Coon Creek Girls –
Photo by Coley Ogg’s daughter and son in law, Elbert and Elizabeth Fortner of the Ogg studio.
When you think of Appalachian mountain music, you cannot help but think of the Coon Creek Girls. The Coon Creek Girls were an all-female string band based out of Kentucky.
Founding member was Lily Mae Ledford, born in Pilot, Kentucky. Ledford learned to play on an old discarded fiddle belonging to “Gran’pappy Tackett,” who was a famous old-time fiddler of the Kentucky mountains, as was her father, White Ledford. She told the story of how she made her first fiddle bow from a willow switch and a generous portion of the tail of “Ole Maudie,” “Gran’pappy’s” white mare. Lily Mae Ledford had formed the Red River Ramblers with her sister, Rosie, and brother, Cayden. After auditioning for talent scouts in 1935, Lily May Ledford was asked to appear on the famous WLS Chicago Barn Dance. It was there that John Lair took interest in becoming her manager. John Lair would also become the founder of Renfro Valley Barn Dance.
When John Lair moved on to Renfro Valley, he wanted to manage an all female string band with Lily May Ledford as the lead. Lily May Ledford would become one of the founding members of the Renfro Valley Barn Dance. That original group of the Coon Creek Girls were Lily May Ledford, her sister Rosie, as well as Evelyn “Daisy” Lange, and Esther “Violet” Koehler. Evelyn and Esther received their nicknames to keep up with the flower name theme. Lily May Ledford played unique tuning and claw-hammered style of banjo. Rosie Ledford played guitar, Violet on mandolin, and Daisy on bass.
The Coon Creek Girls made their debut on October 9, 1937 from the Cincinnati Music Hall. They would begin performing on the Renfro Valley Barn Dance and would do so for fifteen years.
They would produce their first album in 1938 on the Vocalion label in Chicago. One of their most popular songs was “How Many Biscuits Can You Eat?” They were even invited to perform at the White House in 1939 for the King and Queen of England and President and Mrs. Roosevelt.
The group would disband as Evelyn Lange and Esther Koehler would move to Dallas the following year.
Never to give up, Lily Mae and her sister, Rosie, were joined by their sister, Minnie, known as “Black Eyed Susan.” They continued to perform together with others until around 1957. Lily Mae Ledford continued on as a solo act until her passing in 1985.
During the 1980s, John Lair created the New Coon Creek Girls. They included Pam Gadd on banjo & guitar; Wanda Barnett on guitar & fiddle; Vicki Simmons on bass & banjo; and Pam Perry Combs on mandolin & guitar. They continue to perform throughout Kentucky and the Appalachian region.
In 2004, the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame honored the Coon Creek Girls by inducting them into their Hall of Fame. There is also a display of the group at the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Renfro Valley, Kentucky. Needless to say, they made a huge impact in the world of Appalachian Music, as well as the beginning of Kentucky country music history. Below is a video of them performing, “How Many Biscuits Can You Eat?”
Jessica Blankenship is the owner and founder of Kentucky Country Music website with over 20 years experience in music journalism, concert planning, photography, and promotion. Jessica is a Kentucky Colonel and alumni of the 2019 Leadership Kentucky BRIGHT Class and a recipient of the Laurel County’s Ten Under 40 Award. Listen to her each week on WFKY on Friday mornings for the Nashville News Roundup.