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Tomato Tuesdays: Jenny Lou Carson

“If you want to make ratings in country radio, take females out. Trust me, I play great female records and we’ve got some right now; they’re just not the lettuce in our salad,” Hill said. “The lettuce is Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton, Keith Urban and artists like that. The tomatoes of our salad are the females.” – Keith Hill

Welcome back to Tomato Tuesdays: A Celebration of Women in Country Music

Lettuce introduce you to another variety of greens, rich with vitamins and minerals and loaded with dressing and our favorite topping, tomatoes. Meet Jenny Lou Carson: pioneer songwriter, radio star, trio singer and guitarist, sharp shooter, cowgirl, and World War II inspiration!

Jenny Lou Carson, known originally by the name Lucille Overstake, first rose to national fame on the National Barn Dance over WLS radio in Chicago as part of a trio, The Three Little Maids, with her two sisters Evelyn and Eva. Carson was a woman of many interests (and many names, as you’ll learn below) and as such, became well known as a pioneer for women in country music.

Carson was born Virginia Lucille Overstake on January 13, 1915,  the second of six children to Herschel Jewel Overstake and Helen Elizabeth Nalefski, in Decatur Illinois. It wouldn’t take long for Carson to go from household chores to nationwide fame; by the time she was seventeen she was performing on WSLM-AM’s National Barn Dance out of Chicago, Illinois, one of the first country music radio shows and a direct precursor to the Grand Ole Opry. Prior to her time with her sisters on the National Barn Dance, the Overstake sisters were local radio performers and Salvation Army street singers in their hometown.

After her time with her sisters as a trio came to a close in 1935, Lucille took on her first name change and joined the WLS trio as Winnie of Winnie, Lou, & Sally. In 1939, she changed her name yet again and recorded with the Sweet Violet Boys as Lucille Lee. Carson figured out early that she had many interests when it came to performing, and in 1939 decided she would become a modern day Annie Oakley, learning to sharpshoot, spin a rope, and manipulate a bullwhip. She changed her name yet again, this time to Jenny Lou Carson, and took her solo singing cowgirl act on the road. Having left Illinois by that point and formally assuming the name Jenny Lou Carson, she toured the state of Texas with her then partner, a gentleman nicknamed Texas Tommy.

It was during World War II that Carson began to gain recognition for her songwriting skills, earning the nickname “Radio Chin-Up Girl” as she penned verses about soldier boys  what it’d be like coming home after the war. Carson also recorded for Decca, Mercury, and RCA Victor during the 1940’s, introducing several songs that became hits for other stars including Eddy Arnold, Tex Ritter, Hank Snow, Tex Williams, Spade Cooley, and Ernest Tubb. Carson went on to author “Jealous Heart”, sung by Tex Ritter, a song that stayed on the hit charts for twenty-three weeks, and “You Two-Timed Me One Time Too Often”, the first top charting country hit written by a woman, both in 1945. Carson’s song catalog contains over 170 songs which have been professionally recorded by more than 180 artists.

In 1971, Carson was inducted to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and lived out the last several decades of her life enjoying retirement from the industry. Carson succeeded as a singer, a songwriter, a performer, and a national poster woman for positivity and encouragement during one of the most devastating wars our world has seen.

How’s that for a silly little tomato?

Edited by Laurie Lowrance

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