Tuning in to the 'Golden era of radio'

Published 8:15 am Wednesday, August 22, 2007

By By Lowell McGill
Through the last few weeks I have had the opportunity to hear some exceptional local piano players and vocalists.
Listening to and watching these artists brought back memories of my listening to the "golden era of radio." First, let me say that I am sure there are many others out there who also are blessed with similar talent. Those I am writing about today I have seen or heard over the last few weeks on special occasions and events.
My wife and I went to the Escambia County Jr. Miss program last week where Lana Langford sang the National Anthem. I have heard singers say this is one of the most difficult songs to sing because the range extends from low notes to extremely high notes. There are so many octaves in the song, but Lana handled it beautifully, reaching those high notes with the greatest of ease.
Her voice reminded me so much of the voice of Kate Smith. For those of you who remember this great vocalist of the late 1940s through the early 1960s, she was called upon to render the National Anthem at many national events. A well-known recording artist, she had regular radio and television programs for years. I can still hear that great announcing voice of Ted Collins saying, "Ladies and Gentlemen, it's the Kate Smith Show." Then she would immediately go into that ever so famous theme song "When The Moon Comes Over The Mountain." She also popularized the song "God Bless America," which Congress was asked several times to consider as the National Anthem. This song is much easier to sing and has, what some believe, more inspiring lyrics.
Another artist who impresses me with her piano style is Jettie Everette.
There is something about her style that reminds me of Jack Marshall, the former great piano player of the 1950-1960 Blackwood Brothers Quartet. Jettie has the ability to add those "piano runs" to those inspiring, upbeat Gospel songs. I know, without a doubt, she would have been "grabbed up" by some famous quartet of the 1950s had they heard her play. Not only does she play the piano well, but she also possesses a tremendous soprano voice, the type of voice that blends in so well with four-part harmony. (She, along with Roy Burkett, keep me informed about present day and former events from the Uriah and south Monroe County area.)
I had the opportunity to meet Jackie Marshall in 1954 when the Backwoods came by WATM to sing. I am sure he doesn't remember me, as that was so long ago. We had a somewhat mutual connection as he was from Tuscaloosa and I was attending college there. As I have stated in earlier columns he owns many Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants throughout the entire South. If you look at his restaurant walls you will see his "Jack Marshall Enterprise" slogan.
I haven't heard Rachel Brown play piano lately but she also ranks right in there with our local talented artists. Her piano styling is similar to Liberace.This man is recognized as one of the greatest piano artist of the Twentieth Century. Rachel has a smooth style, as did Liberace, which keeps you completely spellbound when she plays. Her professional personality is highly compatible with her musical ability. I have heard her play many times and some of her performances were breath taking.
Another talented young man who can literally "make a piano talk" is Travis Hodgen.
He played at Molly and Edgar Norris's 50-year marriage anniversary recently. This young man, they tell me, only has to hear a song one time to play it. Throughout his local church, high school and now college days, his talent has not gone unnoticed. He, after attending Troy University, will be attending the University of Alabama. I predict this young man is "going places" especially after his talent is revealed at Alabama. He will be heard by talent scouts from throughout the entire country
One of the reasons I say this is because The University of Alabama pioneered Educational TV in the early 1950s. And, to this day young talent is still being discovered there. Many professional performers began their careers there.
Teresa Bolton Brown, the daughter of James and Tiny Bolton, has sung at her church lately and I have been overwhelmed by her style of singing
Teresa, Lana and Jettie all have resonance in their singing voices and they know how to use the microphone correctly. (I learned about the importance of proper microphone use many years ago from classes at Alabama and from listening to those great announcers of the 1940s and the 1950s).
Teresa's voice reminds me so much of Patsy Cline. She has an album, produced by her father, and it is simply outstanding. In her younger years she sang with her family at churches and various other local events. Their close harmony was perfected by James's arrangements. They could match any gospel group with their unique blending of voices.
Again, forgive me if I have failed to write about other local artists today. I know there are others out there whom I have not heard. I certainly don't want to leave anyone out. It is only because these I write about today were seen and heard by me on recent special occasions. If I hear others perform I will certainly write about them too. Most of you know that I know nothing about contemporary (modern day professional) artists. I can only relate to those who remind me of performers I grew up with, and that was many years ago.
Finally, one personal note. This week I was going through The Atmore Advance vault containing copies of old newspapers looking for a photo and a news article concerning a very important event that occurred here in August 1957. After much searching I finally found what I was looking for. In that picture I saw my wife getting married to another man. A man that I did not recognize. She and this man looked trim and very young in that photo. Today, my wife still has some of that 'trimness" but I cannot say that about that man. He certainly does not now look like that man in the 1957 picture. Well, she did not marry another man. It was I (much trimmer) in that picture with her. And, we did get married 50 years ago come August 31. Three wonderful sons and five beautiful grandchildren will attest to this.
Now, here are my plans for these next 50 years.
Lowell McGill is a historical columnist for The Atmore Advance. He can be reached at exam@frontiernet.net

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