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Johnson Sisters
Shady Valley Gang
WLS National Barn Dance

About the Group

The Johnson Sisters were a sister act that varied over the years. They were born in Lansing, Michigan, raised on a farm in Grand Ledge. Their parents were Marvin Johnson and Edith Haynes. They had five other siblings in the family, too.

They came from a musical background, their dad played the guitar and Mary Jane and Ruth would accompany him at the local PTA shows and later at the Grange hall.

In an interview with them, we found out that the first song they did together was "Ridin' Down the Old Texas Trail". They were in an amateur contest at a fair during farmer's week. The gals won first prize and as a result, got a fiftenn minute Saturday afternoon radio show over WKAR in Lansing, Michigan - it was the University of Michigan radio station. They continued with their show until they graduated in 1943. They remember that they graduated on a Monday and on Wednesday, they were on their way to Chicago.

When they got to Chicago in 1943, they started touring with Red Foley and Patsy Montana.

Mary Jane and Ruth worked together for many years as an act. At one time there were on the WLW Boone County Jamboree. Later, they went to the KWK Shady Valley Gang show out of St. Louis, Missouri. Ruth spent 26 months with that show. During their time in St. Louis, Ruth met the man who would be her future husband at KMOX, Dolph Hewitt. Later, they joined the Pappy Cheshire show in 1944. Ruth and Dolph were married in Cleveland, Ohio when Dolph got out of the service. For a time they worked at radio station WJW in Cleveland.

After Ruth married Dolph, Mary Jane began to perform as a solo act. She first went to the WLS National Barn Dance in Chicago. From there she moved to the west coast, appearing on such shows as the Town Hall Party that aired out of Compton, California as well as the "Lady of the Mountain Show" with Tommy Sands and was also part of the all-girl "Hormal Girls Caravan" show.

In 1964, another sister, Edith, teamed with Ruth on the National Barn Dance that was now airing over WGN in Chicago, both on radio and television. Ruth's husband, Dolph, was known as the 'boss man' and running the show by then.

All three of the sisters can be heard on an LP that was recorded during the WGN hears on the Kapp record label - "Saturday Night at the Old Barn Dance" (KS-3442). The album was recorded in Nashville, but you can hear Red Blanchard provide some of the type of humor and introductions of the acts that he was known for. Ruth and Edith perform "Moonlight In Switzerland", displaying some of the yodeling talents they were known for as well as "Loving You Hurts Me So". Mary Jane also appears on the album, doing "I Don't Hurt Anymore" as well as "Call Me Anytime".

Credits & Sources

  • Photos courtesy of Ruth & Mary Jane Johnson via Minard Coons unless otherwise noted.
  • Career notes based on email interviews with Ruth & Mary Jane Johnson in 2002.
  • Cowboy Songs No. 75; September 1964; American Folk Publications, Inc.; Derby, CT

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Recordings
 
Kapp
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  683 A Loving You Hurts Me So
  683 B Moonlight In Switzerland


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