Passings: 50's Country & Rockabilly Star Bonnie Lou (1924 - 2015)

Bonnie Lou, who had two country hits in the early 50's and a top twenty pop song in 1955, died on Tuesday in Cincinnati at the age of 91.

Born Mary Joan Kath, she grew up listening to and idolizing Patsy Montana, one of country's earliest stars. Mary learned yodeling from her grandmother, violin starting at 5 and guitar at 11 leading to her debut at the age of 16 on WJBC radio in Bloomington, IL.

At 17, she signed a five year contract to appear on the Brush Creek Follies radio show which was broadcast nationally on CBS. Working as Sally Carson, she wowed audiences weekly and came to the attention of Bill McCluskey of 50,000 watt WLW in Cincinnati where she went on to become a regular on their Boone County Jamboree and, later, Midwestern Hayride Country & Western Radio Program. Along with her work in Cincinnati, she also performed as part of the Girls of the Golden West and made occasional appearances on The Grand Ole Opry.

Although some of her performances were made available on acetate, it wasn't until 1953 the the singer, now known as Bonnie Lou, signed her first recording contract with King Records. She recorded a song that had previously been a pop hit for Georgia Gibbs, Seven Lonely Days, and it went to number 7 on the Country Singles. Later in the year, her recording of Tennessee Wig-Walk went to number 6 along with number 4 in the U.K.

A series of further singles didn't chart and, in 1954, she started changing style to Rockabilly, including the song Two-Step Side-Step written by Murry Wilson, father of the Beach Boys' Wilson brothers. The next year, she released Daddy-O which went to number 14 on the pop chart. It would be her last charting song even though she continued to record in the style for a couple of years.

Bonnie Lou turned down the opportunity to record with RCA later in the 50's, choosing to stay closer to home with Fraternity Records. She now blames her lack of further success on WLW who refused to let her out of her appearance contract to go on the road to promote her records. She was able, though, to transition to television, appearing on WWLT's Midwest Hayride where she was a regular until 1972.

Bonnie Lou pulled away from music in the mid-70's, occasionally appearing on local television and radio.

1 comment

Nicolas said...

Bonne Lou was an important music pioneer who has yet to get her proper recognition.

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