Throughout my childhood there were two consistent high points to weekends –
Saturday nights at 7 p.m. for “Hee Haw” and Sunday mornings for “The Gospel Singing Jubilee.”
In the course of one week, America said goodbye to key stars of both of those shows which made up a huge piece of the American fabric with the passing of Roy Clark, 85, and Les Beasley, 90.
After I myself became a music artist and TV personality, I was honored to come to know both of them but for a hopeful musically-inclined child, they were the doors through which my weekly energies, enthusiasm and hopes were fueled.
With each passing week, I looked forward to the musical performances shared by Roy, Buck Owens and other cast members who made up Kornfield Kounty. The comedy kept my parents and I laughing but the music raised my hopes and dreams of doing what they did. “Hee Haw” became the longest running syndicated show in history.
The legendary ‘superpicker’, was a Country Music Hall of Fame and Grand Ole Opry member. That is where I met him and he began encouraging me in person. He won Grammys, CMA and ACM awards. From performances on “The Odd Couple” to “The Beverly Hillbillies,” to a frequent guest host on “The Tonight Show” for Johnny Carson, Roy wowed audiences with is greased lightning fingers no matter what instrument was in his hands.
In 1969, Yesterday, When I Was Young charted Top 20 Pop and #9 Country (Billboard). Including Yesterday, Clark has had 23 Top 40 country hits, among them eight Top 10s: The Tips Of My Fingers (#10, 1963), I Never Picked Cotton (#5) and Thank God And Greyhound You’re Gone (#6, 1970), The Lawrence Welk-Hee Haw Counter Revolution Polka (#9, 1972), Come Live With Me (#1) and Somewhere Between Love And Tomorrow (#2, 1973), and If I Had It To Do All Over Again (#2, 1976). In addition, his 12-string guitar rendition of Malaguena is considered a classic and, in 1982, he won a Grammy (Best Country Instrumental Performance) for Alabama Jubilee.
Sunday mornings as the bacon cooked, biscuits baked and we dressed for church, the television was tuned into “The Gospel Singing Jubilee” starring The Florida Boys led by Les Beasley.
J.G. Whitfield hired him in 1953 to sing in his Gospel Melody Quartet, which was later renamed The Florida Boys. After the retirement of Mr. Whitfield, Les assumed part ownership with Glen Allred and Derrell Stewart and leadership of the quartet, and continued those roles until 2007.
During his time with The Florida Boys, he was a key decisive leader in the development, promotion, and expansion of many of the entities that have provided the foundation of the modern era of Gospel music: “The Gospel Singing Jubilee” TV program, the National Quartet Convention, The Gospel Music Association, and others.
Watching the Happy Goodmans, The Marksmen Quartet and so many others on that show helped to further fuel the musical fire and hopes and dreams to perform and share the Southern gospel music stylings.
I came to know Les as I became part of gospel music and he was also a great encouragement to me and I always was honored when stepping on the National Quartet Convention stage knowing it was watching Les and the Jubilee that helped get me there.
America lost two great contributors to the American songbook, though their contributions remain, their presence will always be missed.