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Monday, March 24, 2008

Farewell To Beulah Kershaw

A little over a year ago, I lost a good friend and fellow musician. Beulah Kershaw - poet, musician, songwriter, author and performer - well-known in the music field as Disco Beulah, was born on January 14th, 1914, in Florida, Missouri - also the birthplace of another famous American writer, Mark Twain. On February 22nd, 2007, she passed away at age 93. In that span of time, she accomplished many things. While it seems like her whole life was devoted to musical endeavors, that wasn't always the case in her younger years. She was a staunch Republican and helped in several campaigns. In fact, due to her local efforts in Southern Illinois, she was even invited to President Eisenhower's inauguration ball in Washington D.C., in the 1950's. In later years, however, her music began to take precedence.
I first became aware of her about 1980, which by this time, she was already almost 70 years old. She had recorded a song called A Woman In Love and it began to get lots of airplay on Chicago radio station WLS. The deejay who premiered it was Larry Lujac and thanks to him, Beulah's audience widened considerably. Now, she was no longer just a hit in her immediate area around Crossville, Illinois, her voice was beaming out all over the nation. From there, it was only natural that television executives would hear of her and she was offered a chance to be on the NBC television program Real People, in 1981. This appearance brought her even more attention and worldwide fame. I have personally seen a sheet that detailed countries located all over the world from which she received royalties, and it numbered in the dozens! Such was her widespread appeal.
I first met her in person in 1988. I had heard several of her records, from my personal collection no less, and had written a song that I thought would be perfect for her to record. I got up the nerve and drove to her house, (it wasn't far from where I lived) and knocked on her door. Gracious person that she was and always had been, she asked me to come in and sit down. On that first meeting, she played several of her songs for me, my own personal concert you might say, and I was enthralled. I think I had to come back a few other times before I got up enough nerve to ask her about my song. But, when I did, she agreed to work on it. I went back a little while later and she debuted it on her piano for me. I am proud to say that I have a recording of her doing my song! During this time, a friendship developed and we got together several times to jam - her on piano and myself on guitar. She even made a few recordings on a cassette that was just for me. Another way in which her kindness was readily apparent.
We wrote back and forth throughout the remainder of her life and I stopped in to see her whenever I was in her neck of the woods. I recall an article in our local paper that told about a show she did at a local nursing home toward the end of 2006. She was performing until almost the very end of her life. That's why it came as such a shock when I heard she had passed away. I thought she would be singing and playing a piano somewhere forever. Sadly, that wasn't the case.

Beulah in her political period of the 1950's.

I had collected all my recordings of hers, the ones she had made for me and ones I had recorded myself and burned them on a cd to give to her. Unfortunately, I never got the chance. The funeral was to be held in the town next to mine, so I placed the cd in my jacket and went to pay my respects. Once I got there, it was a little early still, I sat down in the back of the chapel and bided my time. After getting several stares from the family members seated up front, her niece came back and spoke to me. I mentioned that I had been a fellow musician friend of hers and she invited me to sit up front with the family. Apparently, Beulah passed on her cordial qualities to other generations as well. As people came through to pay their respects for her, somebody mentioned something about her music. Knowing I had a bunch of it in my pocket, I spoke up and said as much. The family was intrigued, especially when I told them about the song she had recorded of mine and in tribute to her, they requested the funeral home personnel to play the cd over their sound system. There was hardly a dry eye in the house, mine included, as song after song from her wonderful career played throughout the building. I was glad that I had thought to bring it because it turned out to be one last great tribute to an artist that many had loved and adored, and it gave her family members a chance to hear some things they hadn't heard before. Before it was all over, one of them asked me if they could get a copy of the disc. I ended up giving it to her, as I had another copy, and she made duplicates for the other family members later that evening. From the funeral home, we drove to the town she had lived in and there the funeral was held out in the open countryside. The rain was coming down in buckets and the wind was blowing quite briskly, so it was a bittersweet sendoff for her. Below, you can see what the countryside looks like where Beulah Kershaw was laid to rest.

So, in my own way, I would like to say farewell to a dear friend and a fellow musician. She was a wiz on the piano, of that there was no doubt. To prove it, please download this short collection of hers that I have compiled to share here. It is these following tracks:
1. All I Do Is Cry - the song I wrote especially for her
2. A Woman In Love - her big hit, recorded on a tape just for me
3. It Hurts To Be Hurt - another of her popular songs she recorded for me
4. Real People - her appearance on the NBC television show
5. A commercial for her songs and books, from a local radio station.
Be sure to download and listen to this collection of Beulah Kershaw songs. Click on this link here to get them.
One final thing I want share is that to prove she had a broad influence, here is a track from a rock and roll band I was in where we covered one of her songs. I regret that she never got to hear it herself, but I'm sure she would have been pleased to know that her music transcended genres. Click here to get A Woman In Love, by Terror In Tucson.
I hope this little remembrance of her will give her a smile if she's looking down in this direction. Farewell, Beulah.

April 13th, 2010 Update:
Beulah Kershaw's niece Dorothy has kindly telephoned me to let me know that, as she was going through some of Beulah's belongings, she came across some unopened boxes of her records, tapes and books. They were all in new condition and still in the shrink wrap, (tapes), and that if any of her fans would be interested in acquiring what will probably turn out to be the final copies of Beulah's music or writing, to just give her a call. I told her there might be a 45 or two that I might not have in my collection that I'd like to have, so I'm going to call her up once she gets it all just a little more organized. But, don't wait! If you're interested, call her as soon as possible, for these won't last forever. For those of us who remember Beulah fondly, these recordings and writings will be something with which to remember her by and a interesting piece of history as well. Dorothy resides in Crossville, Illinois, the town where Beulah lived for many years, and can be reached by calling this number: 1-618-966-3638.


MS. B said...

She was something else!Always had a smile.

Dorothy said...

Great tribute to my Aunt Beulah. Thanks

HaarFager said...

She was a very special lady. Thanks for your kind comments, Ms. B. and Dorothy!

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

January 3rd, 2010 10:05 p.m.

Anonymous said...

My Aunt Beulah taught me how to play the piano when I was a little girl. She was so much fun. Used to let me polish her fingernails. I loved her dearly.

Catherine Warren Banzet

mapblackburn said...

I came across a picture I took of Beulah that I took of her while visiting her at her place in Crossville, IL in 1980. . It prompted me to google her and I came across your wonderful tribute. As a musician and teacher at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago I often sought out the obscure musicians in my travels. Beulah was a piece of Gold. Thank you.
-Mike Blackburn
Old Town School of Folk Music
Chicago, IL

HaarFager said...

Mike, thank you so much for posting this little tidbit for all her fans to know. If you could share the picture you took online, I'm sure there would be several people interested in seeing it - me included!

Anonymous said...

I am interested in any cassettes, records, or poem books of beulahs. I am a Carmi native and met her in person--she gave me a cassette at that time, but unfortunately it is lost. The number listed is disconnected. Are you able to help? Thanks!!

Mark said...

I don't know if you will believe this, but I watched that episode of "Real People" back in 1981. I was 9 years old. I heard Beulah's song, "A Woman In Love," on that show. I watched that episode once but, somehow, over the last 31 years I have heard the song playing in my head from time to time. I am turning 40 later this month. Maybe it is a credit to how catchy the song is? I remembered Beulah's first name and the name of the song, and it came into my head tonight so I finally googled it. I was so glad to find this blog, the wonderful story behind the artist and the connection you had with her. Thank you for sharing this with us.

HaarFager said...

Hey, that's great, Mark! I watched it too, but recorded it from the tv on cassette tape. So, if you'd like to be able to hear her appearance on Real People again, be sure to check the download link as that is included in the collection! Thanks for your compliment!

HaarFager said...

If any of Beulah's relatives are keeping up with this thread, please contact me because there are people wanting to buy her records and stuff and I would like to be able to have someplace to send them so they can find what they're looking for.

mapblackburn said...

I finally logged on again and I will do what I can to post it

Private Press Mike said...

I have a wonderful 45 of hers that features 4 songs 1 of which I really love called "My Dear Green Mountain Home", an arrangement of a song written by one Dorothy Catchpaw who I think might've been from the St. Johnsbury, VT area (where I found this record). Interestingly, I found another arrangement of the "Green Mountain" song on a song poem l.p. (these were vanity pressed records featuring arrangements of amateur song writers songs. The kind of records put out by the people who'd put those "send us your lyrics and we'll put them to music"ads in the back of old magazines). Beulah's arrangement of the song is way better, touching and heartfelt!

Unknown said...

When I was twenty, I had car trouble outside her mobile home in Southern Illinois. After using her phone and waiting for help, she got on the piano and sang A Woman In Love. Still a vivid memmory.