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FW: ANB - Bio of the Day: Molly O'Day

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  • A.J. Wright
    Along with western bandleader Lynn Davis [whom she married], O Day recorded early songs by Hank Williams in the late 1940s....aj wright // ajwright@uab.edu ...
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 31, 2001
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      Along with western bandleader Lynn Davis [whom she married], O'Day recorded
      early songs by Hank Williams in the late 1940s....aj wright //

      -----Original Message-----
      From: ANB Biography of the Day [mailto:biod-request@...]
      Sent: Wednesday, October 31, 2001 1:00 AM
      To: ANB bioday mailing list
      Subject: ANB - Bio of the Day

      American National Biography Online

      O'Day, Molly (9 July 1923-5 Dec. 1987), musician, was born LaVerne
      Lois Williamson near McVeigh, Kentucky, the daughter of Joseph
      A. Williamson, a coalminer and farmer, and Hester Fleming. Two
      of her brothers were musicians, and she learned to play the guitar
      and banjo and to sing at an early age. Playing guitar, she accompanied
      her brothers fiddler Cecil ("Skeets") and banjoist Joe ("Duke")
      for local performances and at dances. In 1939 Skeets got a short-term
      job on Charleston radio, and Molly, then sixteen, followed him
      there, taking the name "Mountain Fern." They separately moved
      to smaller stations in West Virginia, their brother Duke rejoined
      them, and they briefly formed a trio.

      In the fall of 1940 Molly traveled to Bluefield, West Virginia.
      Now using the name "Dixie Lee" Williamson, she met bandleader
      and guitarist Leonard "Lynn" Davis, who had his own western-flavored
      band, the Forty-Niners. She was hired as their lead singer and
      a year later married Davis. Over the next five years they moved
      from station to station, building a strong following on radio;
      sometime during this period she took her final stage name, Molly
      O'Day. It was also at this time she began dressing in pseudowestern
      attire, following the style of other female country performers,
      such as Patsy Montana and Texas Ruby. Davis and O'Day renamed
      the backing band the Cumberland Mountain Folks, and O'Day's brother
      Skeets was often featured in the lineup. Future bluegrass and
      country vocalist Mac Wiseman played bass with the band beginning
      in 1946 and was featured on most of their Columbia recordings.
      While performing on radio in Alabama, the duo met a young guitarist
      and songwriter, Hank Williams, who taught them the song "Tramp
      on the Street," a tear-jerking ballad that would become one of
      O'Day's most popular tunes.

      While performing on radio station WNOX out of Knoxville, Tennessee,
      in 1945 and 1946, the couple caught the attention of Nashville
      music publisher Fred Rose, who recommended them to Columbia Records.
      Rose, who represented Williams as a songwriter, urged Davis and
      O'Day to record Williams's material. In their early Columbia
      sessions (1946-1947), the band accompanied O'Day's strong vocals
      on "Tramp on the Street," the religious "Matthew 24," and the
      honky-tonk anthem "I Don't Care If Tomorrow Never Comes," written
      by Williams. Although O'Day's popularity was growing thanks to
      radio and recordings, she was increasingly nervous on stage and
      unhappy performing secular material. A 1949 session brought more
      classic performances, including her last hits, "Teardrops Falling
      on the Snow" and Hank Williams's composition "On the Evening
      Train," both quintessential tearjerkers.

      O'Day apparently suffered an emotional breakdown sometime in
      late 1949 or early 1950 and was briefly hospitalized. She last
      recorded for Columbia in 1951, retiring from secular performances.
      She and Davis converted to the Church of God, and O'Day began
      singing exclusively in churches. Her big-lunged vocal style was
      influential on the next generation of female country singers,
      particularly Kitty Wells, who picked up O'Day's don't-mess-with-me
      attitude to score a big hit in 1952 with "It Wasn't God Who Made
      Honky Tonk Angels." Ironically, O'Day perhaps missed being the
      first female country music star by a year, as she abandoned the
      music just before it became acceptable for a woman to take such
      a gutsy approach.

      O'Day and Davis settled near Huntington, West Virginia, and
      recorded sporadically for smaller labels, despite recurring heath
      problems for O'Day, who had contracted tuberculosis. The duo
      began a gospel radio show on WEMM in Huntington in 1974, which
      they hosted together for fourteen years until her death there.


      Ivan Tribe and John Morris have documented the duo's life and
      career in Molly O'Day, Lynn Davis and the Cumberland Mountain
      Folks: A Bio-Discography (JEMF Special Series, no. 7, 1975).
      Their complete Columbia recordings have been reissued on a two-CD
      set by Bear Family Records of Germany (15565).

      Richard Carlin

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      Richard Carlin. "O'Day, Molly";
      American National Biography Online Feb. 2000.
      Access Date:
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