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John Lair Papers

Overview

Abstract

Scope and Contents

Biographical Note

Administrative Information

Detailed Description

John Lair - Biographical

Business Correspondence

Performer Correspondence and Biographical Material

Published Material

Songs

Radio Program Scripts

Listener Mail

Photographs

Audio-Visual Material and Recordings



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John Lair Papers, 1930-1999 | Berea College Special Collections and Archives Catalog

By Harry Rice

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Collection Overview

Title: John Lair Papers, 1930-1999Add to your cart.

Primary Creator: Lair, John -- 1894-1985

Extent: 80.0 Boxes (General)

Arrangement:

Arrangement of the collection is by series:

1. John Lair - Biographical

2. Business Correspondence

3. Performer Correspondence and Biographical Material

4. Published Material

5. Songs

6. Radio Program Scripts

7. Listener Mail

8. Photographs

9. Audio-Visual Material

Subjects: Country music -- Kentucky -- Renfro Valley -- History., Lair, John., National Barn Dance (Radio program)., Renfro Valley Barn Dance (Radio program) -- History., Renfro Valley Gatherin' (Radio program), Rockcastle County (Ky.) -- History.

Languages: English

Abstract

John Lair was born in Rockcastle County, Kentucky on July 1, 1894.  His father was a farmer and Lair attended a one-room school before going on to finish high school in the county seat town of Mount Vernon. After army service in World War One, he worked in a variety of jobs that included teaching school and editing a small-town newspaper.  Work as an insurance company claims adjuster brought him to Chicago in the late 1920s where he became interested in radio.  He was able to find work for early Kentucky country music performers such as Red Foley and the duo of Carl and Harty on the WLS National Barn Dance and eventually was employed by WLS as producer, MC, and Music Librarian.  He became particularly interested in discovering the real life events upon which old songs were based.  In the process he began accumulating a large sheet music collection and gained a reputation as an authority on folk music. He wrote songs of his own as well, including “Take Me Back to Renfro Valley,” “Freight Train Blues,” “Only One Step More,” and “The Man Who Comes Around.”

While at WLS, he began thinking of having a radio barn dance program of his own.  Instead of another city location, he planned to stage his show in an actual barn in his Rockcastle County home community of Renfro Valley.  His first step in this undertaking was moving from WLS to Cincinnati’s WLW where he started the Renfro Valley Barn Dance.  While developing a Renfro Valley radio identity on WLW, Lair set about building his Kentucky country music tourist complex that eventually opened in 1939.  It included a barn-like auditorium, the one-room log school of his youth, and restored, water driven gristmill. There was also a rustic appearing but newly built restaurant, gift shop, U.S. Post Office, and overnight cabins. Later there would a pioneer museum and old fashioned country store.  Beginning in 1944 Lair began publishing a monthly newspaper, the Renfro Valley Bugle.  In addition to news of his radio programs and performers, he wrote extensively about Rockcastle County history.

His radio programs were heavy on comedy, turn-of-the-century sentimental songs, old English ballads, and rural string band music.  The two programs he is best known for are the Saturday night Renfro Valley Barn Dance and Sunday morning Renfro Valley Gatherin’.  The Barn Dance was heard widely on WLW and later Louisville’s WHAS.  The Gatherin’, started in 1943, was carried by WHAS and the CBS Network. Less well known was Monday Night at Renfro Valley which was heard on NBC only from August 1940 through April 1941.

The music and Lair’s low key commercial delivery attracted a large radio audience especially in the Midwest, northeast and upper south. On weekends, visitors came from great distances to attend the broadcast stage performances and to enjoy the Valley’s up-to-date facilities and serene atmosphere.  His performers were also in great demand for shows at schools, movie theaters, and county fairs.  During much of the 1940s he kept a tent show on the road from May to October that ranged all the way from Georgia to upper New York State and parts of New England.

The advent of television in the early 1950s made it increasingly difficult for Lair to find sponsors for his radio programs on national networks.  The result was that the Renfro Valley Barn Dance became a non-broadcast stage attraction.  However the Gatherin’ continued to be heard via recorded versions distributed to individual radio stations. Lair sold his Renfro Valley holdings to Nashville music publisher, Hal Smith in 1968.  He eventually came to regret this decision and, with the help of Glenn Pennington and Alfa Smith, repurchased Renfro Valley in 1976.  A few years later, though, Lair's failing health forced his final retirement. Up to and for a while after his death on November 12, 1985, various family members managed the facility. In 1989 the Lair family sold their Renfro Valley interests to a Lexington, Kentucky group of investors who updated and expanded the operation, and renamed it, the Renfro Valley Entertainment Center.  In July 2000 the entire operation was made a gift to the nonprofit corporation that is developing a Kentucky country music hall of fame and museum.

Scope and Contents of the Materials

These are the papers of John Lee Lair, pioneer country music broadcaster, music collector, and community historian. They consist mainly of business correspondence, mail from radio listeners, photographs, radio program scripts, and broadcast recordings. Included in the collection are printed promotional material, news clippings, performer repertoire lists, oral history transcripts, and audio-visual materials.

Collection Historical Note

John Lee Lair, born July 1, 1894 in Renfro Valley, Kentucky; in first group of US Army enlistees from Rockcastle County for World War I, assigned to produce musical shows for servicemen; claims adjuster for Liberty Mutual Insurance Company in Louisville and Chicago; 1927 joined Chicago radio station WLS; 1937 he joined WLW in Cincinnati; died November 12, 1985 in Lexington.

Biographical Note

<span style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;">John Lee Lair, born July 1, 1894 in Renfro Valley, Kentucky; in first group of US Army enlistees from Rockcastle County for World War I, assigned to produce musical shows for servicemen; claims adjuster for Liberty Mutual Insurance Company in Louisville and Chicago; 1927 joined Chicago radio station WLS; 1937 he joined WLW in Cincinnati; died November 12, 1985 in Lexington</span>

Subject/Index Terms

Country music -- Kentucky -- Renfro Valley -- History.
Lair, John.
National Barn Dance (Radio program).
Renfro Valley Barn Dance (Radio program) -- History.
Renfro Valley Gatherin' (Radio program)
Rockcastle County (Ky.) -- History.

Administrative Information

Repository: Berea College Special Collections and Archives Catalog

Access Restrictions: Records can be accessed through the Reading Room, Berea College Special Collections and Archives, Hutchins Library, Berea College.

Use Restrictions: Federal copyright regulations apply to all materials.

Preferred Citation: [Object identification], John Lair Collection, Berea College Special Collections & Archives, Berea, KY.

Processing Information: The collection was processed by Harry Rice, Sound Archivist.  Finding aid was created by Harry Rice in 2003.  The finding aid was updated in January 2016 by Lori Myers-Steele, Collections Archivist, to reflect the addition of Series IX: Audio-Visual Materials.

Other Note: BCA 0066 SAA 066


Box and Folder Listing


Browse by Series:

[Series 1: John Lair - Biographical],
[Series 2: Business Correspondence],
[Series 3: Performer Correspondence and Biographical Material],
[Series 4: Published Material],
[Series 5: Songs],
[Series 6: Radio Program Scripts],
[Series 7: Listener Mail],
[Series 8: Photographs],
[Series 9: Audio-Visual Material and Recordings],
[All]

Series 2: Business CorrespondenceAdd to your cart.
This series includes correspondence (1930 to 1981) with business associates, job seekers, booking agencies, sponsors, advertising agencies, and radio stations. Other topics are gospel quartet contests, establishment of a Renfro Valley pioneer museum, and publishing projects including a hymnbook, almanac, and Lair’s book about Abraham Lincoln’s favorite songs.
Box 3Add to your cart.
Folder 1: Gus Sun Booking Agency, 1940-1941Add to your cart.
Folder 2: Gus Sun Booking Agency, 1942Add to your cart.
Folder 3: Bookings, Sep-43Add to your cart.
Folder 4: Bookings, Oct-43Add to your cart.
Folder 5: Bookings, Nov-43Add to your cart.
Folder 6: Bookings, Dec-43Add to your cart.
Folder 7: Bookings, 1944Add to your cart.
Folder 8: Bookings, 1944Add to your cart.
Box 4Add to your cart.
Folder 1: Bookings, 1945Add to your cart.
Folder 2: Bookings, 1947Add to your cart.
Folder 3: Bookings, 1948Add to your cart.
Folder 4: Bookings, Undated / January-March 1952Add to your cart.
Folder 5: Bookings, April-June 1952Add to your cart.
Folder 6: Bookings, July-December 1952Add to your cart.
Folder 7: Bookings: By Richard Pierson, 1956Add to your cart.
Folder 8: Bookings, 1957Add to your cart.
Box 5Add to your cart.
Folder 1: 1937 National Folk FestivalAdd to your cart.
Folder 2: White House Performance, 1939Add to your cart.
Folder 3: Renfro Valley Fox Hunt, 1941Add to your cart.
Folder 4: Tent Shows, 1944 / 1946Add to your cart.
Folder 5: First Red Bud Festival, 1946Add to your cart.
Folder 6: Florida, 1949Add to your cart.
Folder 7: All Day Sing and Quartet Contest, 1953Add to your cart.
Folder 8: All Day Sing and Quartet Contest, 1954Add to your cart.
Folder 9: Kentucky State Fair-Homecoming, 1962Add to your cart.
Folder 10: Kentucky State Fair-Appearances, 1960sAdd to your cart.
Folder 11: Christmas Party Fund, 1964-1968Add to your cart.
Folder 12: Renfro Valley Founders Day, 1977Add to your cart.
Folder 13: Renfro Valley Founders Day - Clippings and Promotional Material, 1977Add to your cart.
Folder 14: Country Music Association Hall of Fame Nominees, 1980Add to your cart.
Box 6Add to your cart.
Folder 1: Gospel Quartet Contest, 1946-47Add to your cart.
Folder 2: Gospel Quartet Contest, 1947Add to your cart.
Folder 3: Gospel Quartet Contest, 1947 / 1952Add to your cart.
Box 7Add to your cart.
Folder 1: Business Correspondence, UndatedAdd to your cart.
Folder 2: Business Correspondence, 1930-1936Add to your cart.
Folder 3: Business Correspondence, 1937Add to your cart.
Folder 4: Business Correspondence, 1938Add to your cart.
Folder 5: Business Correspondence, 1939Add to your cart.
Folder 6: Business Correspondence, 1940Add to your cart.
Folder 7: Renfro Valley Buildings, 1940Add to your cart.
Folder 8: Business Correspondence, Jan-41Add to your cart.
Folder 9: Business Correspondence, Feb-41Add to your cart.
Folder 10: Business Correspondence, Mar-41Add to your cart.
Folder 11: Business Correspondence, April-September 1941Add to your cart.
Folder 12: Business Correspondence, Oct-41Add to your cart.
Folder 13: Business Correspondence, Nov-41Add to your cart.
Folder 14: Business Correspondence, Dec-41Add to your cart.
Folder 15: Business Correspondence, 1942Add to your cart.
Folder 16: Business Correspondence, 1943Add to your cart.
Folder 17: Business Correspondence, 1944-1947Add to your cart.
Box 8Add to your cart.
Folder 1: Business Correspondence, January-February 1948Add to your cart.
Folder 2: Business Correspondence, Mar-48Add to your cart.
Folder 3: Business Correspondence, April-June 1948Add to your cart.
Folder 4: Business Correspondence, July-September 1948Add to your cart.
Folder 5: Business Correspondence, October-December 1948Add to your cart.
Folder 6: Business Correspondence, March-June 1949Add to your cart.
Folder 7: Business Correspondence, July-August 1949Add to your cart.
Folder 8: Business Correspondence, September-December 1949Add to your cart.
Folder 9: Business Correspondence, 1950-1951Add to your cart.
Folder 10: Business Correspondence, 1952-1959Add to your cart.
Box 9Add to your cart.
Folder 1: Business Correspondence - Mrs. W.C. Bradley, 1960Add to your cart.
Folder 2: Business Correspondence - Barnett-Blackburn, 1962Add to your cart.
Folder 3: Business Correspondence, 1961-1962Add to your cart.
Folder 4: Business Correspondence, 1963Add to your cart.
Folder 5: Business Correspondence, 1964Add to your cart.
Folder 6: Business Correspondence, 1965Add to your cart.
Folder 7: Business Correspondence, 1966Add to your cart.
Folder 8: Business Correspondence, 1967Add to your cart.
Folder 9: Business Correspondence, 1968Add to your cart.
Folder 10: Business Correspondence, 1971-1981, UndatedAdd to your cart.
Folder 11: Business Records, [1939-1955]Add to your cart.
Folder 12: Barn Dance Attendance, 1951-1960Add to your cart.
Folder 13: Payroll Data, 1952Add to your cart.
Folder 14: John Lair Expense Accounts, 1952-1953Add to your cart.
Folder 15: Renfro Valley Enterprises, Inc.-Trial Balance, 1957Add to your cart.
Box 10Add to your cart.
Folder 1: Museum Articles - Old Songs and Poems, 1945-1946Add to your cart.
Folder 2: Correspondence - Museum Artifacts - Farm/Tools, 1945-1948Add to your cart.
Folder 3: Correspondence - Museum Artifacts - Misc., 1945-1946Add to your cart.
Folder 4: Correspondence - Museum Artifacts - Musical Instruments, 1946-1948Add to your cart.
Folder 5: Correspondence - Museum Artifacts - Weaponry, 1946-1948Add to your cart.
Folder 6: Correspondence - Museum Artifacts - Misc., 1947-1948Add to your cart.
Folder 7: Museum Articles - Old Songs and Poems, 1947-1949Add to your cart.
Folder 8: Horse Drawn Vehicle Collection, 1961Add to your cart.
Folder 9: Museum Articles, 1959-1961Add to your cart.
Folder 10: Correspondence - Museum Artifacts - Misc., 1962-1964Add to your cart.
Folder 11: Museum, 1965-1966Add to your cart.
Folder 12: Museum, 1967-1968Add to your cart.
Box 11Add to your cart.
Folder 1: New 1935 Song Book, [1934-1935]Add to your cart.
Folder 2: Renfro Valley Keepsake - Printing, 1947Add to your cart.
Folder 3: Renfro Valley Keepsake, 1941Add to your cart.
Folder 4: Duel, Slone, and Pearce - Lincoln Song Book, 1960-1961Add to your cart.
Folder 5: Lincoln Songs, 1951; 1952; and 1958Add to your cart.
Folder 6: Hymn Book, January-September 1951Add to your cart.
Folder 7: Hymn Book, October-December 1951Add to your cart.
Folder 8: Hymn Book, 1952Add to your cart.
Folder 9: Albert E. Brumley - Proposed Song Book, 1953Add to your cart.
Folder 10: Renfro Valley Almanac, 1953-1954Add to your cart.
Folder 11: Lincoln Song Book Material, 1953-1955Add to your cart.
Folder 12: Museum, 1967-1968Add to your cart.
Box 12Add to your cart.
Folder 1: WLS Music Departmental PlanAdd to your cart.
Folder 2: WLW 1941Add to your cart.
Folder 3: WHAS 1941-[1959]Add to your cart.
Folder 4: CBS 1947-1958Add to your cart.
Folder 5: WSB Atlanta, 1941Add to your cart.
Folder 6: WGRC 1941Add to your cart.
Folder 7: Tom Hargis (Gene Autry) - WRVK, 1955-1956Add to your cart.
Folder 8: WLBK - George Biggar, 1959-1960Add to your cart.
Folder 9: WWL New Orleans, 1959Add to your cart.
Folder 10: WJR, 1959-1977Add to your cart.
Folder 11: WCCO, 1959-1960Add to your cart.
Folder 12: WRVK, 1960-1962; 1969Add to your cart.
Folder 13: Misc. Stations Broadcasting Renfro Valley Programs, 1964-1968Add to your cart.
Folder 14: WAGY Forest City, NC, 1967Add to your cart.
Folder 15: KBOW Butte, MontanaAdd to your cart.
Folder 16: KTHS Little Rock, ArkansasAdd to your cart.
Folder 17: KVET Austin, TXAdd to your cart.
Folder 18: KWKH Shreveport, LAAdd to your cart.
Folder 19: WAIM Anderson, SCAdd to your cart.
Folder 20: WDBJ Roanoke, VAAdd to your cart.
Folder 21: WHON Centerville, INAdd to your cart.
Folder 22: WIBW Topeka, KSAdd to your cart.
Folder 23: WTAD Quincy, ILAdd to your cart.
Folder 24: WTOC Savannah, GAAdd to your cart.
Box 13Add to your cart.
Folder 1: Ekko Recording Company, 1947-1948Add to your cart.
Folder 2: Ekko Recording Company / Schwartz and Bloomenthal, 1950, 1953Add to your cart.
Folder 3: Renfro Valley Gatherin' Album, 1963Add to your cart.
Folder 4: RCA Correspondence, 1964Add to your cart.
Folder 5: Promotional materials, 1952Add to your cart.
Folder 6: Federal Sign and Signal, Inc. 1953-1958Add to your cart.
Folder 7: Personal Appearances, 1952-1953Add to your cart.
Folder 8: Personal Appearances, 1963-1967Add to your cart.
Folder 9: Publicity for Renfro Valley Barn Dance, 1960sAdd to your cart.
Folder 10: Renfro Valley Products - Walnuts, 1948-1950Add to your cart.
Folder 11: Renfro Valley Products, 1954-1959Add to your cart.
Box 14Add to your cart.
Folder 1: Farm Television Pilot Script, 1953Add to your cart.
Folder 2: Movie Premiere - It Happens Every Thursday- 2nd Country Editors Conference, 1953Add to your cart.
Folder 3: Essar Productions - Ed Salzberg, 1953Add to your cart.
Folder 4: Renfro Valley Barn Dance - Proposed Television Film Series, 1955Add to your cart.
Folder 5: Picture Clearance (Renfro Valley Movie) - Harry Fox, 1957-1966Add to your cart.
Folder 6: Renfro Valley Movie Correspondence, 1960sAdd to your cart.
Folder 7: Hal Smith Agency, 1965-1968Add to your cart.
Folder 8: Movie Soundtrack - Renfro Valley Barn Dance Album, 1965-1968Add to your cart.
Folder 9: Correspondence, Movie Script - Renfro Valley Barn DanceAdd to your cart.
Folder 10: Film Record, 1966Add to your cart.
Folder 11: Renfro Valley Gatherin' Television Pilot Script, 1979Add to your cart.
Folder 12: Renfro Valley Folks - Television Program, 1956-1957Add to your cart.
Box 15Add to your cart.
Folder 1: Renfro Valley Bugle - Questions and Answers, 1954-1968Add to your cart.
Folder 2: Renfro Valley Bugle, 1948-1967Add to your cart.
Folder 3: Renfro Valley Bugle - Songs and Poems, 1954-1967Add to your cart.
Folder 4: Renfro Valley Bugle - "What Is It?", 1961-1968Add to your cart.
Folder 5: Renfro Valley Bugle, 1962Add to your cart.
Folder 6: Renfro Valley Bugle, 1963Add to your cart.
Folder 7: Renfro Valley Bugle, 1964Add to your cart.
Folder 8: Renfro Valley Ticket Reservations, UndatedAdd to your cart.
Folder 9: Renfro Valley Ticket Reservations, January-February 1941Add to your cart.
Folder 10: Renfro Valley Ticket Reservations, Oct-41Add to your cart.
Folder 11: Renfro Valley Ticket Reservations, November-December 1941Add to your cart.
Folder 12: Renfro Valley Ticket Reservations, Jan-42Add to your cart.
Folder 13: Renfro Valley Ticket Reservations, Feb-42Add to your cart.
Box 16Add to your cart.
Folder 1: Freeman Keyes and Associates, 1937Add to your cart.
Folder 2: Russell M. Seeds Company / Freeman Keyes, 1938Add to your cart.
Folder 3: Russell M. Seeds Company / Freeman Keyes, 1939-1940Add to your cart.
Folder 4: Gittins Advertising - Allis Chalmers, 1940Add to your cart.
Folder 5: Russell M. Seeds Company / Freeman Keyes, 1941-1942Add to your cart.
Folder 6: Russell M. Seeds Company, [1949-1950]Add to your cart.
Folder 7: Russell M. Seeds Company / Freeman Keyes, 1943-1949Add to your cart.
Folder 8: Ballard and Ballard Company, 1943-1944Add to your cart.
Folder 9: T.J. Wood, Sr., 1950Add to your cart.
Folder 10: Henri, Hurst and McDonald, Inc. (Ballard and Ballard), 1948; 1950Add to your cart.
Folder 11: Ballard and Ballard Company, 1947-1949; 1953Add to your cart.
Folder 12: Ballard and Ballard Company - Package LogosAdd to your cart.
Folder 13: Prospective Sponsors, 1948-1949Add to your cart.
Folder 14: Benton and Bowles - General Foods - Proposal, 1950Add to your cart.
Folder 15: Renfro Valley Presentation Materials, 1950sAdd to your cart.
Folder 16: Calumet Baking Powder - Reference File, 1950Add to your cart.
Folder 17: Foote, Cone and Belding - Advertising, 1950Add to your cart.
Folder 18: Post 40% Bran Flakes - Commercial Reference File, 1950Add to your cart.
Folder 19: Benton and Bowles, Inc., 1950Add to your cart.
Box 17Add to your cart.
Folder 1: Benton and Bowles, Inc. - Station Lists, 1950-1954Add to your cart.
Folder 2: Agency and Sponsor Personnel Lists, 1950Add to your cart.
Folder 3: Benton and Bowles, Inc. - Renfro Valley Ratings, 1951Add to your cart.
Folder 4: Tom Wood Jr. Correspondence (with sponsors), 1951-1952Add to your cart.
Folder 5: Benton and Bowles, Inc., January-April 1951Add to your cart.
Folder 6: Benton and Bowles, Inc., May-November 1951Add to your cart.
Folder 7: Brush Offer - Maxwell House Tea, 1951Add to your cart.
Folder 8: Foote, Cone and Belding, 1951Add to your cart.
Folder 9: Benton and Bowles, Inc. - Country Store Public Relations Material, 1951Add to your cart.
Folder 10: Benton and Bowles, Inc. - Sunday Morning Gathering Public Relations Material, 1951Add to your cart.
Folder 11: Foote, Cone and Belding, January-May 1952Add to your cart.
Folder 12: Benton and Bowles, Inc., 1952Add to your cart.
Box 18Add to your cart.
Folder 1: Foote, Cone and Belding, June-December 1952Add to your cart.
Folder 2: Benton and Bowles, Inc. - Renfro Valley Ratings, 1952-1954Add to your cart.
Folder 3: Foote, Cone and Belding - Country Editors Conference, 1952-1953Add to your cart.
Folder 4: Young and Rubicam, Inc., 1952Add to your cart.
Folder 5: Foote, Cone and Belding, January-March 1953Add to your cart.
Folder 6: Foote, Cone and Belding, April-December 1953Add to your cart.
Folder 7: Prospective Sponsors, 1953; 1955-1956Add to your cart.
Folder 8: Ford Foundation, 1954-1964Add to your cart.
Folder 9: Foote, Cone and Belding, 1954Add to your cart.
Folder 10: Postum - Commercial Reference File, 1954Add to your cart.
Folder 11: Young and Rubicam, Inc., June-July 1954Add to your cart.
Folder 12: Young and Rubicam, Inc., August-December 1954Add to your cart.
Folder 13: Young and Rubicam, Inc., 1955Add to your cart.
Folder 14: Post Cereals, 1955Add to your cart.
Folder 15: Prospective Sponsors, 1955-1957Add to your cart.
Folder 16: Campbell-Mithun Advertising - Pillsbury, 1956-1957Add to your cart.

Browse by Series:

[Series 1: John Lair - Biographical],
[Series 2: Business Correspondence],
[Series 3: Performer Correspondence and Biographical Material],
[Series 4: Published Material],
[Series 5: Songs],
[Series 6: Radio Program Scripts],
[Series 7: Listener Mail],
[Series 8: Photographs],
[Series 9: Audio-Visual Material and Recordings],
[All]


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