LAIR, JOHN LEE JONES (1894-1985)

John Lair grew up in the Renfro Valley area of Rockcastle County, Kentucky. After serving in the Army in World War I, he worked various jobs, winding up with an insurance company in Chicago. Radio was brand new at that time and he was fascinated with radio station WLS in Chicago. He got a job there and set about bringing musicians from Kentucky up to Chicago, where he became their agent and manager and got them hired by WLS for the National Barn Dance and other shows. After building a nice little troupe for himself, he indulged himself in a dream of going back to Renfro Valley and starting his own barn dance show on radio. To accomplish this, he needed time, money, and publicity to build a barn in Renfro Valley. To this end, he took his group of entertainers to WLW in Cincinnati in 1937 and contracted with the radio station to broadcast the Renfro Valley Barn Dance. It started in Music Hall in Cincinnati and then moved to Memorial Hall in Dayton. He built up a following for the show, and by late 1939 his barn was built in Renfro Valley and he moved the show there, where it is continuing in 2016. Some of the entertainers he brought to Renfro Valley over the years included Red Foley, the Girls of the Golden West, the Holden Brothers, Molly O’Day, Lily May Ledford and the Coon Creek Girls, the Amburgey Sisters, Ernie Lee, Jerry Byrd, and the Duke of Paducah. John gradually built up the Renfro Valley settlement to include a restaurant, tourist cabins, racetrack, museum, and radio station WRVK. He was also a song collector and songwriter. He wrote “Freight Train Blues,” “The Man Who Comes Around,” “One Step More,” and “Take Me Back To Renfro Valley.” In 1978, the Kentucky Broadcasters Association gave him their Broadcaster of the Year Award, and in 2002 he was inducted into the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame.

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