By RACHEL C. DOVE
Williamson — The City of Williamson honors a local singer, songwriter and humanitarian this weekend through the adoption of a resolution to rename “Watkins Street”, birthplace of Jimmy Wolford, to “Jimmy Wolford Place”.
Jimmy Wolford and Glen Simpson will perform at a special benefit concert for the STOP Coalition and Crossroads (both are located in Gilbert) at the Mountaineer Hotel this afternoon, from 2p.m. until 5 p.m. Memorabilia from the 1977 flood and the Buffalo Creek flood will be on display inside the hotel lobby on Second Avenue. Tickets are available to the public for the price of $15, and include a dinner and the show.
It became perfectly clear during an interview with Wolford that Vice President Hubert Humphrey and the Kennedy’s worked with the musician and entertainer for a reason; he has the fully compelling personality of a star.
Jimmy graduated from Williamson High School in 1952. During his high school years, he played football and basketball and spent 4 years in the marching band. Following graduation, he joined the United States Navy and became a member of the Navy Hospital Corps.
“I joined the hospital corps as an operating room technician,” Wolford stated. “I scrubbed in and assisted with a multitude of surgeries, we did an awful lot of them. I would say we did around 3 to 4,000 cases, over a four and a half year period.”
“While in the service, I was invited to join the Navy Recruit Band based in Bainbridge, Maryland, as a drummer. We travelled mainly around the east coast and did programs for Uncle Sam,” he said with a smile.
“When I got out of the Navy, the first job I took was at the Hill Crest Medical Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I also worked the nightclubs out there and performed with a big band called ‘Leon McAuliffe and the Cimarron Boys’. It was an 18 piece orchestra.”
“When I left Tulsa, I interviewed for a job with KXLA Radio in Pasadena, California, where I began working with Cliffe Stone. I was hired to do live radio,” remarked the musician. “By that, I mean they brought in as many as 300 people to watch us perform 5 radio shows a week. This occurred in the late 1950’s.”
Wolford signed with Four Star Records in Pasadena, California, and had a hit record titled, “My Name is Jimmy.” The flip side of it was a hit song called the “Teeny Weeny Man.” He later signed with Capital Records in Hollywood, California.
“My first record with them was a big hit on the airways, especially on the west coast and in Canada. It was called ‘Impatient Heart.’ Another record I recorded while I was under contract with Capital was ‘Going Steady with the Blues,’ and I also recorded ‘I Woke up in a Tree.’ I recorded a song back here in the Williamson area and at one time, and it did extremely well. It was called ‘Red Dog’.”
Wolford went on to sign with several other record companies including Star Day Records and Ashley Records.
Wolford’s professional life as a musician enabled him to work with several renowned names including Henry Fonda and Lauren Green, the star of the hit television show Bonanza. Jimmy also worked with his friend Dallas Frasier, the song writer who wrote ‘Elvira’ and 400 other hit songs over the years.
“I used to, on occasion; get to work with Johnny Cash. There have been a lot of people I’ve had the pleasure to sing with , including Janet Lee, Patty Duke, Steve Allen, Nina Simone, Ruth Brown and many, many more,” commented Wolford.
“In 1960, I met Hubert Humphrey, the Vice President of the United States. I travelled with him throughout the State of West Virginia during his efforts and attempts to receive the democratic nomination for the Presidency of the United States.”
“We lost to a young senator from Massachusetts by the name of Jack Kennedy. My job was to perform on the street corners, fire departments and churches for Senator Humphrey. I worked over a 12 year period for him. Later on, Jack Kennedy won the presidency and I also worked with him in nine different states.”
“In total, I worked for the democratic party throughout 47 states. I also performed at nightclubs, fairs, rodeos and all kinds of things in every state of the union except three.”
There is a long and distinguish list of awards that Wolford has received including the Democratic National Party Award, the Humanitarian Award, Democratic Farmer Labor Party Award, Honorary Delegate to the 1960, 1964 and 1968 Democratic Conventions, Ambassador from the State of Kentucky, the Salvation Army Hands Award for raising $18,000 in one day during the Christmas season back in the 1950’s, and also the Honorary Hall of Fame at the former Williamson High School.
In Mann, (Logan County) Jimmy raised $25,000 for the Buffalo Creek flood survivors.
The musician has one daughter, Melodie Wolford, who has worked on Broadway since 1979 with the group “42nd Street”. He was born and raised at the family home located on 401 Watkins Street in East Williamson to parents Luther and Rosabell Wolford, also natives of the Williamson area. Wolford had four sisters, Juanita, Fern, Janice and Francis. He also had one brother, Clyde. All were graduates of Williamson High School.
The STOP Coalition, Crossroads and the City of Williamson invite the public to attend the event this afternoon to honor one of Williamson’s best known entertainers and enjoy the show he has planned. All proceeds with go to benefit the STOP and Crossroads organizations.