FW: ANB - Bio of the Day: Molly O'Day
- Along with western bandleader Lynn Davis [whom she married], O'Day recorded
early songs by Hank Williams in the late 1940s....aj wright //
From: ANB Biography of the Day [mailto:biod-request@...]
Sent: Wednesday, October 31, 2001 1:00 AM
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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).
Back to the top
Richard Carlin. "O'Day, Molly";
American National Biography Online Feb. 2000.
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