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Foley, Redlocked

(17 June 1910–19 September 1968)
  • Ellis Nassour

Extract

Foley, Red (17 June 1910–19 September 1968), country music recording artist and television star, was born Clyde Julian Foley in Blue Lick, Kentucky, near the black community of Middletown, the son of Benjamin Harrison Foley, the proprietor of a Berea, Kentucky, general store, and Katherine Elizabeth (maiden name unknown). Foley’s older brother Clarence nicknamed him “Red” because of his hair color. The Foleys attended a black Southern Baptist church, whose music influenced Red. Family members recalled him “entertaining almost as soon as he could walk.” He began playing guitar in earnest when his father took one as trade for groceries. In grade school he was a prankster. At Berea High School (and briefly in college in 1928) he became a star basketball player. A teacher impressed by seventeen-year-old Foley’s singing entered him in a classical competition at Georgetown College (Ky.). Though he forgot the song’s words, he kept going and, said the contest administrator, “won not just for his voice but for his grit.” In 1929, during Foley’s first semester at Berea College, he frequently sang on WCKY radio in Covington, Kentucky, and on Cincinnati’s WLW, where a WLS radio scout heard him and offered a job. Foley left college and borrowed $75 to join the Cumberland Ridge Runners vaudeville group as vocalist and clown on Chicago’s “WLS National Barn Dance,” carried on fifty NBC radio stations. In 1930 he gained a solo spot, dubbed “Ramblin’ Red.” His rich baritone and ease with “high hard” notes earned him instant popularity as “the ...

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