About the Group
SAME FACES, DIFFERENT NAMES
The DeZurik Sisters and The Cackle Sisters
By Wayne W. Daniel
Article used by permission
During the 1930s. as this country struggled against the shackles of
the Great Depression rural youth left their farms in droves seeking
employment and other opportunities in the nation's cities. In search of
the good life and urban sophistication, many strove to divest themselves
of all reminders of their agrarian heritage.
Among this host of migrating youth were Mary Jane and Carolyn DeZurik,
two young women who had been born and reared on a farm in Minnesota.
Unlike scores of their contemporaries, however, they did not turn their backs
on their pastoral past. In fact, they took a part of their rustic
raising with them and parlayed it into careers that would make their
names and talents known to millions of radio listeners, record buyers,
stage-show audiences, and movie goers across the country.
Mary Jane and Carolyn DeZurik were born on a farm six miles east
of Royalton, Minnesota. in the center of the state and a mere hop, skip,
and jump from the Mississippi River. Mary Jane was approximately two
years older than Carolyn and, like their four sisters and one brother,
were taught by their parents, Joe and Mary DeZurik, to perform all
the chores necessary for survival in a rural environment. They milked
cows, tended the family garden, cleaned the barn, shucked grain, stacked
hay, canned fruits and vegetables, and helped keep house.
But all was not drudgery around the DeZurik home place. The family
somehow found time for the music that they all loved and most were
accomplished at performing. The father of the DeZurik children played
fiddle for local barn dances, son Jerry played accordion and guitar
and sang and five of the six girls were also singers and guitar
players. But it was Mary Jane and Carolyn who persisted in honing
their talents to a professional edge to put the Dutch-derived name DeZurik
before the public.
To roost farm folks the sounds of their domesticated animals are heard
as demands for food and other ministrations to physical needs. Most
of the DeZurik's farmer neighbors listened to the sounds of wildlife
for cues to locating game that could be converted into food for
the family table. Mary Jane and Carolyn, however, were on a different
wave length. In the bleat of the calf, the cackle of the hen, the
howl of the wolf, and the warble of the bird they, like the
storyteller in "The Song of Hiawatha," heard an inspiring natural
music. These varied animal sounds provided them with ideas for
yodels and trick vocalizations that they incorporated into
their singing to produce a unique style that set them apart
from other vocalists. Their novel harmonies attracted the
attention of entertainment entrepreneurs searching for the
elusive "something different" that could be developed into
a successful show business career.
The DeZurik sisters received their first stage experiences by
entertainingand usually winningamateur contests
in central Minnesota. Their prize for winning one contest
was two appearances on radio station KSTP in St. Paul. In 1936, after
winning another contest, they were invited to appear at the
Morrison County Fair in Little Falls, Minnesota. Carolyn remembers
that "It just so happened that a group of WLS National Barn Dance
entertainers were also appearing at the fair with one
of their shows." After watching and listening to the DeZurik sisters,
George Ferguson of the WLS Artists' Bureau asked them to appear on
the Saturday night National Barn Dance radio and stage show. They
made their Barn Dance debut on October 17, 1936. A month later,
on November 19, they signed the contract with WLS that made
them full-time employees of the station.
Mary Jane and Carolyn were instant hits with WLS listeners
and the audiences that heard them when they made personal appearances
with WLS road shows. The publicity people at WLS wrote about them
frequently for The Prairie Farmer the newspaper that owned WLS and
Standby, the station's fan magazine. "They specialize in trick yodels
including a Hawaiian yodel, the cackle trill, German, Swiss and triple
tongue yodel." readers were told in one article. "They are clever
at imitating the sounds of musical instruments such as the Hawaiian
guitar, trumpet, musical saw and mandolin. They have memorized more
than two hundred and fifty songs." In another article, the writer
gave readers a description of the sisters, "Caroline [This spelling of
Carolyn's name was frequently used.] is five feet and one inch tall
and has blue eyes and light brown hair. Mary Jane is just five feet
tall and looks much like her sister, with the same color hair and
eyes. Neither girl is married and both insist they have no intentions
of wearing orange blossoms soon."
It would not be long, though. before they would have a change
of mind. Ralph "Rusty" Gill, staff guitarist and vocalist with the
Hoosier Sod Busters had been working for the station a couple
of years when the DeZurik sisters joined the WLS roster
"It was on one of the WLS road shows at a county
fair where I first met Carolyn and Mary Jane DeZurik." he recalls.
"I worked with and along side of them for months, before I realized
that I was keeping my eyes on Carolyn. So were other guys, and Mary Jane
was keeping her eyes on me, watching out for the younger sister.
After two years of working side-by-side with the girls, I finally
worked up enough courage to ask Carolyn to marry me. To my surprise,
she answered with a big, 'yes'. We were married September 1, 1940."
Less than a month later, on September 29, Mary Jane married
Augie Klein. a WLS staff accordionist.
Exposure provided by WLS and the National Barn Dance opened
additional career doors for Mary Jane and Carolyn DeZurik. In
1938 they signed a contract to record for the Vocalion label.
They recorded six songs:
- Arizona Yodeler
- Sweet Hawaiian Chimes
- Birmingham Jail
- I Left Her Standing There
- Go To Sleep My Darling Baby
- Guitar Blues
A month after their marriages the DeZurik sisters were off to Hollywood
to star in the Republic Pictures movie "Barnyard Follies" which
also featured June Storey, long-time leading lady in Gene Autry westerns;
and Pappy Cheshire, a country music radio personality at KMOX in
St. Louis. The songs Mary Jane and Carolyn sang in the movie were:
- Barnyard Holiday
- Poppin' the Corn
- Big Boy Blues
- Listen To the Mocking Bird
- Lollipop Lane
And following its release, the DeZurik Sisters toured with the
movie on a promotional jaunt that took them into new territory
and introduced them to new audiences.
Perhaps the most significant break in the DeZurik Sisters' early career
came in 1937 when they were hired by Purina Mills to appear
regularly on the transcribed "Checkerboard Time" radio show
that advertised Checkerboard chicken feed and other Purina products.
Carolyn remembers how she and Mary Jane were selected for
the job. "Two talent scouts from Purina Mills came to
the WLS National Barn Dance on a Saturday night to hear
us in person." she relates. "Afterwards they came backstage to
talk to us. The following Monday we went to a recording
studio and made a record for them to take back to Purina Mills
who listened and hired us. The reason the scouts came to
the Barn Dance, they had heard us do "My Little Rooster,"
and they thought it would make a terrific trademark for their show."
Because of contractual agreements between the DeZurik Sisters and
WLS, the Purina folks renamed their new artists the
Over the next several years, according to Rusty Gill, the
transcriptions of the Checkerboard Time were heard on radio stations
in all of the then forty-eight states. Other artists appearing on
the shows included Fran Allison, the Maple City Four, the Cass
County Kids, the Swanee River Boys, and Otto and the Novelodians. Among
the programs' emcees were Chick Martin, Jack Holden, and
In anticipation of new arrivals in their households Carolyn and
Mary Jane temporarily stopped performing in 1940, except for
their appearances on transcriptions and commercials.
Later in the year, Carolyn and Rusty became the parents
of a son. Donald Alan, and Mary Jane and Augie Klein's
daughter, Janice Marie, was born. In 1943 Rusty and Augie
were drafted, and for the next three years military duty - much
of it overseas - kept them away from their families. During
Rusty's absence Carolyn edged past more than 40 other hopefuls to
win an audition for the Sonja Henie Ice Review. During her stint
with the Review, Carolyn sang and yodeled in several segments of
the show while the former Olympic skating champion displayed her
talents on the rink.
"The most exiting part of the show for me," Carolyn reminisces,
"was the opening. The announcer came
on with, 'It's the Sonja Henie Show.' The spotlight opened on
me yodeling and then fanned out to Sonja and the entire cast."
After two seasons with the Sonja Henie Review, Carolyn paid a visit
to her old home at Royalton. Minnesota. and while there was
invited to become a member of the Sunset Valley Barn Dance
produced by Dave Stone on KSTP in St. Paul. The Sunset Valley Barn Dance,
like the National Barn Dance. was a combination stage and
radio program. The weekly show was broadcast from auditoriums, theaters, and fairs
in St. Paul and various other Minnesota cities. In addition to the
Barn Dance, Carolyn was heard on KSTP's daily noontime show,
Main Street Minnesota, and on an early morning program called
Sunrise Roundup. Carolyn's fellow artists at KSTP included
eleven-year-old Little Genevive Hovde, Billy Folger, Kathy Kohls,
Al and Hank, Pop Wiggins, Cactus Slim, Hank and Thelma,
and Frank and Esther.
In 1944 Purina Mills again came calling on the DeZurik Sisters.
This time the manufacturer of animal rations wanted Mary Jane and
Carolyn to reprise their act as the Cackle Sisters for
appearances on stage and radio transcriptions with a rising
country music star named Eddy Arnold. Mary Jane was enticed
out of retirement, and once again, the DeZurik/Cackle Sisters
found themselves involved in a full schedule of entertaining that
included regular appearances on the Grand Ole Opry, road tours
with Eddy Arnold and other Opry stars, and Checkerboard Funfest
transcriptions that were heard on radio stations around
the country. During this time Mary Jane and Carolyn continued
to make their homes in Chicago, a decision that necessitated
a weekly train commute between the Windy City and Nashville
so they could fulfill their Opry obligations. Thus they became
the first women to achieve stardom on both the National Barn Dance
and the Grand Ole Opry.
Upon his discharge from the military in 1946, Carolyn's husband,
Rusty Gill, returned to WLS and the National Barn Dance,
reclaiming his place as a member of the Prairie Ramblers which, at the
time, also included Chick Hurt, Jack Taylor, Alan Crockett, and
Bernie Smith. The following year the DeZurik Sisters also returned
to WLS, but now the act consisted of Carolyn and another sister,
After she and her family were in a serious automobile
accident in 1947, Mary Jane had decided to retire from show business.
In 1949 the Prairie Ramblers and the DeZurik Sisters left Chicago
for jobs at WLW radio and WLW-TV in Cincinnati, Ohio. They appeared
regularly on the Midwestern Hayride, a Saturday night barn
dance type show carried by the National Broadcasting
Company's television network. Their fellow performers at
WLW included Ernie Lee, Judy Perkins, and Kenny Roberts.
After two years in Cincinnati the Prairie Ramblers moved to a
new job at WHIO-TV in Dayton. Ohio. By now Lorraine had retired
and Carolyn had become the female vocalist with the
Prairie Ramblers, a position that had been vacant since Patsy Montana
had left the group some ten years earlier.
In 1951 Carolyn DeZurik and the Prairie Ramblers returned to Chicago
and took jobs at WBKB-TV (now WLS-TV)(Channel 7), the city's television outlet
for the ABC network. They were given featured billing on a daily show
called "Chicago Parade". During the next several years they
were involved in a wide variety of television and stage shows including
the TV show "Crazy Acres" on which, according to the local press,
they provided "lots of music and dancing and entertainment (country
style, of course)."
In 1956. during a revival of interest in polka music, Carolyn and
the Prairie Ramblers made the most drastic change of their careers.
They dropped the country and western songs from their repertoire and
replaced them with new material like "Swiss Kiss Polka" and
"Grey Horse Polka." They swapped their cowboy hats and boots for Bavarian
costumes, teamed up with Stan Wolowic, changed their name to the
Polka Chips with Carolyn DeZurik. and became one of the polka
sensations of Chicago. For the next two years they entertained
television audiences with their interpretations of the music
which, in the words of one writer, "crystallized in Chicago
in the 1950's [and] swept fans and bands across the land."
When the Polka Chips disbanded Rusty and Carolyn continued to
entertain as a duet. They were welcomed back to ABC-TV and were
soon starring in a new polka show called Polka-Go-Round that
was immensely popular on network television for the next two
years. In addition to Carolyn and Rusty, the show featured the
Polka Rounders band directed by Lou Prohut.
From 1956 through 1963, Carolyn supplemented her entertainment
duties with a commercial commitment with Busch Bavarian Beer. She was
the company's yodeling trademark on transcriptions made at
Universal studios in Chicago and in St. Louis. Jamie and the Jays
were her vocal background group.
When Polka-Go-Round went off the air Carolyn retired from the
entertainment business, bringing down the curtain on the varied
and rewarding career of the DeZurik Sisters that had started in
Royalton, Minnesota some 30 years before.
Mary Jane died in 1981, and Lorraine had earlier married and moved to
Washington state where she continues to live.
Today Rusty and Carolyn are enjoying their retirement in the Chicago
area while keeping in contact by telephone and letters with many
of their former fans and colleagues.
Timeline and Trivia Notes
Group Members included:
- Caroline DeZurik
- Mary Jane DeZurik, played guitar
- Lorraine DeZurik (youngest) teamed with Carolyn around 1948.
- Caroline married fellow WLS star, Rusty Gill on September 1,
- Mary Jane married a member of the WLS Rangers,
Augie Klein on September 29, 1940
Credits & Sources
- About the Author
Wayne W. Daniel of Chamblee, Georgia, is a retired college
professor and a country music historian. He has written more
than 130 articles on the subject and is the author of
Pickin' on Peachtree, A History of Country Music in Atlanta, Georgia,
published by the University of Illinois Press.
- Article courtesy of Wayne W. Daniel; adapted to fit
format of site.
- Photos with article from Hillbilly-Music.com archives