Rock Hall Residency Substantiates Everly History In Iowa

September 28, 2018

 

Earlier this year, my twin sister Sheryl was selected as a recipient of the 2018 Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation Visiting Scholar Award! The grant covered her travel and research-related costs for a week-long residency at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum Library and Archives. A few months later, Sheryl made arrangements and invited me to join her for the week of August 27-31 in Cleveland. We had visited the Library and Archives to study archival materials relating to The Everly Brothers for one day last July, and this was essentially a continuation of that pursuit.

 

See my article: "Rock Hall Research Celebrates Pioneering Everly Duo."

 

Our 2017 summer visit was a wonderful introduction to their collections and other available resources in the Reading Room. While one day isn't enough time to conduct substantial research, our findings hinted at significant themes needing further exploration and this certainly prepared us for this summer's residency. Our goal was the same: to learn more about the brothers generally, while giving special attention to their former hometown of Shenandoah, Iowa in order to advance our work for The Everly Brothers Childhood Home

 

In addition to giving us more time to delve into the breadth of the archives, the residency also allowed for a tour of the facility (including cold, cold storage!) and an opportunity to build upon our existing relationships with the staff. As we passed her bronze statue in the Reading Room, we learned more about Cleveland native Jane Scott, who was rock's first critic. 

 

Wearing white gloves, I handled a vinyl sleeve for Don and Phil's 1983 reunion concert recording on which Scott jotted notes as well as photos of her with the brothers when they performed in Cleveland in 1996. Like Alan Freed, Scott was another pioneer who paved the way for the genre in this city, and is yet another reason why the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is in its rightful place. As a female music professional and native Ohioan, I'm inspired by her life's work!

 

And while we didn't run into any rock legends in the stacks as we did with Chris White of The Zombies last summer, our schedules did coincide with friends Zachary and Dylan Zmed who are currently on tour with The Everly Brothers Experience. We invited them to join us for a brief study session at the Library and Archives before venturing to the Museum. Having met the brothers in 2016 and worked with them on two concerts in Shenandoah thus far, we're often sharing resources and ideas with each other, so naturally, their first question was: "What have you learned?" 

 

Well, short of writing a book (which actually may be a good idea), here are a few highlights!

 

Since audiences are my primary focus with buildings, places and artifacts being an extension of this work, I was just as keen to learn about the communication history surrounding The Everly Brothers as I was any other aspect of their music and biography. Understanding context within the origins of this fandom culture and how Shenandoah has been presented and perceived is essential knowledge. And as far as I'm aware, it's a subject that hasn't been explored. I was hoping to find something concrete that would help explain why their life in Iowa has remained largely unknown to a broader public. 

 

Looking at various print media such as magazines, newspaper articles and concert posters mainly from 1957-1962 as well as the years during their reunion concert and Shenandoah homecoming (1983-1986), I learned a great deal about how the brothers were communicated to US and UK audiences during those peak times. It was fun to discover new fan perspectives, anecdotes and photos along with era-specific news and advertisements! Periodicals and audio-visual materials also provided a wealth of direct commentary from the brothers. I found more material regarding their 1986 Shenandoah homecoming to reinforce what we already know of their affection for Iowa:

 

"That formative period...growing up around  Shenandoah... was what I really, really remember in my lifetime," commented Phil. "I've always considered it kind of hometown. To me the fondest memories are still the Harvest Jubilee when they used to give away free pancakes and things like that...those kinds of memories. We started in Shenandoah and got all of our musical training there. I don't know...I really couldn't brag on it enough" (The Evening Sentinel, June 17, 1986).

 

Sheryl and I watched b-roll of their 1986 Rock Hall induction and Don's 1994 Time Life interview. He talked about the family's early radio work in Shenandoah and how they were perceived by Knoxville's legendary Cas Walker as being "too Yankee" for his WROL show after moving there from Iowa. It's an interesting study in social and musical identity. Don and Phil's family was from Kentucky (Don was born there), but the brothers spent most of their formative years in Iowa (Phil was born in Chicago) and their music was a hybrid genre being marketed to different audiences. It was inevitable that there would be compromise somewhere to streamline their public image. By admission, the brothers were sentimental about their connections to the family's homeland as well as their adopted homes. Each held a respective place in their hearts and biographies, but public relations was another matter. 

 

 

As a brother duo, Don and Phil represented a traditional style in country music, but at the same time, they were also pioneers of an emerging genre. While country music was an established institution, rock and roll was considered to be only a temporary trend in youth culture. If rock and roll didn't turn out to be a lucrative enterprise, a career in country music could be. When the brothers signed with Cadence Records in 1957 in Nashville, they were embraced as the country side of rock and roll. Their family's Kentucky heritage took center stage. 

 

"Here are Kentucky's Everly Brothers!" exclaimed Ed Sullivan. When Don and Phil recorded "Kentucky"

by Karl Davis in 1958, they were well on their way to becoming synonymous with the Bluegrass State in almost an ambassadorial manner. "The beginning for Phil and I is just a small dot on the map called Brownie, Kentucky," said Don on The Archie Bleyer Show in 1959 (Archie Bleyer was the Founder of Cadence Records). As I noted in a previous article, there was no mention of Iowa in the liner notes of their 1962 Christmas album despite it being recorded in Omaha, about an hour from Shenandoah. 

 

See my article: "Christmas With The Everly Brothers And Boys Town Choir."

 

The Library and Archives provided a window into the world of Everly publicity, offering source material from their record labels and public relations teams. Perusing press releases and other documents, the most exciting piece I discovered was what I assume must be one of the earliest attempts at writing a comprehensive Everly biography. It was written in 1960 by Connie De Nave Public Relations in New York. De Nave was yet another pioneering woman whose work I crossed paths with during the residency. She worked as Assistant Magazine Editor at ABC and as Dick Clark's Press Agent before opening her own public relations firm called Image Makers. She was the only woman press agent working in the business at that time and her clients included Connie Francis, Frankie Avalon, Chubby Checker and Dion and the Belmonts among other industry giants.

 

De Nave's six-page document was a good balance of history and modernity, including details from Don and Phil's early years to contemporary life. I was impressed by the knowledge and inclusion of Shenandoah because it was severely lacking in early press. De Nave used a page to describe their work on Shenandoah's KMA Radio and other activities in Iowa. Meanwhile, a three-page Warner Brothers biography from the same year included only one sentence.

 

For all of their differences, these two documents did have something in common: wrongly stating that the birthplace of both brothers was Brownie, Kentucky. Don was born in Brownie, but the family moved to Chicago shortly afterwards where Phil was born two years later. Certainly the Warner team was familiar with the basic biography of artists to whom they offered the first million-dollar recording contract in history. It was about the continuity of branding inherited from Cadence Records. 

 

 

This evidence reinforces my research from last summer and corroborates what I've found to be commonplace among articles, publications, websites, liner notes and other media: their biography relating to Shenandoah has often been omitted, minimized and incorrectly cited over decades. After seeing this source material first-hand at the Library and Archives, it all made sense. There was a reason why Shenandoah doesn't have a more prominent place in pubic consciousness when it comes to The Everly Brothers. It began with their record labels and was carried forward by the press and its consumers. Despite there being more awareness of Shenandoah's significance among audiences today, the misinformation continues, even in the heritage sector. 

 

For example, the following is an excerpt from HeritageCorridors.com which is part of the WMTH Corporation, a company that specializes in Tourism Research, Scenic Byways and Cultural/Heritage Trail Development: "Born and raised in Brownie, Kentucky located just outside Central City, both boys attended Drakesboro High School. They later performed with their parents as part of the Everly Family Show before striking it out on their own as the Everly Brothers."

 

Before reaching international super-stardom in 1957, Don and Phil had spent the majority of their lives in Shenandoah (1945-1953). It's where they began as a duo on radio at ages 6 and 8. It's where they learned about the perseverance, work ethic and discipline required to transcend the cut-throat and fickle nature of the music business. Their formative years in Shenandoah under the tutelage of their parents, Ike and Margaret, provided the foundation for their success. And it deserves to be recognized as an important part of their history.

 

The Library and Archives offered yet another glimpse into the Shenandoah years through their in-house documentation of loaned items from Margaret Everly's collection, which included her description of the artifacts and personal correspondence with the curatorial staff. Amazing! I'm so inspired by all of the work she has done to preserve and document her family's history. Only some of the accessioned items were publicly exhibited before being returned to Margaret in Nashville, so this was very exclusive information. I'll refrain from disclosing too many details due to confidentiality, but the most significant discovery I made while looking through these documents was Phil's first songwriting attempt in 1948 when the family lived in Shenandoah. He was 9 years old and home sick with the flu! 

 

In terms of musicological research, I discovered "The Roots and Influences of The Everly Brothers," a 2010 dissertation by Dr. Paula Bishop (Boston University). She provided a history of brother duos starting with Frank and James McCravy, whose recordings contributed to the origins of close harmony singing, and this gave context to the Everlys who "represented a continuation and transformation of brother duo acts that had been in country music since the 1920s." It's one of the most recent studies on this subject. Great research and resources! With rock and roll being so androcentric, it's important to recognize the many contributions made by women, including Don and Phil's mother Margaret and the other professionals I've cited here: Scott, De Nave and Bishop. Their work has been instrumental in the advocacy and preservation of the Everly legacy. 


Spending the week immersed in this residency was inspiring, revealing and vindicating. It gave me the opportunity to gather more information about Shenandoah's relationship with the Everlys and their audiences. I feel that I've reached a threshold, a newfound knowledge and understanding of my subjects. The more time I spend with this history, the more questions I have, and while the residency answered many, there will always be more...an insatiable quest! Sheryl and I are so grateful to the Delmas Foundation and Library and Archives staff for providing such an outstanding environment and support system for our research. We're already looking forward to our return! 

 

Sherry

 

 

The content on this site belongs exclusively to its creator and author, Sherry Davis. It is protected under the Copyright Act of 1976 and all subsequent amendments to copyright law. An excerpt or image may not be reproduced without consent. Please contact the author to request permission.

 

 

 

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