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About The Artist
The Early Years
Genevieve Elizabeth Muenich was born in Covington, Indiana to a working class couple who married some seven weeks after their daughter's birth. Covington was southwest of Lafayette, Indiana along the Wabash River. Her parents were Eddie and Hazel (Vyze) Muenich. They were married in Covington on March 9, 1912. Her dad was 21 and her mom 17.
Archibald McKinlay wrote in 1994 that the young couple moved with their child to Eddie's hometown of Hammond in 1914. Genevieve, or Jeanne as she was known to her friends, attended Wallace School, then started attending Hammond High School. But Linda had a streak in her that did not want to attend school; she was suspended on May 31, 1927. When September rolled around, she went back to high school, but things were not working out for on November 14 she was "...packed off to Hammond Tech, the Siberia of Hammond High incorrigible's." But her time at Tech was short as well. On January 19, 1928, the day after her 16 th birthday, she quit school.
Linda Parker went through a couple of major make overs before gaining widespread fame as "the Sunbonnet Girl" on the National Barn Dance.
The girl's first singing influence was the pop vocalist "Chicago's sweetheart" Ruth Etting. A bright and ambitious child she entered high school at age twelve and played clarinet in the school band.
However, singing remained her first love and eventually so consumed her interest that she became a chronic truant and was suspended from school. Sent to a strict vocational center, she dropped school altogether when she turned sixteen.
1929 — Jeanne Munich - The Red-Headed Rascal
The following August at seventeen, she was hired as vocalist on a popular music Sunday afternoon variety show on station WWAE, beginning on September 8, 1929. According to a radio log in The Hammond Times of September 1929, the station's studios were at the City State Bank Building located at the corner of Randolph and Wells Street in Chicago. She was known as "Jeanne Munich, the Red-Headed Rascal," with a repertoire dominated by blues numbers. That Sunday program that was on from 1:30 to 3:15 pm originated from the Hammond studios of WWAE. Hank Richards was the local studio manager and had arranged for a variety of talent. Milton Zietlin and his orchestra; Ralph and Frank, Hawaiian guitarists would do 'dreamy melodies' and a local artist by the name Al Lindbergh (The Baby Elephant with the Traveling Cigar Box) was do 'croon ukulele numbers and some hot tunes of his own origination.' The show was to inaugurate what a news article called "The Nut Sunday Club."
On October 1, 1929, the owners of WWAE decided to give the local Hammond studio more time on the air. Dr. G. F. Courier authorized the studio to broadcast from 7:30 pm to 8:30 pm each evening except Sundays when the local station aired its Nut-Sunday Club. The teen-aged Jeanne Muenich was said to be the 'star entertainer' of the local studio. The article stated, "...Her blues voice is unusual and several Chicago radio critics have lauded her original interpretations of "low-down" music."
The "blues" angle came in handy February 1930 when the local paper reported that "...Miss Jean Muenich, popular Hammond radio singer, was singing the "blues" today because "the meanest man in the world" stole her pet bull-dog, Skippy."
In February 1930, Jean and other members of the "Cameo Girl" cast that entertained over 150 during the winter were feted. Jack Hoffman was the emcee for the entertainment portion. Jean Muenich sang several blues songs that evening.
Shortly after that she was part of the entertainment at the Beth El solarium that appears to have been decorated as a night club. The festivities that evening included a dance orchestra from Chicago. The leader of that band was said to have delighted audiences with his several changes of costumes and his clever antics. Solo numbers were done by Maurice White and Margaret Brander. "Gene Muenich" appeared and accompanied herself on the ukulele.
In May of 1930, the local Hammond newspaper reported that Jean Muenich had entered the WJKM audition (Research seems to indicate this was a typo and probably meant to be WJKS, then in Gary, IN which later became WIND. They wrote, "she says she expects to win."
1930 — Jeanne Munich - The Red-Headed Bluebird
Within a year, she was being heard on a Chicago radio station, WIBO (which would later become WIND on the 560 AM frequency).
Then in August 1931, at WAAF, she became, "Jeanne Munich, The Red-Headed Bluebird" with piano accompanist Estelle Barnes. She appeared at the Cook County Fair in August of 1932 with other artists from WAAF such as Bill Barr and James Hamilton. The WLS National Barn Dance was to be the featured Saturday night attraction during the fair's run at the then fair grounds at North Avenue and River Road.
Some weeks later, the popular "Red-Headed Bluebird," still only nineteen, acquired a second job on a daytime show at WLS singing vintage old songs as the "Old-Fashioned Girl." Presumably she developed a love for this kind of song. By August 1932 she dropped her connection with both WAAF and the name Jeanne Munich.
1932 — WLS Old-Fashioned Girl to Linda Parker
She appears to have joined WLS in April of 1932. Research shows that she had a 15-minute program over WLS; the first listing seen was for April 27, 1932.
It appears it did not take her too long to get noticed by the newspaper folks. Yank Taylor wrote in his "Reviews" column that he wished to toss Linda Parker an orchid or more likely a sunflower. Why? Last Saturday night (June 18, 1932) he heard her and said, "...we caught her singing one of those hill billies ballads about a wronged girl and in spite of the dripping sentiment we found it quite musical."
Four months earlier, John Lair had made her part of his Cumberland Ridge Runner string band and transformed her magically into "Linda Parker, the Sunbonnet Girl." The first mention of Linda with the Cumberland Ridge Runners was seen in the Radio Guide of March 1932. They were sponsored by the International Heating Company from 10:30 to 10:45 pm on Saturday night during the Barn Dance slot. It was written of their portion: "...historic events of the southern hill country will be recounted with mountain songs and music by the All-Southern cast of artists on this bill." She was getting recognition for her efforts. In June, a fan wrote, "Linda Parker has just finished a number and everybody is happy."
In August 1932, she was part of a contingent of WLS entertainers that went to a casino in South Haven, Michigan for a show on a boat. It was a picnic setting and it was reported over 2,000 attended.
In August 1932, she was part of the group of WLS entertainers who put on a Barn Dance program at the Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis. On the show were WLS artists such as the Maple City Four, John Brown, the Cumberland Ridge Runners with Linda Parker, Max Terhune, Hoosier Sod Busters, the Arkansas Woodchopper, the Three Little Maids, William Vickland, Bill O'Connor, Hal O'Halloran, Hugh Cross, Bradley Kincaid, Ralph Waldo Emerson and others from station WKBF of Indianapolis.
In September 1932, the local newspaper reported that she had signed a three year contract with the Cumberland Ridge Runners of WLS and was to be booked with them on all of their personal appearances '...around the country.' that same article mentions she was visiting her parents in Hammond and brought with her Mrs. Helen Patterson, wife of Pat Patterson of the Maple City Four.
In 1932, we start to see evidence of her popularity. The Radio Guide was holding a contest to determine who the "IT" Girl was on radio that year. Linda Parker was the only one from WLS and she was in 25th place. The singer who influenced her, Ruth Etting was in seventh. At the end of October, Linda was in 25th place. The November 20, 1932 issue announced the final results of fan voting. Marge Damerel won with over 15,700 votes. Ruth Etting finished second with over 14,800 votes. Linda Parker finished ninth in the final polling. The local paper took the time to point out that she did not have the advantage of being heard over a network, but was heard on a single station.
In December of 1932, the local hometown newspaper related a story from her mother from her daughter's childhood days. It seems, Jeanne Muenich, in her baby days was known as "Nenny". She loved her dolls, her parents and her friends. But trains frightened her a lot when the got to tooting their horns going through town. When a train would blow its horn, Nenny would do so as well. Then she would go shrieking to her nearest friend to hide her head. It took a while and some coaching, but she finally understood that trains don't come into the yards of little girls.
She would take her doll, named Daphne, along with her on her walks, which made her feel safe. But when she would hear the screech of a train, she remembered what her mom told her and spoke ever so bravely to Daphne, "Don't be scared Daphne, don't be scared. The train can't hurt you, 'cause it's fastened to the track with a safety pin."
The WLS public relations people now changed Linda's birthplace to Covington, Kentucky, where she grew up listening to old songs that her mother and grandmother sang to her from early childhood. She became so comfortable in her new persona that she began to make her own stage clothes and to play the dulcimer and guitar although never on stage.
One of the difficulties in researching the life of Linda was her marriage to Art Janes, a member of the Maple City Four (LaPorte, Indiana is known as the "Maple City" and three of the original members were from LaPorte.). Due to the 'innocent persona' that had been created by John Lair and WLS for the Sunbonnet Girl, they kept the marriage quiet. Perhaps wanting to maintain the image of her innocence. But a small blurb in the South Bend Tribune indicates they had married on June 20, 1932 in Valparaiso, Indiana. Other news reports of the marriage did not really show up until October of 1932 and even then, it was not widely reported. Upon her passing, WLS Stand By wrote that for the couple, "..it was love at first sight. She came to WLS in early 1932, and she and Art were married that June in Valparaiso."
Although her singing still reflected a lot of Ruth Etting influence, her most popular songs were old favorites such as "Bury Me Beneath the Willow," I'll Be All Smiles Tonight," and the John Lair composition "Take Me Back to Renfro Valley." Linda's only recordings consisted of two singles, one recorded in 1933 and another in 1934 with "Take Me Back to Renfro Valley" being most popular. The local paper reported that she had done some recordings for the Sears, Roebuck Co. that were so successful, she was asked by Brunswick to go to New York City to record more sides. Tony Russell's "Country Music Discography" indicates these were recorded on April 11, 1933 in Chicago. She recorded two more sides with the Cumberland Ridge Runners on March 22, 1934, also in Chicago. Those tunes were "Lonesome Valley Sally" and "My Ozark Mountain Home."
The National Barn Dance seemed to generate another type of entertainment, perhaps as a way of giving local, young talent a chance to be seen and heard. Research shows several instances where the station sponsored a "WLS Home Talent Barn Dance" show. It was a call for local talent to apply to be on the show. One of the requirements was to imitate one of the famous barn dance stars such as Linda Parker. Or if they could play an instrument such as a guitar, banjo, fiddle. Or sing and yodel. One such instance was in June of 1934 that was promoted by the Tippecanoe County Boys' and Girls' 4-H Clubs. The ads implied that the 'show' would be promoted over the airwaves of WLS.
She apparently may have tried songwriting as well. In March of 1933, the local newspaper reported that Jeanne Muenich (Linda Parker) had written a 'beautiful song.' It was titled "My Cabin Among The Pines." The article stated it had been copyrighted, but never sold. She said she did not intend to have her song published because "troubles would arise, concerning its radio use by its authoress." That same article mentioned she had left on March 19th for a two month tour as part of the WLS Merry-Go-Unit that included the Cumberland Ridge Runners, Spareribs (Malcolm Claire), Billy Wood (Marimba soloist) and Lulu Belle. That tour started in Streator, IL.
A Chicago newspaper publication posed a question sent in by a reader, "Have you ever been forced through danger to do something that you thought you were not capable of doing? The roving reporter just happened to meet Linda Parker at the corner of Racine Avenue and Washington Boulevard in Chicago (Note: WLS offices were at 1230 Washington Boulevard between Racine and Elizabeth Streets). Linda told the reporter, "I was out canoeing one day when a sudden gust of wind capsized the canoe. I did not know how to swim and I was too far out for those on shore to hear my shouts for help. For a moment I thought I was lost but when I came to the top I began to swim for the first time in my life." That reporter also asked the question to Fleming Allan, a musical director, Nora Barret, a singer, Milt Mabie an entertainer (The Westerners), Dixie Mason (a WLS Singer).
Radio Guide ran another popularity poll in 1934. The September 29, 1934 announced that Irene Beasley was selected as Queen of the Radio. Linda finished in 32nd place while a young Lulu Belle finished in 35th.
Linda was part of a unique personal appearance in July 1934. The WLS Hayloft Gang were to entertain some 2,000 listeners who were also picnicking aboard the steamer ship Roosevelt en route to St. Joseph, Michigan on July 31, 1934. This was part of the centennial celebration in St. Joseph, Michigan. Arkie was the master of ceremonies. The Little Maids (Eva and Evelyn Overstake), the Hoosier Hot Shots. When they arrived in St. Joseph, the Cumberland Ridge Runners along with Linda Parker and John Lair and a young Lulu Belle were do appear on a special stage show.
In April of 1935, Linda and the Cumberland Ridge Runners made an appearance in her home town. The group was appearing at the Parthenon Theater in downtown Hammond. The local newspaper, The Hammond Times, ran a promotional piece each day during the week leading up to their appearance. The theater, located at 5144 Homan Avenue, was just a block away from the Goldblatt's department store. Research shows the theater was able to seat 2,500 patrons.
Research would sometimes find articles that would tell the reader the tunes that Linda sang. In the April 13, 1935 Stand By, we learned that she sang a tune by Willie Arthur. Willie was said to have written the lyrics to songs used on WLS such as "Old Shep" for Red Foley; "Trail of My Memory Lane" for Hartford Taylor and "Ain't We Crazy" for the Hoosier Sod Busters. But the problem was, Willie had not heard them over the air or in person. He arrived at the WLS studios bright and early one morning at 6:000 am He wanted to hear Linda sing, "Trail of My Memory Lane." But she had forgotten to bring the music to the studio! But that story did not tell us if she sang that tune or not. In a subsequent issue, we learn she done so. The music was written by Karl Davis.
Readers learn a little bit of the things that Linda and her husband Art would do together. Jack Holden told readers they decided to go to LaPorte, Indiana one day and go hunting for mushrooms. Jack felt it was his duty to warn the mushrooms to stay in the ground a bit longer. But Check Stafford reported on the results of that trip. It had an 'unhappy ending'. The rains had flooded their favorite area for picking mushrooms. Their hopes of filling a large sack to later cook them on the stove slowly simmered in corn meal and butter went down the drain.
On August 1, 1935, she was appearing with the Cumberland Ridge Runners at a show in Elkhart, Indiana when she became quite ill. She finished the show, but it was not until two days later that she was rushed to a hospital in Mishawaka. Diagnosed with a perforated appendix, she underwent an emergency operation and two blood transfusions, but went steadily downhill. She died at noon on August 12 at the age of 23 at St. Joseph's Hospital in Mishawaka, IN. Jack Holden conducted memorial services over WLS. Pall bearers were the boys from the Ridge Runners—Red Foley, Hartford Taylor, Slim Miller and Karl Davis—and Pat Patterson and Fritz Meissner of the Maple City Four. Her passing was widely mourned by thousands of radio fans.
The weekly publication of Prairie Farmer, WLS Stand By, published upcoming personal appearances by their artists. Linda's appearances with the Cumberland Ridge Runners provide a glimpse of her itinerary in the weeks and days leading up to her illness and death. Of note is that one of the acts as part of this group was the Play Party Girls who were Eva Overstake (Foley) and Jean Harris (Davis - wife of Karl Davis) and a black-faced comedian named Pancake, brother of Karl Davis.
As one reads the numerous promotional articles in local newspapers for the upcoming appearances of the Cumberland Ridge Runners and Linda Parker, one can see the pen of John Lair behind the descriptions of this group and the music they would entertain fans with.
"A breath of beauty from the blue grass might be best used to describe Linda Parker, talented feminine vocalist with the famous Cumberland Ridge Runners and featured artist in WLS traveling shows. Scarcely more than 20 years old, the auburn haired contralto has one of the biggest fan followings at the Prairie Farmer station and mailmen who carry daily correspondence to WLS will testify to Linda's popularity. AAlthoughshe weighs less than 100 pounds and is of almost watch-charm proportions, Miss Parker has a vocal volume that is something. She is a native of Covington, Kentucky, but many excursions into the Kentucky mountains have thoroughly acquainted her with the wistful ballads of the hills.
Local columnist Archibald McKinlay wrote in 1994 how John Lair had transformed Jeanne Muenich into Linda Parker.
"For openers, he re-named her Linda Parker. Then he decked her out in a full cover-everything gingham dress with a huge, matching sun bonnet. At the same time, he taught her a new repertoire appropriate to her new image and added her to his Cumberland Ridge Runners group.
Her gravestone bears the simple inscription "Linda Parker, wife of Arthur Janes".
The Milwaukee Journal reported that the WLS Barn Dance group would be at the Wisconsin State Fair that ran from August 24 to 30, 1935. Among the entertainers listed to appear was Linda Parker.
Her death was reported in newspapers far and wide. The August 24, 1935 issue of WLS Stand By included tributes from fans in the "Listener's Mike" column.
From Cedar Falls, IA: "We were so sorry to hear of the passing of dear Linda Parker. She was loved by all and this seems the saddest thing that has happened there that we can remember. We are requesting that you publish the sweet song that she wrote. We hope we are not asking too much, for we keep all our copies of Stand By!WLS indicated they had received hundreds of cards and letters when her passing was announced.
Radio Guide magazine was having a contest to determine who readers thought was the "IT" girl on the radio airwaves. The September 14, 1935 issue noted she was 50th in the poll and though she had passed away the month before, they would continue to count votes for her and keep her place in the rankings as a "vote of honor." At that time, WLS' Lulu Belle was 6th in the poll.
Even upon her death, WLS kept up the persona the station and John Lair had created surrounding the character known as "Linda Parker." The WLS Stand By issue stated "...was born Jean Meunich in Covington, Kentucky, in 1912, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Edward Meunich. Her family had lived in Kentucky for several generations, one branch hiving migrated there from Pennsylvania."
The Stand By article mentions that in addition to the National Barn Dance, she also appeared on other WLS shows such as Mountain Memories, Coon Creek Social and others.
The 1935 article went to note the popularity of her singing and how listeners would enjoy her tunes so much, they felt they were "hers" in their minds. Tunes such as "I'll Be All Smiles Tonight," "Wait For The Wagon," "Mother's Old Sunbonnet," and, many others.
She was a talented musician and played the banjo, piano and the "old-fashioned dulcimer." The Stand By article noted she was also a talented arranger.
Archibald McKinlay wrote of Linda's death in a 1994 column summarizing Linda's career. He said she was buried in Pine Lake Cemetery in LaPorte, IN. It was the biggest funeral the town had ever seen up to that point with over 3,000 people showing up, "...including a Who's Who of country music stars." He went on, "While her gravesite is not exactly Graceland North, more people come to see it than any other in the cemetery."
Jack Holden told readers in one of his columns in April 1935 that Linda had once worked as a cashier at Swift's, where she started her radio career on the old Swift hour program.
Other than Jimmie Rodgers and an unreleased song about Charlie Poole, she was probably the first country singer, and undoubtedly the first female country singer to have a song written and recorded about her passing which was "We Buried Her Beneath the Willow" by Karl and Harty.
We Buried Her Beneath The Willow
A year after her death, WLS broadcast a tribute program to Linda Parker. It appears to have included vocals by her, whether by record or by old broadcasts. Listeners wrote to the WLS Stand By magazine in appreciation of that broadcast.
"I listend to the program today in memory of Linda Parker. It surely brought back memories. And the recording was so real, it seemed like Linda was with us in real life again. Made me feel sad but the program was lovely. - From West Allis, WI"
Her four recordings were reissued on the BACM compact disc Memories of Renfro Valley (BACM 041) even though she died before the Renfro Valley Barn Dance even existed. Most of her brief but complex history was researched and published in a December 1995 article by Dave Samuelson.
In 1954, the WLS National Barn Dance celebrated its 30th Anniversary. Part of that show included a special tribute to the stars "looking down from their reserved seats in heaven to enjoy Barn Dance night with us." Among the names mentioned in addition to Linda Parker, the Sunbonnet Girl, were Burridge D. Butler, Rube Tronson; Bill Vickland, Howard Black of the Hoosier Sod Busters, Eva Foley of the Three Little Maids, Ralph Waldo Emerson (organist), and Alan Crocket of the Prairie Ramblers.
Credits & Sources