Bonnie Lou, pioneering country and rock singer dies at 91

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CINCINNATI (AP) — Bonnie Lou, a pioneering country music artist and rock 'n' roll singer and who later became a TV host, has died. She was 91.

Her husband, Milton Okum, said that she died in a Cincinnati nursing home early Tuesday.

Born Mary Joan Kath in Towanda, Illinois, Lou began playing the violin and guitar as a child. By age 16, she was singing and performing on local radio stations in the Midwest. Her big break came a year later when she was signed to a contract to perform on a barn dance show, the Brush Creek Follies. She was known as Sally Carson and her group was The Rhythm Rangers. The show was broadcast nationwide.

Known for her yodeling, she later was dubbed Bonnie Lou and was featured on a show that became the Midwestern Hayride, a country and western radio program on WLW in Cincinnati. This led to tours and eventually several performances at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.

Bonnie Lou was a popular radio performer through the 1940s and some of her performances were cut to acetate and released to the public. In the 1950s, she signed with record companies as a country music singer. She had Top 10 country hits with "Tennessee Wig Walk" and "Seven Lonely Days." Each of the records sold about 750,000 copies.

Later, she began recording rockabilly. In 1954, she recorded the dance song "Two-Step Side-Step," written by Murry Wilson, whose sons became rock legends as the Beach Boys. A year later, her first rock 'n' roll record, "Daddy-O," rose to No. 14 on the Billboard chart.

She was a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.

WLW's television affiliate allowed Lou to transition to TV. She co-hosted and sang on the popular local show, the Paul Dixon Show, and performed on the station's televised version of Midwestern Hayride, which later was broadcast on NBC. She appeared on the show until it ended in 1972.

Lou also hosted Six Star Ranch, a WLW radio show that was transmitted nationwide, and in the 1980s she hosted a weekend country music show in Middletown, Ohio, for a few years.

She performed in public occasionally into her 80s. There was a resurgence of interest in her music about 15 years ago. Compilations of her songs have been released since 2000 and most of her recordings are available on digital downloads.

Lou was married to Glenn Ewins from 1945 until his death in a car accident in 1964. They had a daughter, Constance. She married her second husband, Okum, a furniture store owner and magician, in 1966. Together they appeared in television commercials for the store.

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