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Monday, May 8, 2017

CRADLE OF THE STARS

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KWKH and The Louisiana Hayride: Documentary, book on the table

In 2019, iconic documentary filmmaker Ken Burns ("The Civil War," "Baseball," "Jazz," etc.) will unleash his take on the history of country music in his typical TV mini-series fashion, and the effort will include significant segments on the Hayride. Shreveport native and author Joey Kent, son of former Louisiana Hayride owner David Kent, wants to be ready when the Burns series turns the spotlight on North Louisiana. To that end, he has been assembling a large-format coffee table book appropriately titled "Cradle Of The Stars – KWKH & The Louisiana Hayride."

"My father ran a second incarnation of the Louisiana Hayride in the ‘70s and ‘80s,” Kent said, “continuing the tradition of discovering new music talent. That was his legacy.”

“I have now spent the past 25 years assembling a vast collection of photos, audio and video recordings, interviews and memorabilia from KWKH and the Hayride, dating all the way back to the arrival of the first radio receiver in Shreveport in 1907,” Kent said. “I am dedicated to telling that incredible story, so rich in historical 'firsts' and so vital to the record of this nation. That is my legacy.”

Veteran Louisiana Hayride announcer Frank Page approached Kent more than a dozen years ago about writing a book on the Hayride. He shared stories of his incredible 58 years at KWKH and urged Kent to expand his scope beyond the Hayride borders.

“Frank sent me on a multi-year-long journey but, in the end, he was right: You can't tell the story of the Louisiana Hayride without telling the story of KWKH – not just in the years leading up to the Hayride but all the way back to its founding by Will K. Henderson,” Kent said.

To that end, Joey Kent has launched a campaign to find the book's publisher on the crowdfunding Web site Publishizer.com where authors pair with potential publishers based on the merit of their projects and advance sales of their books. The more units pre-sold, the greater the attention from publishers.

"We sold close to 300 books in the first two weeks of our 30-day offering," Kent said, "and I am hoping we can hit our goal of 500 advance sales by the end of the campaign on May 16. Reaching that figure will ensure the project goes out to the widest possible collection of publishers.”

It has been almost 70 years since local radio station KWKH launched their version of the "barn dance" programming that was, at that moment, sweeping the nationwide airwaves fueled by The Grand Ole Opry emanating from Nashville, Tenn. "The Louisiana Hayride," the radio and stage show created by KWKH in Shreveport, had two simple goals: fill a three-hour time slot on a Saturday night with quality country-western music and generate advertising sales.

There was no great fanfare when Tex Grimsley & the Texas Playboys ushered in the show on the first Saturday in April of 1948 at Shreveport's Municipal Memorial Auditorium. "Hillbilly music" was about to broaden its audience even more.

Hank Williams joined the Hayride that August and transformed the show as well as his career. Williams soon found himself in a position to “move it on over” to a whole new level of stardom. After he left for the Opry a year later, the Hayride's consistent parade of new talent soon earned it the nickname "Cradle Of The Stars." Twenty-three Country Music Hall of Famers including a teenager from Memphis named Elvis Presley would populate the cast over the next dozen years of the Louisiana Hayride's initial run, sec- ond only to Nashville's revered Grand Ole Opry in its dissemination of classic country music sounds.

The influence the Louisiana Hayride had on a generation of radio listeners was as far reaching as its 38-state coverage area was back then propelled by its 50,000 watts. Growing up in the iron fields of Hibbing, Minn., a young Robert Zimmerman would stay up late listening to the sounds of classic country music originating from the Hayride stage every Saturday night. By 1962, Zimmerman had left Minnesota for the concrete canyons of Manhattan, shedding his name along the way for a new one: Bob Dylan. He has often cited the Louisiana Hayride as a huge influence on his young ears, as did Waylon Jennings and Buddy Holly, to name just a few.

Kent promises to deliver an entertaining volume, filled with hundreds of images and an easy to read text that helps capture the spirit of the Louisiana Hayride show, its stars, and the inner workings of the program.

"Cradle Of The Stars: KWKH & The Louisiana Hayride" is available online through May 16 at www.publishizer.com/ cradle-of-the-stars or on Facebook at www. facebook.com/JoeyKentBooks. The special advance purchase signed edition is $20.

– Karl Hasten

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