Harpo Kidwell

Hillbilly harmonica player

Horace Kidwell, harmonica player: born South Irvine, Kentucky 18 December 1910; married (one son, two daughters); died Adairsville, Georgia 29 December 2003.

Harpo Kidwell was among the finest hillbilly harmonica players of his generation and was, for over 10 years, a star on Atlanta radio's famed WSB Barn Dance.

He was born Horace Kidwell in South Irvine, Kentucky, in 1910 and as a 10-year-old was taught to play the harmonica, or "mouth harp", by his father. He also learned to play the guitar, bass and ukulele and made his first public appearance at a talent show in the town, later remembering:

When I finished playing and went back to my seat, I missed my chair and fell flat on the floor. That made the biggest hit of the evening.

He found work on radio stations in Ohio cities such as Cincinnati, Columbus and Dayton and eventually joined Glenn Hughes's Roundup Gang, a Kentucky-based string band noted for the unusual inclusion in its lineup of a female mandolinist, Jean Hughes. In April 1939 the Roundup Gang found itself performing on WSB, Atlanta's daily hillbilly show, the Cross Roads Follies.

Kidwell stayed in Atlanta until the early 1950s, becoming one of the most popular fixtures on the WSB Barn Dance following its launch in 1940. He played virtuoso showpieces such as "Fox Chase" and "Pan American Blues", which as a child he had heard performed by the black "harmonica wizard" and Grand Ole Opry star DeFord Bailey, and on occasion sang self-penned songs such as "How Many Biscuits Can You Eat?" and "Just Because". His own "Harpo's Waltz" also became an audience favourite.

Whilst at WSB Kidwell met the blind singer and guitarist Pete Cassell and together they wrote "The Moss Covered Mill". Other major acts with whom he worked on the Barn Dance included the Dixie Sweethearts James and Martha Carson, the western swing bandleader Hank Penny, the bluegrass star Mac Wiseman and the future songwriting great Boudleaux Bryant.

By the late 1940s the Barn Dance was struggling to maintain a viable audience and in February 1950 it was broadcast for the last time. Kidwell remained at the station for another year, fronting his own band, before heading north and finding work on Cincinnati's WLW Midwestern Hayride, which was broadcast simultaneously on radio and television. He also performed for a while on television's Cincinnati Music Hall before returning to Georgia where he eventually retired.

In 1987 he was inducted into the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame.

Paul Wadey

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine