Lonnie Glosson -- harmonica player

Lonnie Glosson
harmonica player

By Charles Young
Lonnie Glosson b/w Lonnie Glosson (1908 - 2001) was known nationally for his harmonica playing. He also played guitar, sang, and even wrote songs. As a teenager he learned that he could travel far and wide as a hobo riding the trains. His love of travel and his talent for playing the harmonica became a means of performing for audiences far away from his home in Kensett, Arkansas.

He performed just about anywhere he could find an audience. He was often a guest on live radio shows such as: the Lousiana Hayride in Shreveport, Louisiana; Grand Ole Opry on WSM in Nashville, Tennessee ; Renfro Valley Gang on the Mutual Radio Network, and Saturday Night Barndance. Several of the shows he performed with aired on many radio stations. A short list includes; KMOX in Saint Louis, Missouri; WLS in Chicago, Illinois; WLW in Cincinnati, Ohio; KARK in Little Rock, Arkansas, and KWHN in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Later he would even have his own regular radio shows. Some of these shows were recorded and aired on as many as 200 radio stations around the country. His energetic style of playing harmonica no doubt influenced many later country, bluegrass, and blues harp players who had listened to Lonnie Glosson on the radio. The harmonica was sometimes called a mouth harp, or just a harp.

Lonnie Glosson and Wayne Raney had radio programs on XEPN, and XERA, Mexican stations located just south of the U.S. border. Norris Chambers says that the duo sold harmonicas and instructions through the mail for $1 each -- as many as a million a year.

In the 1930's, Lonnie Glosson had his own group called Lonnie Glosson and the Sugar Creek Gang. He also performed with other many other singers and musicians including the Delmore Brothers duet. Glosson also performed with Merle Travis, Grandpa Jones, and the Delmore Brothers performing as the Brown's Ferry Four.

In 1932 Lonnie Glosson was pictured in a promotional pamphlet for Chicago radio station WLS. Lonnie became friends with movie star Gene Autry at WLS. Lonnie went to Hollywood with Autry, but he didn't stay long -- he didn't fit in with the lifestyle. Lonnie Glosson recorded for Paramountís Broadway record label in the early 1930s and also recorded for Decca and Mercury records.

Lonnie Glosson had his own TV show called the Uncle Lonnie Show on Channel 5 - KFSA (now KFSM) in Fort Smith, Arkansas for a few years in the early 1960's. He also appeared on the 1970's television show, Hee Haw.
From WLS pamphlet
Some of the songs Lonnie Glosson wrote:

Lonnie Glosson's songs were popular in Europe, and documentaries on him were produced in both Canada and Germany. When Charlie Pride was being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, he named Glosson as one of the prime influences on his decision to go into country music based on listening to him on the radio as a child.

Lonnie came from a musical family. His mother, Cora Busby Glosson, taught him to play the "French Harp". Lonnie's brother, Buster "Buck" Glosson was an excellent harmonica player too. Lonnie's nephew, Joe Glosson, said that Buck was perhaps even better on the harmonica than Lonnie. Buck was well known around Bauxite and Central Arkansas, but Buck didn't have wanderlust, and was not as widely known as Lonnie.

Lonnie was raised by a Godly mother, and he knew that God was looking out for him. He tells a story of divine intervention when he could have been killed riding the rails. Other railroad adventures are detailed here.

Lonnie Glosson married Ruth Moore, and they had 6 children. For many years the family became itinerant farm workers at harvest time. They would leave Arkansas and often traveled west to follow the harvest from north to south. They spent a lot of time in California picking fruit, but worked in many other states as well. This migrant worker lifestyle gave Lonnie the opportunity to do live performances all over the country. Lonnie Glosson 1992 A lot of families lived in camps during the depression as they traveled to find work on the farms. Even after the depression many migrant workers lived in camps during the farming season. Lonnie was a source of entertainment for many migrant workers. Even long after the depression when most people had settled down, Lonnie still had wanderlust. Unfortunately the days of one-room schools were long forgotten, and his children were expected to know what other students their age knew. Because the children often moved to different schools and sometimes did not even attend school, their education suffered.

Some people seemed to have the mistaken idea that all of Lonnie's children should also be accomplished musicians and singers. Some of the children were likely to claim that they knew nothing about playing the guitar or harmonica to avoid the embarrassment of revealing that they were not accomplished and polished musicians like their father.

Lonnie outlived his wife and 4 of his 6 siblings. Lonnie lost a leg to disease in his later years, and Marcella Pry, Lonnie's agent and companion, helped care for him.

My connection with Lonnie: I was pretty young when Lonnie was performing in Fort Smith, but I do remember hearing him play and sing. I saw him perform at my elementary school, and I remember seeing him on the "Uncle Lonnie" show on TV. During the winters when the family was in town, the younger children who were still living at home attended church with us at Central Assembly of God in Fort Smith. The three younger Glosson children married people who attended or were affiliated with that church. Lonnie's daughters, Sally and Mary, sometimes sang specials in church -- often with a group of other young people.
Glosson at a school  

Other Glosson relatives also attended Assemblies of God churches. In the late 1980's I got to know Lonnie's nephew, Joe Glosson of Benton, Arkansas who attended the Assembly of God Church in Bryant, Arkansas.

My second cousin Gloria Phipps married Lonnie's son George. Gloria's brother, Warren Phipps, married Lonnie's daughter Mary. Gloria, Warren, and the rest of the Phipps family had been listening to Lonnie Glosson on the radio for many years before they met the Glosson family. They had even heard Lonnie on the radio when the Phipps family lived in Colorado.

Lonnie Glosson is most widely remembered by the older generation. Red Ellis told me that his father took him to hear Lonnie Glosson perform in south Arkansas in the late 1930's. In the 1950's, Joe Grant remembers Lonnie stopping at their house in Texarkana, AR to visit with his father, Monroe Grant ("Monk") who played fiddle at the Louisiana Hayride along with his brother Hank Grant and others. Lonnie would entertain the children with his "talking" harmonica. As late as the 1990's Lonnie was still performing at many bluegrass festivals in and around Arkansas. Many of those festivals are annual events that continue to this day, but you can hear bluegrass music almost any weekend during the summer at Mountain View, Arkansas where a bi-annual bluegrass festival is held. Some people in the Searcy and White County area of Arkansas remember Lonnie Glosson as the man who entertained at schools as recently as the mid 1990's. A friend from work remembers Lonnie performing at her school in Searcy, and she remembers his wheelchair van with his name painted on it.

A newspaper article tells a small part of Lonnie Glosson's story. In 2001 Marcella Pry published a fine biography of Lonnie Glosson with a few photos. It was available on the White County Historical Society web page for several years, and now most of it is reproduced here (click the Next >> link).

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