About The Artist
Every now and again, a fan will write us and ask us about someone, perhaps to identify a picture or simply to find out more about a picture they found in their family's collection or was given to them. That often leads us to follow-up ourselves and document that person if we can. Our article about Susie, the Gal From The Hills came such an experience.
We turn back the pages of history to the year of 1919. The top movie box office stars of the day were such stars as Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford; movies such as Broken Blossoms with Lillian Gish and Richard Berthelmess and ANne of Green Gables with Mary Miles Minter were in the theatres; folks were humming along to tunes such as "Swanee", "Indian Summer", "Daddy Long-Legs", "Let The Rest of the World Go By"; Ziegfeld Follies opened on Broadway; Babe Ruth won the home run title with just 29 home runs; Ty Cobb won his 12th batting title and it was the year of the "Black Sox" scandal after the heavily favored White Sox had lost the World Series. It was nearly the end of 1919 when Mary Louise Wesnitzer was born to Harvey and Thelma (nee Sheffler) Wesnitzer in the small town of Casey, Illinois about half-way between St. Louis, Missouri and Indianapolis, Indiana on today's I-70.
She was an only child. The family was quite musical we learned in a 1945 article by Miss Elizabeth Stavana. Mary Louise learned to play classical tunes on the piano at a very early age. When she was nine years old, she played such tunes as Schumann's "The Joyful Peasant" and Le Hack's "Grande Valse Caprice". But by the time she was 12 years old, she was finding that people really enjoyed hearing the "...simple home folk songs", so when folks asked her to play for them at various social activities or at school functions, she sang "...hill, country and western songs".
It was said that she learned over 5,000 tunes, many by heart. She was a lady with many musical talents. She played not only the piano, but the guitar, bass, harmonica, mandolin and banjo.
Along the way, the family had moved to the St. Louis area She graduated from East St. Louis High School in 1937.
Not long after that, she began her professional entertainment career with a show over radio station WTMV in St. Louis called "Can You Stump Susie?" IF she knew over 5,000 tunes, not many fans would be able to stump her. She enjoyed a run of nearly six years over WTMV. From there, she worked for a time over WEW and KWK in St. Louis as well.
Around 1939, she formed her own band, called the "Sons of the Ozarks". That band consisted of Alvin "Junior" Lieber who played the bass and did comedy as often was the case in such bands back then. Bill "Zeke" Boggs, Joe Lieber, Cliff Trusty and Bill Kirkpatrick rounded out the group. We wonder if Bill Kirkpatrick isn't the same Bill that we know worked for a time at WIBW in Topeka, Kansas. The 1946 article pointed out that the band had disbanded by then due to the war as most of them were in the armed services.
It seems even early on in her career, she was making a bit of a name for herself in the St. Louis area. Variety reported in 1938 that she was already the female singing champion in a contest put on by the National Hillbilly Association at the 'convention hall of the local municipal auditorium'. She competed in 1938 with thirty other damsels and she was the incumbent champion.
In 1939, she was in a "Hillbilly Stars' Championship Jamboree" along with performers from the WLS National Barn Dance according to a 1939 Variety article. The article mentioned they had over 400 performers at this event from 24 states. Perhaps an early version of Fan Fair?
In 1943, Susie began performing with the "Shady Valley Gang" radio show that aired over the Mutual Network and KWK in St. Louis. She stayed with the Shady Valley folks for nearly two years.
She participated as well in the 1940 National Hillbilly Championship Jamboree that was sponsored by Larry Sunbrock, president of the National Fiddlers' Association. These events were no small affairs as this article mentions that the 1939 event drew over 20,000!
In late 1944, she headed to radio station WJBO in Baton Rouge, Louisiana where she worked with the band that backed Governor Jimmie Davis. In a March 1945 column for Mountain Broadcast and Prairie Recorder, Uncle Dan mentions that Polly Jenkins and Rose, who were working together at the time, tried to look her up while they passed through Baton Rouge, but missed her both times. An early 1946 article indicates that Susie had left WJBO (or WJOB as we've seen in other magazines) 'shortly before Christmas' and was resting up before starting up with her band again. Then, the Sons of the Ozarks consisted of Bill Kirkpatrick, accordion; Bill "Zeke" Boggs on fiddle; Clifford "Shorty" Mason on guitar and Al "Junior" Marcus. With the note of Bill playing the accordion, we're pretty sure he's the same Bill Kirkpatrick that later entertained audiences over WIBW. It would also appear that "Junior" Marcus was Susie's husband at this time based on other research we've done.
No mention has been found of when Susie got married but in a small note in a 1944 Billboard magazine article, it mentions that she was in Louisiana and her husband was a part of Governor Jimmie Davis' band. She had co-written a tune called "Born To Be Lonesome" at that time, too. It appears that Susie was married more than once as in searching the song "Rose of the Rio" in the Broadcast Music Incorporated database, the writer is listed as Mary Louise Marcus.
While at WJBO, the a Billboard magazine snippet mentions that the station asked her to organize a band to play various venues such as theaters and high schools as well as entertain listening audiences over their station.
The fall of 1945 saw Susie returning to the "Shady Valley Gang" but ended her radio shows with them by January 1, 1946.
She continued to make personal appearances in the St. Louis area and was looking to return to the air waves again.
By 1946, she had written over 30 songs. Songs such as "Rose of the Rio" (not to be confused with the same song title that is associated with Hank Snow which he is shown to have written in 1944. Susie's song was written in 1943 according to the sheet music we've seen published in a folio of Pete Pyle's. Other tunes she was credited as writing were "In The Sunshine of Your Smile", "Born To Be Lonesome" and "Headin' For Heaven".
An article in 1946 notes makes mention of her affiliation with Rudolph Song Publications company out of Phoenix, Arizona. The publishing company was run by Frank Rudolph.
Arlie Kinkade wrote in his column in 1948 that Susie was back at WTMV doing a show on Sunday afternoons at 2:30pm handling requests from listeners. Arlie wrote that she was doing such tunes as "My Queen of the Range", "There's No Tears In My Mothers Eyes", and one called "Visions of Mother" which was co-written by Arlie and Babe Proctor. Some of the columnists back then were shameless in the way they would plug the songs they had written in their columns, which isn't to detract from the details of artists and others back in that era.
Susie seemed to know how to get mentioned in some of the publications back then that would let fans know who was doing various songs. In 1946, she got a short mention for doing "Down In Lilac Blossom Land" that was written by the legendary Chaw Mank along with Arlie Kinkade and Lewis Knowlton. Around September/October 1948, Walter Hudnall wrote in his column that Susie was "plugging" a tune called "Riding T'ward The Sunsit" over WTMV; the song was written by Walter Hudnall and Frances Whitaker with Johnny Smolen doing the music. Later she was plugging another Walter Hudnall tune he had written with Frances Whitaker, called "I'll Always Keep Your Picture (In A Frame Around My Heart") while mentioning she was still at a station in East St. Louis. Hudnall again wrote in 1948 that she was doing a tune written by Geraldine Cross out of Decatur, Illinois called "Two Withered Violets".
A 1949 Mary Jean Shurtz article we think contains an error when it mentions a "Sallie, The Gal From The Hills" and probably refers to Susie. And in another typo, we think Ms. Shurtz meant radio station WIL in St. Louis and not WTL that we see in the article. But it does mention Susie (or Sallie) was doing the tune "I'll Tell The World" by Bob Levell, Will Isel, Fred Stryker and Ted Mathewson for Fairway Music. The article also mentions she had a radio show on Sunday.
Her obituary mentions she entertained listening audiences over WLS in Chicago, Illinois at one time.
We learned from her obituary that she had been married Herman A. Hanradt, who preceded her in death. She was a lifetime member of Belleville Musicians Local 29. She was interred at Lake View Memorial Gardens in Fairview Heights, Missouri.
Timeline & Trivia Notes
Group members (Sons of the Ozark)
Credits & Sources
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