OBITUARY:Minnie Pearl

"Humor is the least recorded but certainly one of the most important aspects of live country music." If this statement is in any way true, much of the credit lies with the woman on whose plaque in Nashville's Country Music Hall of Fame it has been inscribed: Minnie Pearl.

For over half a century "Cousin" Minnie was among the most popular and beloved stars of Music City's WSM Grand Ole Opry radio show, and was one of a select group of performers able to lay claim to the status of "Nashville legend".

Strolling on to the Opry stage she would greet the audience with a shrill "Howdeee! I'm just so proud to be here!" before filling them in on her latest unsuccessful efforts to "ketch a feller". Her trademark was a wide-brimmed, beflowered straw hat, dangling a $1.98 price-tag. Nashville lore has it she had forgotten to remove it on her debut and retained it afterwards for good luck. In fact she always made her own hats.

Born in 1912, Pearl always claimed to have come from Grinder's Switch, Tennessee, in reality a railroad junction station just outside Centerville, the hometown of her alter ego and creator Sarah Ophelia Colley.

Passionately interested in vaudeville as a child, she studied stage technique at the exclusive Ward Belmont College, Nashville, graduating with a degree in speech and drama. From 1934 she worked for the Atlanta-based Wayne B. Sewell Co, directing amateur theatre productions throughout the region.

It was during this period that she began to develop her comic persona, observing and absorbing the characteristics and traits of people she encountered on her travels, notably those of an Alabama woman whom she always later cited as the original "Minnie Pearl". She auditioned in November 1940 for the famous radio barn dance The Grand Ole Opry, receiving a mere $10. Invited back the following Sunday she joined the regular cast.

Her arrival on the Opry coincided with a sea-change in its talent line- up as it moved away from a reliance on old-time string bands like the Crook Brothers, towards a roster of solo stars, notably her friend and mentor Roy Acuff. In 1943 she joined Ernest Tubb, Pee Wee King and other Opry stars as part of the "Camel Caravan" which toured military bases entertaining the troops, and in 1947 performed in the first country show held at Carnegie Hall in New York.

At the end of the war, the comedian Rod Brasfield joined the Opry cast and although his somewhat risque humour was at odds with Pearl's, they proved a popular double act until his death in 1958.

Despite her renown on radio and later television, Minnie Pearl never enjoyed much success as a singer. Although she cut sides for Everest, Starday and RCA - including "Papa Loves Mambo", a delightfully awful duet with Grandpa Jones - she broke into the Top Ten only once with "Giddy Up Go Answer" (1966), a response to Red Sovine's 1965 chart-topper.

Television however, first through Hee Haw and then The Nashville Network, brought her monologues and corny jokes into the homes of millions of Americans. In 1975 she received the genre's highest accolade, election to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Although latterly plagued by ill-health (she had a debilitating stroke in 1991), Pearl remained a revered figure; one whose example as the first major female star in country music was rightfully acknowledged by the generations of country women who have followed.

Paul Wadey

Sarah Ophelia Colley (Minnie Pearl), entertainer: born Centerville, Tennessee 25 October 1912; married 1947 Henry Cannon; died Nashville 4 March 1996.

Suggested Topics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Compensation and Benefits Manager - Brentwood - Circa £60,000

£60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Compensation and Benefits Manager - Compensat...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £35000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker