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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 5: SongsAdd to your cart.
This series consists of material relating to songs John Lair composed or arranged and his research regarding the origins of several popular songs from the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Sub-Series 1: Songs Composed or Arranged by John LairAdd to your cart.
Box 28Add to your cart.
Folder 1: Miscellaneous Song Lists and ArtistsAdd to your cart.
Folder 2: Publisher Song CatalogAdd to your cart.
Folder 3: John Lair - Personal Song / PoemsAdd to your cart.
Folder 4: Songs by Renfro Valley Performers or ListenersAdd to your cart.
Folder 5: "Alright, Honey, Alright", 1965Add to your cart.
Folder 6: "At the Rendezvous", 1964Add to your cart.
Folder 7: "Boating Up the Sandy", 1963Add to your cart.
Folder 8: "Bowman Town", n.d.Add to your cart.
Folder 9: "Calling Me Back Again", 1963Add to your cart.
Folder 10: "Calomel", 1965Add to your cart.
Folder 11: "Christmas Bells", 1963Add to your cart.
Folder 12: "Come Another Spring", 1964Add to your cart.
Folder 13: "Cracklin' Hen", n.d.Add to your cart.
Folder 14: "Darling, What Will I Do?", 1965Add to your cart.
Folder 15: "Dogwood Blossoms", 1965Add to your cart.
Folder 16: "Down at the Country Store", 1965Add to your cart.
Folder 17: "The Evergreen Pine", 1963Add to your cart.
Folder 18: "The Family Reunion", 1960Add to your cart.
Folder 19: "Forsaken", 1963Add to your cart.
Folder 20: "Freight Train Blues"Add to your cart.
Folder 21: "Freight Train Blues"Add to your cart.
Folder 22: "Freight Train Blues"Add to your cart.
Folder 23: "Grandma's Remedies"Add to your cart.
Folder 24: "Hello, Baby, Hello!", 1966Add to your cart.
Folder 25: "Ho! For Kentucky", 1965Add to your cart.
Folder 26: "Hold On!", 1965Add to your cart.
Folder 27: "Honey, you're a Big Girl Now", 1965Add to your cart.
Folder 28: "Huckleberry Bill", 1963Add to your cart.
Folder 29: "I'm Starting My School Days All Over", 1965Add to your cart.
Folder 30: "I Like Santa Claus", 1965Add to your cart.
Folder 31: "In an Old-Fashion Buggy", 1965Add to your cart.
Folder 32: "In Renfro Valley Tonight", 1965Add to your cart.
Folder 33: "In the Valley Where Time Stands Still", 1965Add to your cart.
Folder 34: "Johnny Bird", 1963Add to your cart.
Folder 35: "Just the Kind of Guy for Me", 1963Add to your cart.
Folder 36: "Keep Them Cold, Icy Fingers Off of Me", 1946Add to your cart.
Folder 37: "Lasses Making Time", n.d.Add to your cart.
Folder 38: "Let's Have an Old-Fashion Christmas", n.d.Add to your cart.
Folder 39: "Listen and Think of Me", n.d.Add to your cart.
Folder 40: "Listen to the Mockingbird", n.d.Add to your cart.
Folder 41: "Little Birdie", 1962Add to your cart.
Folder 42: "Lonesome Lulu"Add to your cart.
Folder 43: "Love and Learn"Add to your cart.
Folder 44: "The Man Who Comes Around"Add to your cart.
Folder 45: "My Heart Says I'm Still in Love with You", 1966Add to your cart.
Folder 46: "No Fool Like an Old Fool", 1964Add to your cart.
Folder 47: "O Darling, You're Breaking My Heart", 1963Add to your cart.
Folder 48: "The Old County Fair", 1965Add to your cart.
Folder 49: "The Old-Feathered on the Farm", 1963Add to your cart.
Folder 50: "Old Joe Clark"Add to your cart.
Folder 51: "On Halloween Night", 1965Add to your cart.
Folder 52: "The One I Love is Gone", 1964Add to your cart.
Folder 53: "Pop Goes the Weasel"Add to your cart.
Folder 54: "Pretty Little Miss", 1963Add to your cart.
Folder 55: "Renfro Valley Sally", 1954Add to your cart.
Box 29Add to your cart.
Folder 1: "Sally Goodin'"Add to your cart.
Folder 2: "Self-Starting Loving", 1965Add to your cart.
Folder 3: "Sparkie", 1965Add to your cart.
Folder 4: "Swing Your Lady", 1963Add to your cart.
Folder 5: "Tales My Great-Grandfather Told", 1965Add to your cart.
Folder 6: "Thank God America", 1954Add to your cart.
Folder 7: "That Old Familiar Feeling", 1966Add to your cart.
Folder 8: "Them Eyes", 1965Add to your cart.
Folder 9: "This Land, Kentucky", 1964Add to your cart.
Folder 10: "Too Many Times"Add to your cart.
Folder 11: "Turkey in the Straw"Add to your cart.
Folder 12: "Warmed-Over Love", 1966Add to your cart.
Folder 13: "When a Younger Woman Comes to Take Your Place"Add to your cart.
Folder 14: "When I Told My Baby Goodbye", 1963Add to your cart.
Folder 15: "Will They Play with Me Up There"Add to your cart.
Folder 16: "Wonder Valley", 1931Add to your cart.
Folder 17: "You Can't Do a Thing Without a Man"Add to your cart.
Folder 18: "You'll Be in My Heart"Add to your cart.
Folder 19: "Young Willie Brannon"Add to your cart.
Sub-Series 2: Song History Material Compiled by John LairAdd to your cart.
Box 30Add to your cart.
Folder 1: "Ballad of Jesse James"Add to your cart.
Folder 2: Burnett, R.D. (Blind Dick)Add to your cart.
Folder 3: "Casey Jones"Add to your cart.
Folder 4: "Darling Nellie Gray"Add to your cart.
Folder 5: "Death for Bonnie and Clyde"Add to your cart.
Folder 6: "Down by the Old Mill Stream"Add to your cart.
Folder 7: Foster, Stephen C.Add to your cart.
Folder 8: Hatfields and McCoys [Feud]Add to your cart.
Folder 9: Will S. HaysAdd to your cart.
Folder 10: "Home on the Range"Add to your cart.
Folder 11: "Homespun Dress"Add to your cart.
Folder 12: "I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen"Add to your cart.
Folder 13: "In the Baggage Coach Ahead"Add to your cart.
Folder 14: "Little Sod Shanty on the Claim"Add to your cart.
Folder 15: Misc. SongsAdd to your cart.
Folder 16: "Murder of Pearl Bryan"Add to your cart.
Folder 17: "The Old Oaken Bucket"Add to your cart.
Folder 18: "Old Rugged Cross"Add to your cart.
Folder 19: "Poor Omie"Add to your cart.
Folder 20: "Silver Threads Among the Gold"Add to your cart.
Folder 21: "Strawberry Roan"Add to your cart.
Folder 22: "When the Work's All Done This Fall"Add to your cart.
Folder 23: "When You and I were Young, Maggie"Add to your cart.
Folder 24: "Wreck of the 97"Add to your cart.
Folder 25: John Lair Song Roots Adam-EllenAdd to your cart.
Folder 26: John Lair Song Roots Fate-MyAdd to your cart.
Folder 27: John Lair Song Roots Pardon-ZebAdd 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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