Esoteric Television: Dial M for Music (and W for The Womenfolk)

(Photo courtesy of the Womenfolk’s MySpace page)

After Christmas we spent a long weekend in New York. Not being in the mood to shop I decided to spend my Sunday afternoon at the Paley Center for Media (formerly the Museum of Television and Radio or something like that). It isn’t a regular museum, they show various TV programs in various parts of the building, but the real focus is the library where you can look up just about any show you can think of, request it, and watch it.

My mission was to see if I could find any television appearances of The Womenfolk. The few video clips that have been on the Internet were a great chance to see the ladies sing (for the first time for those of us who were born too late), but both have been removed and I was hoping to find more. I had a list of shows and show numbers from imdb.com or some other online dbase. Unfortunately the show numbers weren’t helpful in the Paley Center’s catalog where they use show dates not episode numbers. I wasn’t able to find the episodes of Ed Sullivan and Red Skelton and other shows on which they appeared.

The only thing I managed to track down was an episode of the show “Dial M for Music”. Featuring the CBS Orchestra and hosted by some priest (?!). This particular episode focused on folk music. The “Irish” tenor Richard Hayman sang Danny Boy (which I hate) and a really rather nice version of “I’m Just a Poor Wayfarin’ Stranger”. Ralph Curtis played the harmonica on Deep River with the orchestra which I loved. He also added a nice touch to Hayman’s version of Wayfarin’ Stranger.

But the real stars of the show were The Womenfolk. Taped in 1966 (I think) the group was one short for this performance, missing Jean Amos who I believe had left the group by that time. The performances are pretty satisfying, I can only imagine how nice it would have been if all five had still been singing.

In total The Womenfolk did five songs: The Maybe Song, Young Man, Last Thing on my Mind, Love Come a’Tricklin’ Down, and something that sounded like Bonnie Heedin (Highland?) Laddie. The ladies were definitely not lip syncing (I wonder if they ever did?), only three of them were playing guitar (Leni Ashmore did not), and there was no additional accompaniment. At least I don’t think the CBS orchestra joined in with them. It was fascinating to watch, to see/hear what each of the individual voices sounded like. It actually would have been cool if Ralph Curtis would have joined them with his harmonica on Last Thing on My Mind. Joyce James also encouraged the very clean-cut, young audience to join in on Love Come a’Tricklin’ Down.

I know I have waxed rhapsodic about The Womenfolk on many occasions, but I must say, as I sat at the Paley Center watching this one show over and over I was again reminded of how much I love this group. It was a bit of a bittersweet moment. I was happy to be seeing the footage, but a little sad that I could only find the one show when I know they did a lot more television. Hopefully I will be able to see more in the future.

For those who haven’t seen the original tribute to The Womenfolk, click here.

4 thoughts on “Esoteric Television: Dial M for Music (and W for The Womenfolk)

  1. Steve January 27, 2009 / 7:41 pm

    Thomas…please keep looking. You have our many, many thanks for all that you have already written on the Womenfolk. They are one of our all time favorite groups.

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  2. Lynn Green January 31, 2009 / 6:06 pm

    I read about your search on The Womenfolk on another web site. All I can say is, well done. I think their version of “Little Boxes” is the best one out there.

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  3. EricSwede May 28, 2009 / 3:44 pm

    According to the New York Times the episode you're referring to originally aired Sunday, June 12, 1966.
    “4:30 pm Channel 2 (WCBS) Ralph Curtis, The Womenfolk, Richard Hayman, with Father Norman J. O'Connor, host.”
    Father O'Connor was known as the Jazz Priest-a concise obit is here:
    http://jazzinchicago.org/educates/journal/articles/father-norman-j-oconnor-jazz-priest
    I also found a listing for The Womenfolk on Hullabaloo, dated March 7, 1966 at the NYT. Other guests were Pat Boone, Nancy Ames, Donovan & The Turtles.

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  4. Thomas May 28, 2009 / 5:58 pm

    Thanks for the great info Eric. I did some additional research at the Library of Congress and saw a few episodes Hollywood Palace, Bell Telephone Hour etc. The show formats kind of force the artists into narrow performance parameters that were disappointing compared to the Dial M for Music performances. Of all the footage of the Womenfolk that I have seen Dial M was the most musically interesting. You got the feeling that all of the artists on the show were actually making music, not just performing.

    Thanks again for the research.

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