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Letter From Home “Vestal’s Handkerchief” 7/13/19

July 13, 2019

Vestal Goodman, I am sure, is not a topic many of my readers think about with any regularity.  But I do. She still remains one of my favorite gospel singers. At a time of great despair, the loss of a loved one, or times when I am feeling glum her musical styling, and vocals about truths unseen have always made a huge difference for me.  Over the past couple of weeks she has been on my mind as I thought about what to do with a memory from her that needed a new home.

Many years ago I received two signed handkerchiefs from Vestal.  She never took to a stage without that southern adornment held in her hand to gently wipe her face as the heat of the concert lights took hold.  When she started her own online music site there was a window of time when she sent out signed lace hankies.  While one of them was placed in a special photo box, I gave the other hanky to my Aunt Evelyn who enjoyed watching and listening to the Homecoming Friends videos, as did Uncle Bob.

This spring Evie died and the hanky found its way back to me.  The mission was to find it a new home.  After some thinking on a late night walk James and I thought of a friend of mine who lives in Nashville, Tennessee.  He has the same regard for music as I do, and also was heavily involved with the restoration of the Hank Snow Ranch.  But he also works at the famed Ernest Tubb Record Shop.

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The Grand Ole Opry Star started his record shop in 1947 and it still is the place to go for the classic country sounds that made Nashville known as “Music City”.  Each Saturday night the “Midnight Jamboree” is broadcast live from the store over WSM radio, AM 650, the “Air Castle Of The South”.  The store also is the home to artifacts and memories from over the decades of country and gospel music.

It was the place I hoped to find a new home for Vestal’s signed handkerchief.  When I contacted Terry he was delighted to have it and will place it for viewing.

The Happy Goodmans and their music connected with me in my teenage years.  The vocals of Vestal set her apart from any other sound I had heard.  By the time I was a young man and taking over the Sunday morning radio show on WDOR in Sturgeon Bay I was loving Southern Gospel.   I wrote about that time in my book Walking Up The Ramp.

I was told to play inspirational music, and was offered suggestions–as if I seemed a heathen unaccustomed to religion. The selections offered to ‘show me the way’ included George Beverley Shea, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. While both of those had merit, if you resided in a poorly managed nursing home where the intent was to keep the old people in bed, then yes, those might have been just the ticket. But what would better suit the lady,  who from time to time delivered a baked good from her oven to me at the station on her way to church? The proposed format I was to follow needed some sprucing up and I had a different idea about the tone of the show I wanted to create on Sunday mornings. I wanted something quite different for those hours when folks get up, start their day, and head to church. I was going to make their day start off on the up-tempo side. Just to be clear: when the broadcast day starts at 6:00 A.M., I think that there has to be a bit of verve to the music. I needed the extra ‘umph’ in my morning as much as the listeners. 

That first Sunday when I opened the broadcast day, I pulled a selection of albums from the station’s collection ranging from the Speer Family to the Oak Ridge Boys, from the Cathedrals to the gospel sounds of the Statler Brothers. I pulled from the shelves music from the Stamps Quartet, as well as the Blackwood Brothers. Things were going to heat up at the nursing home that day!

As I rummaged through the recordings at the station, I came upon a glaring omission in the stack. Something would have to be done. I knew one way or another that Vestal and her piano-playing husband, Howard, were going to be a part of Sunday mornings at the station.

So, off I headed that same week to Ace Records located on Main Street which was one of those (now) old-fashioned, and wonderful stores where anything on vinyl could be found, and if not in stock, it could be ordered and picked up in just a few days. I did a search of the possible selections and ordered a double-album set from a live concert, along with an album with some selections I knew contained just the type of sound I wanted. I paid for the albums with my own money, and still have the recordings, and play them at home on my turntable.

Back at WDOR, armed with my albums I saw to it that Vestal Goodman hit the airwaves the following Sunday.  (In 2003 at a Homecoming Friends concert in Champaign, Illinois, I was able to meet her, and even get a hug as she was slowly walking her way to the stage for the second half of the show which featured a sing-a-long with all the others groups. I hugged her, telling her I loved her, and in true southern style she said, “Bless you, darling.”)

The hanky is on its way to Nashville as I write this blog post.  And I know that if Evie were to have been told of this news she would smile and softly say words akin to “Well that is really something”.  She would have enjoyed hearing it all.

When wanting to take a photo of the hanky so to have some meaning I opened a piano music book of Goodman songs to the one that speaks to the larger connection that Evie and Bob shared in their decades of togetherness.

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