Bonnie Lou Moore
Buster Moore during his radio days, photo courtesy of Bonnie Lou Moore
Bonnie Lou & Buster on their wedding day (Courtesy: Bonnie Lou Moore)
Courtesy of Tennessee Archive of Moving Image & SOund
In 1945, Cocke County, Tennessee native Hubert "Buster" Moore married Margaret Bell of Hendersonville, North Carolina. The union would go on to create one of the southeast's most beloved variety television shows.
"When Buster and I met, he was on the radio in Asheville, North Carolina with the Carl Story group and I was in high school," recalls Margaret "Bonnie Lou" Moore one February morning at her home in Hamblen County. "I have a brother named Lloyd Bell, they called him "Ding-Dong", and as children we'd play guitar and sing. Our dad would take us to different places to perform and they would let us perform on the radio at WWNC in Asheville. They called us the Bell children. That's where I met Buster."
Buster went off into service and while he was gone, Margaret would write to him.
"When he got out of the military, I had graduated. My dad wanted my brother and me to go to Knoxville and audition for (Cas Walker's) Merry-Go-Round. I called Buster when I got to Knoxville. He had a a job in Oak Ridge entertaining people on Wednesday and Friday nights. He said 'Lloyd can go with me and after the show, I'll take you home', 'cause we had ridden a bus to Knoxville from Hendersonville and we started a courtship again after that."
The two musicians married in 1945 and it wasn't long before they had a professional partnership.
"Buster had a band at WROL with Cas Walker," remembers Bonnie Lou. "One of the boys got sick and I filled in for him and after that, they wanted me to be part of the show. So, Buster organized his band with me, my brother Lloyd, Carl Butler and Art Wooten. That was our first band."
But her husband thought Margaret needed a new name and out of the blue called her "Bonnie Lou".
"He thought that Bonnie Lou & Buster would be more of a stage name than Margaret & Buster". My brother Lloyd, he played a big part in our show, all those years. In fact, he played straight to "Humphammer" the comedian. Buster would walk off the stage and leave us out there to emcee. He wanted us to learn how to emcee and oh, that was was terrifying but we learned. We learned the hard way."
The band traveled from town to town all over the southeast, playing on any radio station they could find.
"We worked radio for years and years. We'd work for a couple of years and move on to another station because every town had a radio station and they'd have country music in the morning or noon."
Bonnie Lou says Buster did try to get out of the music business, once. But it didn't last.
"He loved music better than anything. He didn't want to get out and do anything else. He wanted to be in the music business. He tried one time getting out of music business and training for JC Penney management. That lasted 6 weeks and a station in Harrisburg, Virginia called us to bring the show there. That was the end of his training. We went up there and back to Bristol and into television."
Their last radio station was at WCYB in Bristol, Virginia. At the time, television was in it's infancy. Bonnie Lou says her husband realized its potential for their careers.
Buster said 'we've got to move, we've got to get in television because we don't know what they're going to do with the radio show'. We moved to Channel 11 (WJHL in Johnson City, Tennessee) and had to learn. At first it was really hard having your expression and they'd say 'smile' when you were supposed to smile. We made it through and learned the heard way. We'd watch other shows and learn from that. Educate ourselves."
The band kept a grueling schedule schedule, traveling all over the southeast to perform the Jim Walter Jubilee 5 nights a week on live television.
"When we were able to get tape, we could go to the stations and tape two shows at a time. After that, they figured out how to bicycle them. We'd tape them all in Knoxville (including the WBIR studios) and then bicycle them to others stations."
"We were with another home builder when we first moved to Knoxville. They bought the show and Jim Walter approached the station and told them if they ever discontinued sponsoring us, that they'd be interested and so the other home builder sold their company and he picked the show up and kept us on for 21 years."
Bonnie Lou's voice was unmistakable..as were her costumes.
"I stayed with checked pinafours all of the years. The boys would try to get shirts to match because we'd have to change colors each week. That was kind of hard."
The Jim Walter Jubilee featured everything from country to bluegrass, comedy to gospel music.
"I enjoyed our hymn time. That was one of the best parts of the show, I thought".
And then there was the clogging, something that was also dear to the North Carolina native's heart.
"We started bringing in cloggers from North Carolina because that's one of the places clogging originated and I was familiar with that. When we opened our show in Pigeon Forge, we had clogging every night."
That show was the "Hayride Show", it opened in 1972 at the Coliseum theater in Pigeon Forge.
"Not much was going on in Pigeon Forge at the time," remembers Bonnie Lou. "On t.v. we'd educate them where our show was by saying 'we're about 5 miles north of Gatlinburg' cause everybody knows where Gatlinburg was. It's changed now."
They stayed in the business about 20 years after opening the hayride before calling it quits in the early 1990's.
"We closed the t.v. show in 1994 and the Coliseum in '95 and retired. Buster had one year of retirement until he had a heart attack and died."
Since Buster's death, Bonnie Lou only sings in her church choir but looks back at her time in the music business with great fondness.
"Fifty years was enough," she says with a smile. "I'm retired and I don't do much of anything. As little as I can."
But she's grateful to the Bonnie Lou & Buster fans who recognize her and share happy memories of their collaboration.
"They recognize me and tell me they watched the show for years and years. Lots of people say 'I grew up watching the Bonnie Lou & Buster show. I appreciate it, you know. I just appreciate all of them."
We would like to thank Bradley Reeves of the Tennessee Archive of Moving Image & Sound (TAMIS) for his assistance with video & musical clips. For more information on TAMIS visit www.tamisarchive.org