29 Sep 2005
Mike Joyce of the Washington Post has described Tommy Lepson as “one of the best soul singers around, blue-eyed or otherwise.”
Lepson started performing professionally at age 14 and has appeared with many national acts including the Kinks, Captain Beefheart, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, NRBQ, and the Righteous Brothers. He toured and recorded with the infamous Root Boy Slim as well as the Assassins (with Jimmy Thackery), Nils Lofgren, Danny Gatton, and many others. During the Clinton administration, Lepson and his band performed three times at the White House.
Since 1991, the Tommy Lepson Band (formerly the Lazy Boys) has been performing and recording original material, blues, and soul classics, as well as crafting new versions of obscure R&B tunes and combining American roots music styles with Latin percussion. The group has released three CDs to date: “Live and Durty,” “Ready For This?” and “A.M. 53.”
Ola Belle Reed was born Ola Wave Campbell in Lansing, North Carolina, on August 17, 1916. She and her brother had a country music career that spanned over 40 years.
Ola Belle’s father was a musician and the family-owned a store that sold record players and general merchandise. The family, including 13 children, was forced to move to northeastern Maryland during the Depression, where they thought it would be easier to survive. Ola Belle’s father played fiddle, banjo, guitar, and organ, and he formed a string band with his brother called The New River Boys and Girls. Ola Belle played old-time banjo and guitar and started performing with the North Carolina Ridge Runners in the Maryland-Delaware-Pennsylvania area.
In 1946, Ola Belle and her brother, Alex, who was wounded in the invasion of Normandy, formed their own country music band, The New River Boys. The group played mountain bluegrass style with traditional stringed instruments and broadcast over WASA radio in Havre De Grace. The family later moved to Oxford, PA, where they built a following, playing on radio stations WCOJ in Coatesville, PA, and WBMO in Baltimore, MD.
Alex and Ola Belle wrote more than 200 songs and recorded 20 albums. In 1945, Ola Belle declined an offer to join Roy Acuff’s band, deciding instead to stay home and marry Ralph “Bud” Reed. In 1949, Alex and Ola Belle reformed the New River Boys with Ola Belle on banjo, guitar, and vocals. In 1954, Alex, Ola Belle, and her husband founded the popular music park New River Ranch, near Rising Sun, MD, which attracted many national acts. In 1960, the band moved to Sunset Park, in West Grove, PA. They performed there for 26 years, broadcasting from WWVA in Wheeling, WVA. During the 1960s, the signal reached the entire eastern US and into Canada. In addition to radio and personal appearances, Ola Bell and Alex ran a successful country and gospel record mail-order business. Alex and Ola Belle were on 200 radio stations at one time. Alex retired in 1984. Ola Belle suffered a stroke in 1987 and was bed-ridden until she died on August 16, 2002, one day before her 86th birthday.
Ola Belle and Alex won a Gold Record for their song, “High on a Mountain,” which was recorded by Marty Stuart in 1992. She was also the recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Award.
Content courtesy of Washington Area Music Association.
Header image photo credit: Vic Lucas