Lily Mae Ledford grew up in a musical family in eastern Kentucky’s Red River Gorge. She wanted to fiddle so badly that she traded her most precious possession – a box of crayons – for a broken-down instrument that didn’t have strings, tuning pegs or a bow. She eventually became better known for banjo picking than fiddling, but that old fiddle helped launch a career that brought Lily Mae and her Kentucky mountain music to a national audience.
In 1936, Ledford went to Chicago to perform on WLS Radio’s National Barn Dance. The next year her manager, John Lair, assembled a strong band featuring Ledford’s distinctive banjo style. Called the Coon Creek Girls, it was the first all-female string band.
For two decades the Coon Creek Girls were featured on John Lair’s Renfro Valley Barn Dance radio program, which began in Cincinnati but soon moved to Renfro Valley, Kentucky. Along with Kate Smith, Marian Anderson and others, the Coon Creek Girls were part of a program performed for President and Mrs. Roosevelt and their guest, the King and Queen of England. The Coon Creek Girls disbanded in 1957. Lily Mae and her husband, Glenn Pennington had three children. Ledford is buried in the Berea Cemetery.
Lily Mae will be portrayed by Sandy Harmon, whose mother says Sandy was singing before she could talk. Harmon has since pursued an active career in the music industry. In addition to performing all over the eastern U.S., she has made recording, appeared in movies and on television and hosted her own live show at the Windy Hollow Music Jamboree.
Sandy Harmon will portray Lily Mae Ledford.
Sponsor: Fern Creek Woman's Club.
Funded project of the Kentucky Humanities Council. Kentucky Chautauqua is an exclusive presentation of the Kentucky Humanities Council, Inc. a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.