincaid Collection
In a manner similar to Alan Lomax, William Bradley “The Kentucky Mountain Boy” Kincaid was one of the great American musicologists and collectors of American folk, country and parlor songs, and helped preserve a rich heritage through publication of his songbooks. Unlike Lomax, however, Kincaid was also a top-flight songwriter and performer.
The National Barn Dance was finally inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame at the gala event held at the new Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago on Saturday, November 05, 2011. The Hayloft Gang’s producer, Stephen Parry was there to celebrate the event.
Rex Allen Jr., the son of singer and film star Rex Allen announced the induction of the National Barn Dance. Mr. Allen also performed his father’s signature song, “I’m an Arizona Cowboy.” Rex Allen Sr. performed on the National Barn Dance from 1945 to 1949.
Also in attendance was Dan Biggar, the grandson of George Biggar, long time program director at WLS and the person credited with creating the format of the National Barn Dance. The daughter and grandson of Tom Fouts (Captain Stubby & the Buccaneers) were also there to celebrate the event.
Tom Livingston, Captain Stubby’s grandson and Connie Livingston, daughter of Captain Stubby at the National Radio Hall of Fame event.
Read an article about the National Radio Hall of Fame Event
South Dakota Public Broadcasting did a live story on The Hayloft Gang for their Dakota Midday show. (story is about 18:00 minutes into the program)
Tonight, a documentary of the Hayloft Gang airs on SDPB-TV, “The Hayloft Gang, the Story of the National Barn Dance.” The documentary’s producer and director Stephen Perry tells the story of one of the nation’s most popular country music radio shows of the ‘30s and ‘40s.
The Chicago Sun Times did a recent review of The Hayloft Gang. Apparently they did not know that our intent was to appeal to a national audience not just Chicago viewers. We wanted to avoid just having a laundry list of performers. We worked hard to craft our story arc and weave our main characters into the cultural context of the film.
The Hayloft Gang” works as a heartfelt primer into the magic of the “Barn Dance
Freelance reporter Robert Loerzel sat down with director Stephen Parry to discuss the film. Parry said the show put Chicago on the country map in a way most people probably don’t remember.
This article about The Hayloft Gang is from Time Out Chicago
From the dawn of radio until World War II, Chicago was the country music capital of America — thanks to a landmark show that originated on WLS and is all but forgotten today.