The last of Hickory’s Blue Sky Boys died Friday. William A. “Bill” Bolick was 90.
He and his late brother, Earl Bolick, grew up in west Hickory, where their father’s
battery-powered radio and a $4.95 mail-order banjo ignited a spark that boosted the brothers
first to statewide radio fame and later to national stardom.
Bill Bolick eventually got a guitar, too, but traded it for his brother’s mandolin. The
two instruments and the two west Hickory voices created a style that stood out
from the many brother duets of the 1930s and ’40s.
Alan Justice, a second cousin to the Bolick brothers, particularly likes the way
country music scholar Bill Malone described the Blue Sky Boys’ sound:
“the prettiest and smoothest harmony ever achieved in country music.”
The Blue Sky Boys had radio shows in Asheville, Atlanta, Raleigh,
Greenville, S.C., Bristol, Va., Rome, Ga., and Shreveport, La., before and after
recording for RCA Victor. The record company called them “the new hillbilly kings.” The
pictures seem to say something different. Maybe
the Bolicks started off in plaid shirts and straw hats but they ended up in suits and
ties, their hair slicked back and their smiles confident.
It’s the same confidence they carried into the U.S. Army in 1941, expecting to be back
on the radio in a year. Bill Bolick, who served in the Pacific Theater, wasn’t discharged
until Christmas Day, 1945. He returned home three months after his brother. They were
back on the radio by March 1946.
In a 1994 interview, Bill Bolick recalled, “We really didn’t know what to do. We started
entertaining so early in life that we never learned any other type of work.“
The Blue Sky Boys retired from the music business in 1951. Earl Bolick
moved to Georgia with his wife and two sons. He became a machinist with Lockheed Aircraft.
Bill Bolick went to work with the railway mail service in Washington, D.C., and then
transferred to Greensboro. In February 1957, he married Doris Wallace. He remained a devoted
husband until his death last week, says Justice, who inherited Bolick’s old instruments,
records and songbooks. In one of the man’s boxes, Justice found what he guesses are
100 cards - every one Doris ever gave her husband. He saved them all.
Justice hopes people will remember that about his cousin - the World War II vet was more
than a smooth tenor and a smooth smile.
“He was really as true a gentleman as anyone I’ve ever met,” Justice says.
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