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Welcome to the official podcast of The Nashville Retrospect, the monthly newspaper devoted to stories from Nashville's past. Editor and host Allen Forkum interviews local historians and people who experienced the city’s history firsthand. He also investigates audio artifacts from area archives and relates fascinating articles from old Nashville newspapers.

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Mar 1, 2019

Dancing at the Hermitage Hotel. Being at teenager at the start of World War II. Confronting Jim Crow injustices. Host Allen Forkum (editor of The Nashville Retrospect newspaper) interviews 94-year-old Mary B. Williams, who also recalls her career as a presenter in the early days of Nashville television, when commercials were performed live and occasionally made for humorous bloopers. (Segment begins at 04:40)

(Special thanks to Tom Vickstrom)

Mary Binkley Williams and her husband, Thurman P. Williams, are pictured at the time of her marriage in 1942 when she was 18 years old. She grew up at 1509 Russell St. in East Nashville before going with her husband to Virginia the day after their marriage. (Image: Mary B. Williams)

The Hermitage Hotel, Nashville’s first million-dollar hotel, opened in 1910 and is pictured here on a vintage postcard. Mrs. Williams has fond memories of the hotel, from fraternity dances, to sorority lunches, and even her honeymoon. (Image: Mike Slate)

Mrs. Williams landed a job modeling clothes for a N.Y. designer at Tinsley’s, a women’s clothing store in downtown Nashville. These advertisements appeared in the Jan. 21, 1945, Nashville Tennessean. (Image: Newspapers.com)

Original caption from the Aug. 13, 1950, Nashville Tennessean: “Behind the Camera’s Eye—Shelton Weaver, WSM-TV studio engineer, makes an adjustment on one of the station’s expensive television cameras. A single tube used in the camera costs $1,300.” In the podcast, Mrs. Williams recalls her career as at presenter in live commercials at WSM-TV. (Image: Newspapers.com, photo by Robert C. Holt Jr.)

Mrs. Williams today lives in the Green Hills area of Nashville.

Also hear Don Cusic, Curb professor of music industry history at Belmont University, tell the story of Nashville’s first big hit record, “Near You” in 1947, and the beginnings of Music City USA. Hear Donia Dickerson recount the origins of the song, written by her father, Francis Craig, a famed Big Band leader in Nashville. (Segment begins at 46:00)

(Special thanks to Beth Odle)

Francis Craig and His Orchestra are picture at a performance at the Hermitage Hotel. (Image: Nashville Public Library, Nashville Room)

Original caption from the Aug. 28, 1947, Nashville Banner: “Francis Craig, Nashville orchestra leader, is shown with the first record of ‘Near You,’ the song written and recorded by him and which is now the most popular choice on the juke boxes of America. Craig has broken an all-time record by being the first Southern man to write, play, and record a song in the South and see it make the Hit Parade.” The record would go on to sell millions of copies and start Nashville on the road to being a recording center. (Image: Nashville Public Library, Nashville Room)

This sheet music for Francis Craig’s “Near You” is part of his collection of papers at the Nashville Public Library, which was donated by his daughter, Donia Craig Dickerson.

And finally, Allen Forkum reviews some of the contents of the March 2019 issue, including Vanderbilt University first women’s basketball team in 1897, the death of Daniel Boone in 1809, and an obscenity case against homosexual movies in 1979. (Notice: The mentioned Clover Bottom Massacre should have been 1780, not 1870.) (Segment begins at 02:00)

 

SHOW NOTES

A list of articles relating to this episode that you can find in back issues of The Nashville Retrospect (back issue can be ordered by clicking here):

• “Craig’s ‘Near You’ Tops Hit Parade,” Nashville Banner, Aug. 28, 1947 (The Nashville Retrospect, August 2011)

• “Artifacts: Francis Craig photo and record” by Clinton J. Holloway, The Nashville Retrospect, July 2015

• “Francis Craig’s Orchestra To Play For WSM Opening,” Nashville Banner, Oct. 4, 1925 (The Nashville Retrospect, October 2009)

 

Links relating to this episode:

*My Cup Runneth Over,” by Mary B. Williams

Nashville Sound: An Illustrated Timeline by Don Cusic

“Francis Craig” at Wikipedia

The Hermitage Hotel

“Hermitage Hotel” at Wikipedia

Kroger grocery stores

“Cain-Sloan” at Wikipedia

 

Audio excerpts: “Near You/Red Rose” 78-rpm record and Donia Craig Dickson interviewed by Ken Berryhill (WRVU, 4/13/2000) from the Francis Craig Papers, Nashville Public Library, Nashville Room.

Music: “Near You” by Francis Craig and His Orchestra (Bullet, 1947); “Quiet Outro” by ROZKOL (2018); “Covered Wagon Days” by Ted Weems and His Orchestra; and “The Buffalo Rag” by Vess L. Ossman