Stuart Hamblen was born Carl Stuart Hamblen on 20 October 1908 in Kellyville, Texas. His father, Rev. Dr. J. H. Hamblen, was a traveling Methodist preacher and founder of the Evangelical Methodist Church.
When he was 18 years old, Stuart took a job on KAYO-AM radio in Abilene, Texas, becoming radio's first "singing" cowboy. One year later, he entered a talent show in town where he won a $100 cash prize.
This was the tail end of the Roaring '20's and the Great Depression was about to clobber America. The radio and recording industries were still very young. At that time, the Victor Talking Machine Company was located in Camden, New Jersey. Young Stuart took off for Camden with a dream to expand his horizons into the fledgeling record business. He recorded four songs there, then headed to Hollywood, California for an audition at KFI-AM radio. They put him on the air as "Cowboy Joe" the Singing Cowboy.
Using the name Dave, Stuart joined a Western singing group called the Beverly Hill Billies (did you think the TV sitcom was the first to use that name?). The group's success led Stuart to form his own group which he called King Cowboy And His Wooly West Revue. Soon afterward, the name was changed to Stuart Hamblen And His Lucky Stars. Their radio performances on the Covered Wagon Jubilee became quite popular up and down the West Coast.
In 1933, Stuart married a young lady named Veeva Ellen Daniels. One night on his radio show he referred to her as Suzy Ashenfelder and the alias stuck. From that point on, his wife became known as Suzy! He became a daddy in 1935 when his first daughter, Veeva Suzanne, was born. His second daughter, Lisa Obee Jane, came along in 1938.
Of course, everyone who lives in Hollywood ends up in motion pictures (right?). As life went on, Stuart found his way into quite a few Cowboy movies, including: In Old Monterey with Gene Autry, The Arizona Kid and King Of The Cowboys with Roy Rogers, The Plainsman And The Lady and The Savage Hoard with Wild Bill Elliott, Carson City Cyclone and The Sombrero Kid with Don "Red" Barry, King Of The Forest Rangers with Larry Thompson, and Flame Of The Barbary Coast with John Wayne.
Stuart was the very first artist signed by Decca Records in 1934. He wrote over 235 songs through the years, including: Texas Plains, My Mary, Golden River, Walkin’ My Fortune, Ridin’ Old Paint, (Remember Me) I’m The One Who Loves You, Teach Me Lord To Wait, Until Then, How Big Is God, His Hands, and Open Up Your Heart (And Let The Sunshine In).
Let's listen to Stuart tell a quick story about how he came to write Open Up Your Heart (And Let The Sunshine In):
Now let's hear Open Up Your Heart (And Let The Sunshine In) by the Cowboy Church Sunday School on Decca 29367 from 1955, which is actually sung by Stuart's two daughters, Veeva (20) and Lisa Obee (17), along with his wife Suzy. Stuart recorded the voices at 33-1/3 RPM and played them back at 45 RPM to raise the pitch and make them sound much younger:
You might be wondering by now if I've gone off my rocker featuring this song as a New Oldie. But, hear me out. If you come back and listen to this song the next time you're depressed, I'm willing to bet that it cheers you up! Now let's hear Stuart's original recording of the song:
Stuart also wrote a song in 1950 that became the very first "cross-over" hit, It Is No Secret (What God Can Do), which means it was a hit for Jo Stafford on the Pop charts and also for Stuart himself on the Country and Western music charts in 1951. The song also topped the Gospel sales charts. The original manuscript of that song is buried in the cornerstone of the Copyright Building at the Library of Congress in Washington. Elvis Presley even covered the song in 1957 on his Christmas album.
Here's It's No Secret by Stuart Hamblen on Columbia 20724 from 1951, but first listen to the interesting story behind the song as told by Stuart himself. He was living in Errol Flynn's old house at the time. The neighbor he's talking about was John Wayne:
By far the biggest hit Stuart wrote was This Ole House, which became Song Of The Year in 1954, reaching #1 on the charts for Rosemary Clooney in seven different countries around the world.
Here's This Ole House by Rosemary Clooney on Columbia 40266 from 1954:
Here's the original recording by Stuart Hamblen on RCA 5839 from 1954:
The also song became a hit in the UK by Scottish-born Billie Anthony with Eric Jupp and his Orchestra on Columbia 3519 from 1954:
The song was also a hit on the German charts, sung in German as Das Alte Haus Von Rocky-Docky by Bruce Low on Karussell 8450212 from 1955:
There's an interesting story behind the religious theme that runs through so many of Stuart Hamblen's songs. As so many others who lead a life in the spotlight, Stuart turned to alcohol for relief. This led to public fights and jail time, often bailed out by the sponsors of his popular radio show. He would refer to himself as the "original juvenile delinquent." He got into horse-racing as a trainer at Santa Anita and spent a lot of time gambling at the racetrack. His life was going downhill fast.
In 1949, Stuart's wife Suzy took him to the home of Henrietta Mears to attend a prayer meeting of the Hollywood Christian Group. A young Billy Graham was speaking with the group that night. They arrived early, on purpose. Suzy and Henrietta slipped into the kitchen leaving Stuart alone in the room with Billy Graham. They had a nice talk and became friends. Stuart invited Billy to the station to promote his tent crusade on his radio show. After that interview, Stuart urged his listeners to go to the crusade to hear Billy speak, saying, "Make sure y'all come, 'cause I'll be there too!" Suzy made sure Stuart kept his promise to attend the show that evening. Stuart sat in the center of the front row that night, and continued to attend night after night in that same seat. He would later refer to his first meeting with Billy Graham as the turning-point of his life. If you ask me, I think God set aside a special place for Suzy in Heaven!
After his conversion, Stuart decided to clean up his act. He quit gambling and got out of the horse-racing business. He quit smoking and booze, becoming an activist against alcohol. By this time, Stuart’s show was syndicated nationwide. When his show's sponsor asked him to read a commercial promoting beer, Stuart refused, based on principles of his new-found faith and the fact that he had publicly vowed to reject alcohol. The sponsors threatened to cancel his show, but Stuart would not compromise and stuck to his convictions. The sponsors pulled out and the show was cancelled. But, in the last few shows before it went off the air, Stuart used the time to let his listeners know what happened. This made Stuart popular with the Prohibition Party. As a staunch anti-Communist, Stuart had unsuccessfully run for Congress in 1938. In 1952, the Prohibition Party asked him to lead their ticket in a run for President of the United States. He agreed, and was actually running in the lead in the very early returns! But he finished in a distant fourth place behind the eventual winner, Dwight David Eisenhower.
Here's some rare footage of Stuart Hamblen being interviewed by Jimmy Dean on his television show.
Stuart and Suzy were together for more than 55 years. They bought a horse ranch in Santa Clarita, California, and bred Peruvian Paso horses. They owned a thoroughbred (Oro Negro) that was a three-time U.S. National Champion of Champions. For ten years they rode their horses in the annual Pasadena Rose Parade. Beginning in 1971, Stuart produced a weekly radio show from that home called Cowboy Church Of The Air which was syndicated on Christian stations across the country.
Stuart also won several awards for his contribution to Country and Western music. In 1970, he was inducted into the Nashville Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. In 1972 he received the Academy of Country and Western Music’s prestigious Pioneer Award for his work as the first singing Country and Western Cowboy on radio. The Los Angeles City Council proclaimed 13 February 1976 as Stuart Hamblen Day when he was immortalized with a Star on the Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame. In 1978 Stuart won the Gene Autry Award for the enrichment of our western musical heritage. He received a Golden Boot Award for his work in movies in 1988. The honors continued after his death. In 1994 he was inducted into the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame. In 1999 he was inducted into the Western Music Association’s Hall of Fame. In 2001 he was inducted into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame and also won the International Country Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame Award.
Stuart Hamblen was 80 years old when he died of brain cancer on 8 March 1989 in Santa Monica, California. He's buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Los Angeles. His beloved wife Suzy joined him on 2 June 2008 at the age of 101. They were survived by their two daughters, Veeva and Lisa Obee, along with ten grandchildren and nineteen great-grandchildren.
Thanks for attending the sermon here at the church of MusicMaster Oldies. We're a non-denominational congregation and you're all welcome to sit and listen to the gospel music as long as you like. We're all neighbors in here!