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Kentucky Slim (Charles Elza)
Born:  April 4, 1912
Died:  February 23, 1996
Kentucky Mountain Barn Dance
WSM Grand Ole Opry
WJHL Johnson City, TN
WNOX Knoxville, TN

About The Artist

Charles Elza, a comedian and soft shoe dancer, was generally known on stage as "Kentucky Slim" and less often as the "Little Darlin.' "

Over a long career, he began as a blackface comedian, but changed with the times. From minstrel and medicine shows, he worked with such country artists as Roy Acuff, Manuel "Old Joe" Clark, Carl Story, Esco Hankins, Hylo Brown, and the Stanley Brothers. His career peaked during his time with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs in the middle and late 1950s.

Photo - Roy Acuff Crazy Tennesseans - Jake Tindle, Jess Easterday, Roy Acuff, Red Jones, Cousin Jody, Kentucky Slim

Promo Ad - January 1951 - Kentucky Mountain Barn Dance - Kentucky Slim - Woodland Auditorium - Lexington, KY Promo Ad - October 1950 - Carl Story, Kentucky Slim, Esco Hankins - Clay-Gentry Arena - Lexington, KY

Promo Ad - WLW - Supper Time at Lazy Jim's - Lazy Jim Day - 1952 Promo Ad - Hank Williams - Cowboy Copas - Lazy Jim Day - York PA - December 1949

A native of Harlan County, Kentucky, Elza went to work in the coal mines where he made the acquaintance of another miner, Cas Walker. The latter soon left the mines to go to Knoxville where he eventually bought a grocery store which he expanded into a large regional chain, built in part on country music programs he sponsored on radio and later television.

Promo Ad August 1958 - East Tennessee Jamboree - Kentucky Slim, Cas Walker Slim also moved to Knoxville and worked in medicine shows and worked with Roy Acuff and his Crazy Tennesseeans. When Acuff moved to Nashville, Elza formed an act with Manuel Clark, going with him to Knoxville then briefly to Atlanta, back to Knoxville and then to Renfro Valley where "Old Joe" Clark eventually became an institution.

Later "Kentucky Slim" worked with Carl Story and Esco Hankins for sufficient periods of time, retaining much of the non-racial comedy in his act. Although nearly seven feet tall and weighing about 275 pounds, he was amazingly light on his feet as illustrated by his so-called "pork chop dance."

In the mid-fifties he joined Flatt and Scruggs where his popularity hit its zenith. Flatt usually referred to him as the Little Darlin' rather than his usual nickname as did Hylo Brown with whom he also worked during their association with Martha White Flour.

On July 8, 1956, Kentucky Slim was with the Flatt and Scruggs troupe when they performed at Centennial Park as part of the Sunday Park Concert series in Nashville. A picture notes he did a soft shoe tap dance routine in addition to his comedy role.

In 1959, Bert Vincent in his "Strolling" column in the Knoxville News-Sentinel used an inquiry by a reader about the tune "Knoxville Girl" to recall a memory of how Kentucky Slim sang it. The reader wanted to know if it was a true story, but Burt did not seem to have a clear answer. But he noted that Kentcky Slim used to sing the tune on the WNOX Merry-Go-Round show. Burt noted, "(Kentucky Slim) sang it sad, sad. He'd pull off his hat and even cry a little as he intoned the gory words and mournful tune."

Slim left the road for a time, but later worked some with the Stanley Brothers while they were in Live Oak, Florida. Thereafter, he returned to Knoxville and worked as a house painter until he retired.

He made limited appearances such as the 1982 Knoxville World's Fair which paid tribute to Knoxville's country music pioneers. He also sometimes attended shows at Dave's Music Barn and at the celebrations associated with the Museum of Appalachia in Norris, Tennessee. Ironically, Slim never made any recordings as far as is known.

He died a few weeks before his eighty-fourth birthday.

Credits & Sources

  • Hillbilly-Music.com would like to express its thanks to Ivan M. Tribe, author of Mountaineer Jamboree — Country Music in West Virginia and other books that can be found on Amazon.com and numerous articles in other publications for providing us with information about this artist.
  • Strollin'; Bert Vincent; February 13, 1959; Knoxville News-Sentinel; Knoxville, TN
  • Cas Walker Show Featuring Comedy, Gospel Music At Courthouse Saturday; December 8, 1959; Greeneville Sun; Greeneville, TN
  • Old Ballads, Humor Park Menu Today; July 8, 1956; The Tennessean; Nashville, TN

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