2008 Edition: #48 (-12)
The Queen of All Radio.
Lulu Belle was born Myrtle Eleanor Cooper in North Carolina, the daughter of a convicted moonshiner. Her dad moved her family all around the country looking for ways to make big money, and when she was a teenager, they arrived in Chicago.
They arrived in the Windy City just as the stock market crashed, and she took odd jobs to help her family make ends meet. Her father was well aware of his daughter’s singing talents, and took her to audition for radio executives in the big city. Her confident drive impressed the folks at WLS, the most powerful country radio station in America. The station broadcast the National Barn Dance, which would become the prototype for country radio shows across the country. The boss of the show, John Lair, dubbed her Lulu Belle, and that became her performing name from that day on.
She quickly became known as much for her goofy stage antics as for her singing, and her lovable mountain girl persona made her one of the most popular radio acts of her time. She played the lovesick fool to Red Foley, and the audience lapped it up as she pursued him on stage. At the height of the depression, she was selling out shows, with willing patrons being turned away for lack of space.
Foley married in 1933, and his new wife insisted that he knock off his act with Lulu Belle. She paired up with a new cast member, Scott Wiseman. His shy demeanor was the perfect counterbalance to her feisty exuberance, and they became more popular together than Lulu had even been with Foley. They were even called the hillbilly George & Gracie.
Their professional relationship turned personal, and they married in 1934. The wild popularity of the act led to them being dubbed the Sweethearts of Country Music. Soon, they were multimedia superstars. In addition to their highly successful radio and road act, they appeared in eight motion pictures in the thirties and forties. Wiseman became a widely respected songwriter, but Lulu co-wrote his best song with him: “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?” It became a country and pop standard. In 1936, Lulu Belle was voted “Queen of All Radio”, over a slew of her contemporaries from various fields.
Their massive popularity led to their own radio show, Breakfast in the Blue Ridge, and they were heard worldwide on Armed Forces Radio during World War II. They recorded for several different record labels, and were among the first radio stars to transition to television, appearing on a Chicago station from 1949 to 1957. When they recorded the song “Mountain Dew”, it became so widely known that a soft drink was named after it!
Amazingly, Lulu Belle’s retirement from show business in 1958 was not the end of her life as a public figure. In the seventies, she ran for public office as a Democratic state representative in North Carolina, where she served for two terms. She used her platform to speak out against rape, revealing that she had been a victim during her early days on the road in the music industry. When Scotty passed away in 1980, she remarried later that decade, and did some recording on independent labels before her death in 1999.
- This Train, 1939
- Mountain Dew, 1939
- Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?, 1945
Next: #59. Jeannie Seely
Previous: #61. Juice Newton