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Local connections tied to Earl Scruggs

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She is generally recognized as the first female business manager associated with country music and because of her contributions to the industry she was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2007.


The second tie locally to Mr. Scruggs is a connection with two Lebanon brothers who once were traveling salesmen peddling products for Martha White Flour.


The late Efford Burke and his brother Homer are credited with discovering Flatt and Scruggs and introducing them to the Grand Ole Opry.


More than 50 years ago the two brothers were traveling in East Tennessee as sales representatives for Martha White Flour. They were in the Knoxville area when they had the occasion to hear Flatt and Scruggs stringing a banjo and playing a guitar and entertaining an audience on what they then described as a school picnic and pie circuit tour.


According to a story from a Martha White in-house publication provided to The Wilson Post by the Dye, Van Mol and Lawrence public relations firm in Nashville, Efford Burke figured the two would be naturals at selling his companys flour products.


John Van Mol said the two brothers were persistent in pitching their entertainment discovery to their employer.


He said Martha White Mills was a growing producer of flour at the time and the companys board chairman, Cohen T. Williams, was a go-getter who had a sign in his office that read Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and advertise.


Van Mol said Williams, who was always looking for an edge or an advantage in advertising his companys product, was the right person to hear about Effords enthusiasm for Flatt and Scruggs.


Finally, almost as an act of desperation, Van Mol said, Efford ambushed Williams into attending a radio show (in Knoxville) where the two just happened to be playing.


Williams liked what he heard and followed the duo on to Harlan, Ky. where he sat in on another of their shows.


After that Williams invited them to join the Martha White early morning program on WSM radio and hoped to have them join the Grand Ole Opry cast. The latter part of the commitment from Williams didnt come so easy.


The legendary Bill Monroe was already a member of the Grand Ole Opry cast and the Opry wasnt in favor of bringing in a competitive act.


In order to get the Oprys attention and realizing the association with Flatt and Scruggs could be good for Martha White Flour, Williams put the duo on television, first with a weekly show on WSM in Nashville and then on similar shows throughout the South.


Their popularity became so great that it is said the Grand Ole Opry couldnt ignore them any longer and they were asked to join the Opry cast.


While the Burke brothers will be long remembered as two of Martha Whites top salesmen, they will always be recognized for their discovery in 1953 of Flatt and Scruggs.


From the stage of the Grand Ole Opry Flatt and Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys band traveled far on the road to stardom.


Among their most noted works are Foggy Mountain Breakdown, which was used as the getaway music in the 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde, and The Ballad of Jed Clampett, the theme song of the 1960s television sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies.


Chairman and Publisher Sam Hatcher may be contacted at shatcher@wilsonpost.com.

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