He was born in Huntington, West Virginia; his name was Harold
Franklin Hawkins, but the music world came to know him as
Hawkshaw Hawkins. He grew to be about six feet five inches tall.
His nature and height probably had a hand in the fans giving him
the nickname of "Eleven and one-half yards of personality".
He was part of a family of four. When he was just 13 years old,
he got his first guitar, a homemade one, that he got in a
trade for five rabbits. He continued his musical interests and got
his first foot in the door through a bit of fate.
There was an amateur radio contest in his home town and someone
dared Hawkshaw to enter the contest. He not only won the contest,
but the radio station, WSAZ of Huntington, WV, gave him his first
regular spot on the air. In a question and answer session as part
of a column called "Witness Box" in an old Country Song Roundup,
Hawkshaw related that a couple named Dot and Smokey gave him one of
his first breaks in the music business when he teamed with them
over WSAZ. He also said Jake Taylor had helped out, too but
no other details were provided.
A couple years later and he was working as the emcee of a show
that aired over WCMI in Ashland, Kentucky. He also appeared over
other stations such as WCHS in Charleston, West Virginia, WLAW,
in Lawrence, Massachusetts and WFIL out of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Like many artists in that era, Hawkshaw's musical career was interrupted
by World War II. He entered the Army Engineering Corps in
November of 1943. He was stated to have served in the Army about
two and a half years as a Sergeant. He served in the European Theatre
of Operations (ETO) and in the Pacific. He was also a part of
the 197th Engineering Maintenance Company. During that time, he saw
nearly 15 months of combat duty and was a participant in
the "Battle of the Bulge", which took place in late 1944 and
lasted through 1945. He earned four battle stars. After the war
ended in Germany, he was assigned to the Philippines.
It was while he was stationed in the Philippines that Hawkshaw enjoyed
one of the highlights of his career that was often mentioned in
the write-ups in the magazines of that era. He was part of an
all-GI show in Manila that aired over radio station WTUM or WUTM (we've seen
various radio station names for this stint in the Philippines, the fan
club newsletter we have mentions it was WUTM.).
In January of 1946, Hawkshaw was discharged from the military service.
It appears that upon going home to resume his music career, he went
first to the steel regions of Pennsylvania and hooked up
with radio station WKST in New Castle. While he was there, an
artists bureau member heard Hawkshaw's singing and sent a recommendation
to WWVA in Wheeling, West Virginia, the home of the World's Original
Jamboree. He made a guest appearance on that show on July 29, 1946 and
in August, he joined the cast of the show. It didn't take long
for the fans to discover his popularity. They ran a popularity
contest after he had been there only six weeks
and he came in second place (one article we read mentioned he
came in second to Big Slim)! Later, he won a popularity
contest. A fan club newsletter mentions the crowds "...would scream
encores as he performed on the Jamboree stage."
We get an idea of the audience reaction to Hawkshaw's appearances
on the WWVA Original Jamboree show from some quotes attributed to
Curly Miller, in a Hillbilly News article of 1947.
Curly was the emcee of the show back then and they
wrote that towards the end of the show, Curly would step
up to the microphone and introduce the man the fans called
"Eleven yards of personality and song." But it seems that before
Curly could even get to say his name, his voice was drowned
out by "..the screaming and thunderous applause of
the frenzied audience".
Curly had worked as master of ceremonies at several of the top
shows of the time, the WIBC Jamboree in Indiana, the WLS
National Barn Dance, the Hayloft Frolic, the Noon Day Merry-Go-Round
and others before coming to the WWVA show. Curly said,
"But I have never seen or heard any other entertainer given
such a tremendous applause and welcome ovation."
The article goes on to try and explain this popularity,
attributing it to "His top recordings, his pleasing voice,
his vibrant personality, his all-around good humor". They also
said he was just Hawkshaw Hawkins, "…no airs, no strut,
Hawkshaw worked for some time with the Big Slim show as
they teamed up on personal appearances before Big Slim left
In July of 1948, Hawkshaw left WWVA (his replacement they said
was Tennessee Morgan) and in August joined WFIL
in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where it was reported he would
also do television spots in addition to working on the radio.
While at WFIL, he appeared on the Saturday night show, the Hayloft Hoedown which
was televised and broadcast over the ABC network. But perhaps
his West Virginia roots were too strong, for in November 1948,
he returned to WWVA.
The fan club newsletter reported that they staged a special welcome
Jamboree for his return. They said thousands came to the theatre, lining
up early in the day to make sure they got the best seats. They wrote, "No
star ever received a greater ovation than hawk as he stepped before the footlites
of the famous Jamboree stage that night."
Around September of 1950, Hawkshaw had formed a new band.
In one article, it notes that Hawkshaw's band was called
the "West Virginia Night Hawks" and included Billy Grammer
who would later also become noted musician himself and later
a member of the Opry in his own right. Billy Grammer played
the "boogie guitar" in Hawkshaw's band back then.
Sammy Barnhart played bass. Another couple of guys
named Mel and Stan were known as the "Kentucky Twins"
and another unidentified person played "Fireball", who was
the comedian of the troupe.
In a WWVA Family Album of 1950, it lists the members of his band as
Red Watkins, guitar, Glenn Ferguson, fiddle, Herman "Jiggs" Lemley and Buddy
Nelson, bass fiddle.
This stint at WWVA lasted until February 2, 1952 when he left to go
on an extended tour of Canada and states such as Massachusetts, Vermont,
Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Indiana, Virginia,
Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Michigan and Ohio.
After that extended tour, he returned to WWVA on September 18, 1952
to appear twice a night on the Original Jamboree as well as a studio
show at 1:45am. He stayed this time
until June of 1954. He went west to Missouri to work
with the cast that was being put together by
the Ozark Jubilee airing over KWTO in Springfield, Missouri that
was led by Red Foley. Hawkshaw's popularity continued while there and
in fact was one of the original cast members that were
also a part of the first television broadcasts of the show.
In July of 1954, Hawkshaw had started a daily radio show
over KWTO. And later that same month, on July 17, the
first performance of the Ozark Jubilee took place at
the Jewell Theater in Springfield. Other members of that inaugural
cast included Tommy Sosebee, Slim Wilson and Porter Wagoner.
Later on, the show loaned him to Nashville's Grand Ole Opry and
before you know it, the Opry made him a member.
It seems that while on the Ozark Jubilee, a couple of Opry
stars, Hank Snow and Ernest Tubb had heard him and talked
to Jack Stapp who was the director of WSM and the Grand Ole
Opry then. Let's see how Hawkshaw described his invitation to
join the Opry in a magazine article (he joined the Opry
in June of 1955):
"I was sitting in my house when the phone rang. I answered it
and a voice said, 'This is Hank.' Hank Snow, you mean,
I said. 'Yes', you have a job at WSM anytime you want it.' Well, I just
couldn't believe it but I called Mr. Stapp and he told me
to report in two weeks for the Opry." Later, Hawkshaw noted, "
It's taken me 17 years to get to the Grand Ole Opry and I hope it
takes 17 years more for them to get rid of me."
His fame continued to spread. He was being heard on a radio
network show called "Saturday Night Country Style" that was broadcast
each week from the famous live jamboree / Opry type shows back
then from places such as Richmond, Louisville, Wheeling, Knoxville,
Shreveport, Dallas and Nashville.
Hawkshaw himself was a bit of a talented musician, playing several
instruments, though most fans associate him playing the guitar. He
could also play the five-string banjo, mandolin, violin, bass
and harmonica, too.
He also wrote many tunes during his career, such as:
- A Heartache To Recall
- Dog House Boogie
- I'm A Lone Wolf
- I'm Waiting Just For You
- I've Got The Blues
- I've Loved You More Than I Know
- I Wasted A Nickel
- Shot Gun Boogie
- The Time Will Come
- The Way I Love You (the first song he recorded)
During its heyday, Hawkshaw's Fan Club, "Golden Spurs" was
one of the biggest in the industry.
Hawkshaw enjoyed other aspects of life besides music and was fond
of outdoor sports, such as fishing, baseball, swimming, coon-hunting
and horseback riding. They said he later started 'collecting'
tropical fish if that's the way to describe it and also
had a Pomeranian dog named Cricket.
In fact, he was quite
the horseman and had several horses. He learned to use a bullwhip
when he met Kit Carson while at a radio station in
Lawrence, Massachusetts and continued to use it in his shows. His
abilities with the horses should help us understand the natural
teaming of Big Slim who was also a horseman while they were
at WWVA. In a side note, Hank Snow was also a part of
Big Slim's show for a short time. Hawkshaw at one time
had two trained horse, one named "Chief" who was said to
be able to do 25 tricks. Another horse was "Tomahawk" - a combination
of the names Hawkshaw and Tom, for Tom Kelly, his manager.
In one interesting mention we found, it notes that Hawkshaw was
going to take a show on tour in the Northwest for 60 days
"…at a guaranteed $100,000 dollars."
He recorded first for the King record label. On May 1, 1953,
he signed with the RCA Victor label. Then he moved
to Columbia before returning to
the King label. Perhaps his most requested song at one
time was Filipino Baby, for they wrote, "…what Hawkshaw can't do
with that song, no one can."
During that second tour with the King label, he recorded a Justin
Tubb (son of Ernest Tubb) tune called "Lonesome 7-7203"
But sadly, Hawkshaw would not live to see it reach number one
on the charts. On March 5, 1963, he, along with fellow Grand Ole
Opry stars, Cowboy Copas and Patsy Cline, were returning from
a benefit show (for a disc jockey that had lost his leg) in a plane
piloted by Randy Hughes, the son-in-law of Cowboy Copas and
the manager of Patsy Cline. The plane encountered a blinding
thunderstorm that caused the plane to crash in the woods
near Camden, Tennessee.
On the personal side, Hawkshaw was married at one time to a
young lady from Huntington, WV, named Reva Barbour, who he later
divorced. Their daughter was Marlene, who is now a Country
Gospel singer/songwriter, author and speaker.
He married again, this time to Jean Shepard, another famed country
music singer who is also a part of the Grand Ole Opry. Hawk and
Jean had two sons: Don Robin and Harold Franklin II.
Harold is also a singer/songwriter.
The marriage of Hawkshaw Hawkins and Jean Shepard was quite a thing
back on November 26, 1960. Country Song Roundup featured it on their
cover and wrote up the details and provided some photos. They were
appearing as part of a Grand Ole Opry show at the Forum Auditorium
in Wichita, Kansas. And it was quite a show to say the least - sharing
the stage that day were Tex Ritter, Hank Morton, Carl Perkins, The Plainsmen
Quartet, The LeGarde Twins from Australia, Moon Mullican, Gary Van and
his Western Starlighters. The article reports that a crowd of 4,000 folks
attended this gala event.
Their wedding took place after the show. When the curtain closed after the
last song and after a brief interlude, organ music filled the auditorium,
then the Plainsmen Quartet sang a couple of tunes, "True Love" and "Her
Hand In Mine" to set the mood for the ceremony.
Then Jean appeared dressed in her bridal gown. The procession took them
through the audience to the stage, with an arbon of Chrysanthemums.
The owner of the local radio station KSIR, Nick Sanders, was the emcee
of the ceremony, letting the audience know what was occurring.
After the ceremony, Jean told the audience that those wanting a souvenir,
could come to the stage and take a piece of the floral decorations. Needless
to say, fans took her up on this offer. The audience even got to sample
the wedding cake, though there wasn't enough for everyone, but the article
said nearly a 1,000 people got to taste it. After the wedding, the couple
would make their home in Nashville.
And we'll leave you with this greeting that he was known for,
"May the Lord Take a Likin' To Ya!"
Timeline and Trivia Notes
West Virginia Nighthawks members:
- Hawkshaw Hawkins
- Billy Grammer, boogie guitar
- Sammy Barnhart, bass
- Mel and Stan, the "Kentucky Twins"
- "Fireball", comedian
- Red Watkins, guitar
- Glenn Ferguson, fiddle
- Herman "Jiggs" Lemley
- Buddy Nelson, bass fiddle
Credits & Sources
- National Hillbilly News; July-August 1947; Poster
Show Print Co.; Huntington, WV
- Country Song Roundup No. 12; June 1951;
Charlton Pub. Corp.; Derby, CT
- Country Song Roundup No. 25; August 1953; American
Folk Publications, Inc.; Derby, CT
- Country Song Roundup No. 32; June 1954; American Folk
Publications, Inc.; Derby, CT
- Country Song Roundup No. 33; July-August 1954; American
Folk Publications, Inc.; Derby, CT
- Country Song Roundup No. 72; copy of article provided courtesy
of Marlene Gilliam
- Country and Western Jamboree; November 1956; Maher Publications;
2001 Calumet Avenue; Chicago, IL
- The Mountain Broadcast and Prairie Recorder; January 1947; Article
by Mary Jean Shurtz; Mountain Broadcast Pub. Co., Inc.; 45 Astor Place, New York, NY
- Country & Western Jamboree; January 1957;
- The Original Country Music Who's Who Annual for 1960; Edited and Produced by Thurston Moore, Cardinal Enterprises, Inc., Cincinnati, Ohio; 1960.
- Hawkshaw Hawkins Golden Spurs Fan Club; December 1953; President, Monna Massey.
- Hawkshaw Hawkins Song Folio; circa 1950; Lois Publishing Company; Cincinnati, Ohio
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