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Zelda Scott
Born:  December 21, 1921
Died:  May 30, 2016
WHO Iowa Barn Dance Frolic
KFNF Shenandoah, IA
WHO Des Moines, IA
WNAX Yankton, SD
KRNT Des Moines, IA (1937)

About The Artist

Zelda Scott came into the world on December 21,1921 in Cambridge, Iowa. When she was born, her family included a sister, Faye who was seven years old and a brother, Harold then five years old.

Their family was a musical one. Zelda remembers they grew up listening to their mom and dad sing. Their mom would chord the piano while dad would play either the fiddle or the mandolin.

In typical fashion of the times back then, they played at the neighborhood dances. Each neighbor would take a turn hosting the dance. That meant the carpets got rolled up, the musicians setup and the dancing would start.

The kids got to go along to listen in and often fell asleep on the beds until the evening's dances were over.

In the late 1920s or early 1930s, Zelda recalled that the family became fortunate enough to have the newest marvel of the age - a radio. The family would gather around the radio every Saturday night and listen to the shows over WLS in Chicago and WLW out of Cincinnati. They loved to hear the music and singing.

With all of the music around them, it wasn't long before the Scott children began to sing in public themselves. She guesses she was about 11 years old when she began to sing with her brother Harold and sister Faye at the County Fairs, Fourth of July celebrations and other neighborhood occasions, doing the solo, duet and trio tunes that were popular at that time. Their father would often accompany them on his fiddle.

However, that came to an end in a few years as her sister Faye got married, then her brother Harold got married. Zelda's parents moved to Maxwell, Iowa, (a town named after its first mayor, Joseph Maxwell, about 30 miles northeast of Des Moines) and she began high school.

In 1937, Faye and Zelda entered a talent contest at the Des Moines State Fair that was sponsored by radio station KRNT. First Prize was a six-week contract with the popular variety show then, "Hawkeye Dinner Time".

But they had a small problem before entering the contest: where do they find a guitar player? Luckily, she recalled a friend that lived nearby and he offered to play guitar for them. The girls sang the tune "Cowboy Jack" - all seven or eight verses she recalls. They had to as the song told a story. They made an impression on the audience and talent judges; they won the First Prize.

Zelda relates she can't recall with certainty when they did that first song on the "Hawkeye Dinner Time" show. But she does remember that the Program Director told them that to really be successful, one of them should learn to play the guitar as part of the act. Zelda said she would do it, since her sister Faye was married and Zelda thought she would have more time to practice.

Zelda borrowed a guitar and took only four lessons. The family had several song books with guitar chords, so every day, she would practice until her poor fingers got raw and hurtful. So much so, she would tell her mom and dad, "I can't do it!". But they continued to encourage her and she persevered to begin to learn enough chords to get by.

The next Saturday show came along and while she doesn't remember the song that they did, the song did have several minor chords and she recalls being so proud to have played the guitar along with their singing. And she thought that everyone seemed impressed.

While working at KRNT the sisters heard about a "National String Band and Yodeling Contest" that was to be held at the Shrine Auditorium in Des Moines. Zelda and her sister Faye agreed that it would be a good opportunity, so they made arrangements to compete.

Faye and Zelda sang, "Down In The Valley" and did the train whistle in harmony. They were the only act to get an encore.

In the women's division, Texas Ruby, later to become a star in her own right, won First Prize and Betty Jean from KRNT placed Second but Zelda did get 3rd place with her yodeling talents.

Before the contract ended with KRNT, the Producer told them that radio station WNAX in Yankton, South Dakota wanted to hire them. So as Zelda says, "...two gullible girls took a trip to Yankton." When they arrived in Yankton and introduced themselves to the Station Manager, he looked at them and said, "I have never heard of the Scott Sisters."

Zelda recalls, "I guess we had tears in our eyes and because of his kindness; he told us we could stay and work for a few weeks."

The only entertainers she remembers at WNAX then were the Scott Brothers, Pete and Repeat. Interestingly enough, she also remembers seeing Lawrence Welk and his band. Someone told them Mr. Welk was leaving for California right around that time. They were not introduced to them. At that time in her life, she had never heard of Lawrence Welk. But later, the champagne music master would become a long time favorite with his long running television show.

During their second week singing in Yankton, they got a call from Cap Malley, who was at KFNF in Shenandoah, Iowa. The girls had worked with Cap before in Des Moines. He asked them if they would like to sing on their variety show. Zelda recalls, "Needless to say, we were happy to accept." Cap told the girls that someone would meet them at the Bus Station.

The girls made their travel arrangements and gave Cap a call back, telling him the time and day they would arrive. It also meant another long bus ride. But the gals had a big surprise when they arrived. The city looked like a huge river. They saw people in rowboats everywhere. She can't recall who picked them up, but remembers he was in a rowboat.

Needless to say, they were in a small a bit of embarrassment, as the girls were wearing dresses and high heels. The people that picked them up told them it was the worst flood in the history of Shenandoah.

She doesn't recall how long they stayed at KFNF but they did enjoy it and received a lot of fan mail.

In her freshman year in high school she received a call from the Director of WHO in Des Moines. He asked if Zelda would consider auditioning with Jerry Smith for a Sunday show and also sing on the Iowa Barn Dance Frolic show. Since it was only 30 miles from home, Zelda accepted the offer; this stint lasted a year.

She was a sophomore, in tenth grade, when the producer told Jerry and Zelda that a new sponsor called "Peters Hatchery", wanted them to do a 15-minute show. This time, the show would be Monday through Friday at 6:45am. The offer caused Zelda to do some serious thinking; she talked things over with her Mom and Dad. She decided to quit school. The rest is history as they say for she ended up working at WHO for 19 years.

Stan Widney, emcee and producer of the Iowa Barn Dance Frolic decided Zelda should be called "The Cheyenne Cowgirl". That didn't exactly please Zelda, for she had never been to Cheyenne and couldn't even ride a horse. Zelda says though, that name stuck with her for a long time.

Jerry and Zelda put on shows in just about every town in Iowa. They signed a contract with Central States Theater Corporation and were booked in theaters throughout Iowa, Missouri and Minnesota.

The popularity of Jerry and Zelda performing together spread beyond the Des Moines area. The KMA Guide in Shenandoah wrote a few snippets to answer listener queries back in 1945 who were curious for more details about the act. In one case, the "Party Line" column inferred that Jerry and Zelda were married. But in a subsequent "Party Line" column, they mention they had received a letter from Jerry who wrote the fans that he had gotten married in 1939 to a gal from Des Moines, Mary Frances Nauman and that Zelda was not married.

Another female performer named Wanda Hargrave also traveled with them. She played the accordion and also did acrobatics. Another act that also traveled with them was Glen Burkland, the Swedish Nightingale, who played polkas on his old fashioned "Squeeze box" or accordion.

Many times through the years they would travel all night and get back to the station just in time for their 6:45am program. That early morning show lasted nearly seven years.

Zelda admits that doing personal appearances was not the favorite part of her career, with all the long hours spent traveling. However, she found enjoyment in meeting and talking with her many fans.

The year Zelda started singing on the Iowa Barn Dance Frolic, another act also made their debut. They were called the "Williams Brothers" the youngest of the quartet, we all know as the now legendary crooner, Andy Williams. Zelda remembers he always stood on a stool to sing with his brothers. Later in life, while Zelda and her husband Tom were living in Columbia, Missouri, they got permission to go back stage at one of Andy's performances nearby. She recalls him being very pleasant as they reminisced about their Barn Dance days.

During Zelda's 19 years at WHO, she joined many acts in duets, trios and group numbers. One such act was a female singer, Peggy Anne Coon. She and Zelda did Western songs on the Barn Dance show. Later, Peggy Anne moved to California.

Another singer who joined WHO was a gal named Mary Lee. Zelda recalls she was a good singer and a great yodeler. They sang duets together and did trio numbers as well with Shorty Hogan, who was a Harmonica player. They did all of the Sons of the Pioneer songs that were popular back then.

In 1947, Zelda's sister Faye was asked to join the WHO family and once again they were performing as the "Scott Sisters" and "The Two Little Girls In Blue".

The following year Yodeling Jerry Smith left WHO and moved to Waterloo, Iowa.

Then, Dixie Boy Jordan became a regular at WHO in 1948. He would sing solos, recite poetry and join Zelda in duets. That same year, Embert Mishler was hired. He became a popular singer and formed his own band, called the "Docey Doe Boys."

In 1949, Matt Pelkonen mentioned in his "Matt's Chats" column for National Hillbilly News that "Zelda and Scott" were starring on the "Farm Program" over WHO.

WHO began to air a popular show that aired every morning at 5:30 to 6:30am, called the "Chore Gang", a show that Zelda fondly recalls where they had a lot of fun. She tells us that once they had a contest for the listeners. The listening audience had to guess our ages and a prize was given to the one with the most points. Zelda was 27 at that time.

The July 1949 "Radio Mirror and Television" magazine gives us a glimpse of what the show was like. The cast then was Shorty Hogan, who played "...sweet and hot harmonica" as well as doing trio numbers with Zelda and Mary Lee. Mary Lee was said to "...sings her happiness inot the microphone" and did duets with Zelda or in the trio numbers. Zelda was described as "...part of every home in the Middle West having been singing with the folks for over ten years" and "... her versatility is displayed on the informal early morning program when she steps to the micrphone with songs of many different styles." Dixie Jordan was the emcee for the show, recited poetry, did duet numbers with Zelda and read commercials for sponsors on occasion. Slim Hayes was the fiddle player, with fans requesting the old "Dust on the Bible" tune the most often. Big Bob Wilkins as hje was called would arrive in the studio about 5:15 to get the big bass fiddle warmed they wrote and did an occasional sacred tune. Bill Morgan was the announcer and they said he was lucky in that his wife was the only that got up and cooked breakfast for him before coming to the studio. Also in the band was "Ol' Uncle Don Hovey who played organ and guitar, Chuck Pray, a long time WHO entertainer who played accordion and Red Scobee, who played banjo and mandonlin along with an occasional vocal tune. Embert Mishler was a newcomer to WHO at the time and was said to have "..his own particular style of folk singing". The Chore Gang entertained folks with "...song, jokes and chatter, perhaps a poem or a bit of news, the Chore Gang chases the blues away and greets the day in a gay mood."

Another popular act, The Buckaroos, had their own half-hour show every day. Cece Huntsinger was their leader and played accordion. Slim Hayes was on the fiddle and sang solos; Red Scobee played the banjo and bass; while Jack Lester played the electric guitar. Zelda was added to their show to add her vocal numbers.

Every year in the month of August, it was Iowa State Fair time. That meant that all the entertainers who had day-time shows, plus the news commentators left the studios to do their shows live at the fair. It was about a 35-minute drive to the fairgrounds. Which meant sometimes a longer drive for those who had programs that started at 6:00am. Zelda thinks her last program was at 1:45pm back then. Though it could be tiring with the summer heat and all, they enjoyed mingling with the fans and signing autographs.

In 1943, a young Ronald Reagan, then a movie star, who of course later became the President of the United States, came back to visit WHO. Peggy Anne and Zelda got to sit in the front row and watched as they interviewed him over WHO. Zelda remembers he wore a white suit then, looking so handsome. In the early 1930's, "Dutch" as he was known then, was a popular sports announcer at WHO.

Another special event that stands out in Zelda's mind was the National Plowing Contest that was held near Dexter, Iowa.

During a presidential run, President Truman gave a campaign speech nearby. A group of WHO staffers put on the entertainment. WHO's "23 Skidoo Band" and "Cliff & Helen", a husband and wife comedy team, "The Buckaroo's" and the "Scott Sisters". Faye and Zelda sang "Two Little Girls in Blue." They wore blue dresses and a bow in their hair. The entertainers were invited to sit on the stage with President Truman, his wife Bess and his daughter, Margaret. No small audience for them this time - over 100,000 people were there on this occasion.

While working with Dixie Boy Jordan, one of their favorite activities was visiting the wounded soldiers at the veteran's hospital. Every week they would go from room to room. Sometimes the soldiers would request their favorite song. Zelda recalls they were always so appreciative to see and hear them. When Dixie Boy Jordan left, Bobby Dick was hired by WHO to replace him.

We move forward to the 1950's and Jack Kerrigan, who was the manager then, told Faye and Zelda that he had contacted a female singer, Mary Randolph, and wanted her to audition with them to see if a girl's trio could be worked out.

When Mary arrived and was introduced to Zelda and Faye, they hit it off almost immediately. They went to their rehearsal room and started naming songs that would be good for three-part harmony. Zelda wishes she could remember their first tune, but recalls, that "...as soon as we picked out our parts, we sounded great. We were so happy."

They soon had their own program at 12:15pm over WHO. Steve George accompanied them on the piano and Don Hovey was on the organ. The trio became a very popular act on the Barn Dance, being billed as the "Blue Ridge Mountain Gals". Mary had a smooth and pleasing voice. She soon joined Dusty Owens and his Rodeo Boys, who had joined the staff that same year.

Zelda tells us that around 1950, she had a 6:45am show every morning with Bobby Dick. She recalls they got a lot of fan mail, with many of the fans requesting hymn tunes.

In the early 1950's the Barn Dance moved to the Hoyt Sherman Theater. Cliff Carl was the Director and Producer at that time. She said they had a great show that had three Western Bands, The Buckaroos, Embert Mishler and his boys, Dusty Owens & his Rodeo boys, Bobby Dick, Singer; Jolly Joe Parrish, one of the best comedians; Mary Randolph, the Scott Sisters, the Songfellows; the Blue Ridge Mt. Gals; Ray & Kay, the Banjo Kids; Shorty Hogan, a harmonica player; along with Del Donahoo and Bob Williams doing the announcing chores.

In 1954 the Iowa Barn Dance Frolic, then being held at the Hoyt Sherman Theatre, was cancelled. Many of the entertainers who had been at WHO these years received their "Pink Slips". Zelda said, "It was a sad time for us. We were like a big family." Many of the stars mentioned previously were let go at this time, though Zelda says its hard to remember all of their names.

The lucky ones who were staying were The Buckaroos, with some changes in their group: Slim Hayes was the leader, Jo Zanotti, accordionist, Red Scobee and Johnny Fields was on Hawaiian guitar. Other stars remaining were The Songfellows, Bill Austin, pianist; and Cliff Carl. Zelda mentions another female act, Lucia Thorne, had a great voice and sang old, new, popular songs. She also did vocal numbers with The Songfellows.

In 1954 and 1955, local productions of the early television programs started and involving a number of persons.

The television medium was in its infancy then as cities across the country began to crop up and start broadcasting. In Des Moines, The Barn Dance show was produced for TV. It started at 10:30pm. Zelda seems to recall it was an hour and a half show and lasted about a year.

Zelda had three shows at that time. She had her own show at 5:30am, a 12:15pm show with Steve George and Don Hovey as well as the Barn Dance show on Saturday nights. Later, Slim was added to the 12:15 program and he sang duets with Zelda.

In 1956, all of Zelda's shows were cancelled but the 12:15pm program. That meant Zelda needed to find some extra work.

She put in an application at "Photo Reflex Studios". This studio was on the fourth floor of Younkers Department store. It was only two or three blocks from WHO Zelda got the job. She worked there through 1957 and part of 1958.

The camera she worked with was very unique. Looking in the camera all subjects were upside down. Very confusing she says, but she did get the hang of it and even won a couple of awards.

Zelda had an hour for lunch so it worked out great for her. She would dash to the WHO studios to do the 15-minute show at 12:15 then go back to Younkers, grab a sandwich and finally back to work which turned into a rewarding work experience.

In 1959, Zelda married Tom Chandler and they will celebrate their 44th Wedding Anniversary in November. They later moved to Columbia, Missouri where they lived for 31 years.

Zelda gave up singing and learned to play golf and the first year of marriage, she traveled with Tom, who worked then for the Neptune Water Company, and covered seven states.

In 1990 Zelda and her husband moved to Florida. Her stepson, Steve, lives 13 miles from them. A stepdaughter, Linda, lives in Iowa, with her two daughters.

Looking back on her career, Zelda notes that she received fan mail from 48 states as well as from folks in Canada and Mexico. She would often find that baby girls were named after her and sometimes they used her middle name, Nadene - quite an honor she felt. And of course, fans told her that they had named their pigs, cows, dogs, cats or peacocks after her, too. She also has fond memories of meeting many of the Nashville stars that came to Des Moines and put on shows at the old KRNT Theater (that was once called the Shrine Auditorium), going backstage to greet them.

Credits & Sources

  • Hillbilly-Music.com wishes to express its appreciation to Zelda Scott Chandler and her husband Tom for taking the time to send us her remembrances
  • Zelda Scott Chandler: Except where noted, pictures and clippings provided courtesy of Zelda.
  • The KMA Guide; August 1945; Tom Thumb Publishing Co.; Shenandoah, Iowa
  • The KMA Guide; September 1945; Tom Thumb Publishing Co.; Shenandoah, Iowa
  • The Mountain Broadcast and Prairie Recorder; January 1947;
  • National Hillbilly News; May / June 1949; Orville & Jenny Via; Huntington, WV
  • Radio Mirror and Television; July 1949; Article copy courtesy of Zelda Scott Chandler

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