About The Artist
"Sunflower" was the stage name for Mary Virginia Calvas, a girl of Irish and Italian descent and native of Davis, West Virginia. She became best known as female vocalist with Doc Williams and the Border Riders in the 1937-1942 years. She seems to have joined the Border Riders at KQV radio in Pittsburgh not long before the band relocated to WWVA in May 1937.
A letter to the editor in a Buddy Starcher Fan Club Newsletter indicated the stay in Pittsburgh included a six month engagement over radio station WJAS.
Doc Williams wrote of Sunflower in the first edition of The Simplified By Ear System of Guitar Chords by Doc Williams (1st Printing 1943) that Mary Calvas (Sunflower) was the third female singer for the Border Riders. The first was Mickey McCarthy (promotional ads billed her as "The Girl with Pep"); she only stayed with the group a few short months, having to leave due to illness that led to her death three years later. The second was Mary Jane Mosier from Greensboro, Pennsylvania. She stayed with the Border Riders for nine months. She was replaced by Sunflower.
She ranked as a key band member when the group won the Jamboree popularity contest in May 1938. When introducing her, Doc introduced her as the "Girl with the Sunny Disposition." On May 18, 1939, she married Doc's fiddle playing brother Cy Williams (real name Milo Smik). The next day the whole band left on a month-long vacation through Western states which apparently also doubled as a honeymoon for the newlyweds. In 1940 the Border Riders worked the summer months at WREC Memphis before returning to Wheeling.
As part of the WWVA Jamboree's Seventh Anniersary, the station sent some of its performers on the "Second Annual Good-Will Tour that was to be from April 27 to May 4, 1940. In 1941, a similar tour was held. Below you can see how the personnel changed with various acts in one year.
In 1943, Cowboy Music World shows she had a 15-minute program over WWVA with Paul Yost. Cowboy Music World reported she was doing a show with Reed Dunn over WWVA in 1944.
Mary Jean Shurtz told readers in June of 1946 that Sunflower had been off the air due to being ill and in the hospital. She had returned and was back on WWVA as part of the Mountaineer Matinee with Smilie Sutter and Reed Dunn.
In Doc's Guitar Instruction booklet of 1943, he included a photo of Brother Cy and Sunflower (our photo collection as that photo) that indicated it was taken in the winter of 1939. But Doc also told readers that Sunflower had decided to retire in 1943 from performing.
Not long afterward, the USA entered World War II and Cy entered military service. Unfortunately, his and Sunflower's marriage became in the fashion of many marital unions a casualty of the conflict, and they divorced soon after Cy's return.
Meanwhile, Sunflower worked for a time at WKST in New Castle, Pennsylvania. National Hillbilly News had evidently heard from WWVA listeners who were asking, "Where's Sunflower and Froggie?" They had joined Curley Miller's Ploughboys on the New Castle, Pennsylvania station. They were doing shows twice a day, 7:05am to 7:45am and then a Saturday night show from 9:30pm to 10:00pm. They were also on the "Hayloft Frolic" show held at the Cathedral in New Castle at 8:00pm. A portion of that show was broadcast from 10:00pm to 10:30pm.
Later she married Eddie Wallace who worked at WWVA in the 1949-1951 period as pianist for the well-known gospel quartet, Sunshine Boys. They most often made their headquarters in the Atlanta area.
In the later 1950's, Sunflower contracted serious heart problems brought on by rheumatic fever. She died before reaching the age of forty. Her obituary mentions another daughter and son besides Sandra - Debbie Wallace and Ed Wallace Jr.
Credits & Sources
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