What was Jewell like?
Very pretty, vivacious, big smiles and hugs for everyone, a 5'3" brunette. High energy, outgoing, loved to meet people, very hospitable and giving. Enchanting. That’s probably how she managed to get backstage at the Louisiana Hayride in the fall of 1948 to meet her idol, Hank Williams, and show him some of the songs she’d written. One of them was “My Son Calls Another Man Daddy.”
Those traits of hers also attracted Webb Pierce, Red Sovine and other rising stars at the Hayride and those on the business and promotion side like Hayride founder Horace Logan who ran the show.
They loved her and her brand of songwriting. As their stars rose, so did mother’s, because they took her with them on their journeys to Nashville and the Grand Ole Opry. I'll never forget Red Sovine standing at the Opry's center stage mic and calling mother out from the wings to introduce her to the audience as his songwriting partner for his 1952 hit, "A Loveless Marriage." The applause was thunderous, and mom looked so pretty, smiling and waving to everyone as she walked toward Red.
Dad, my brother, Rick, and I were in the audience, but a fellow came and ushered us backstage. Rick remembers lots of performers gathered around mom and Minnie Pearl sweetly leaning down to him and saying, "Your mama writes good songs."
How did Jewell and Hank Williams become colleagues and friends?
As I mentioned, mother was a captivating woman, and, again, that gift probably opened the way at the Louisiana Hayride in the fall of 1948 for her to meet Hank in his dressing room and share her songs with him. “My Son Calls Another Man Daddy” must have spoken to him in a powerful way. He recorded the song twice. The second, improved cover was released on MGM Records in 1950 as the B side (which climbed to No. 9) to the No. 1 hit “Long Gone Lonesome Blues” launching mother’s songwriting career.
I see mother and Hank as kindred spirits in many ways with much common ground – roots in Alabama and growing up in families struggling to make ends meet. Music was an escape for them at young ages. It was in their hearts and souls. They had learned from experience how life breaks hearts and smothers love but offers hope through faith. They wrote songs about all that. Jewell’s compassionate, healing spirit would have sought to ease Hank’s difficulties and physical pain from spina bifida. She always offered a helping hand to anyone who was hurting.
Three notable details about Jewell and Hank:
-- When Hank sang “My Son Calls Another Man Daddy” for the first time on the Hayride, he called Jewell out from the wings to introduce her to the crowd and to sing with him what was to become a No. 9 hit on Billboard’s Country &Western charts.
-- Hank would drive to Jewell’s home in Texarkana to work on songs with her. We don’t know what they wrote together or the ideas they came up with, but the point is that Hank valued Jewell very much.
-- Jewell attended Hank’s funeral in Birmingham, Ala., at his family’s invitation and sat with them at the epic, star-studded service.
(Editor's note: "My Son Calls Another Man Daddy" has been covered by artists and bands around the world for more than 70 years. For an idea of the extent of the song's success, go to https://www.discogs.com/artist/1381825-Jewell-House?page=1.)
What were some of Jewell’s other successful songs?
Those we can document, and were strong in popularity, range from “A Loveless Marriage” released by MGM Records in 1951, which mother co-wrote with Red Sovine to Charlie Walker's "Stolen Kisses" on Imperial (which she co-wrote with Webb Pierce and a Monroe) and “So Lonesome” covered by George Morgan in 1955 on Columbia Records and “Tomorrow I’ll Be Gone” co-written with WSM DJ Eddie Hill and covered by Jean Shepard on Capitol Records in 1957. “Tomorrow I’ll Be Gone” is included in many collections of Jean Shepard’s top hits and has been covered by other artists.
Jewell wrote or co-wrote many hundreds of songs, but we only know about a few. Why? That's such a sad commentary.
There are four difficulties in nailing down all of the songs that mother wrote.
First and foremost, she typically would sell to an artist or publishing house, like Acuff-Rose or Cedarwood, all rights to a song for cash – maybe $25, maybe more. That was good, fast money back then, and that’s why and how many songwriters worked at that time. Selling all rights meant forfeiting any claim to authorship and royalties.
Songwriters were like grunts, I've learned, and didn't enjoy the celebrity status that songwriters can attain these days. Lord knows how many songs Jewell sold that way, but that was common practice among many songwriters back then.
Secondly, she wrote for Acuff-Rose, Ark-La-Tex Publishing (the archives of which I haven’t been able to find, assuming they exist) and later for Webb Pierce’s publishing house, Cedarwood. They bought her songs which became their property. The only Jewell House catalog I have is her Cedarwood catalog which lists a paltry 19 songs; her Acuff-Rose catalog lists only “My Son Calls Another Man Daddy,” but she kept part ownership of it and royalties, which, after her death, passed to my brother and me. When we die, the song will go into public domain.
Thirdly, she was a member of BMI but for some reason did not register with them, so they didn’t track her work, which means we can’t either.
Lastly, for reasons we don't know, probably related mostly to grief over dad’s death nine months earlier, mother burned virtually all of her files a few days before she died. There’s no telling what sort of documentation was lost forever.
Jewell probably could have had a much greater career. What stopped her?
She was comfortable onstage and had a lot of fun when she was out there, but she didn’t seek the spotlight. She was content to work in the wings at shows and backstage with artists’, discussing the songs they wanted her to write for them. If and when she sang onstage, it was simply with joy and from her heart. She didn’t seek attention, but she loved to sing for people.
One very important thing to understand about mom: She put family first. Always. If she hadn’t, there’s no telling what heights her career could have attained. Early on, Capitol Records offered her a recording contract, but she declined. As she once said in an interview, she did not want to be away on the road or uproot her family just to advance her career. That’s why she wouldn’t move us to Nashville even though she had standing offers to become a staff songwriter at Acuff-Rose and Cedarwood up until the day she died.
More than a few women songwriters and artists with great potential faced the same choice and opted to put family first – Anne Ray, Jeanette Hicks, Hannah Faye. All were gifted artists with fabulous potential, but they sacrificed careers for family.
How would you describe Jewell’s style in songwriting?
Mother was very sensitive to and no stranger to life’s heartache, struggles and dreams. Her lyrics captured those situations with simple rhyme in very direct, down-to-earth ways, creating pretty blunt imagery.
She told simple stories that most any human anywhere at any time could relate to or at least understand and appreciate – the prisoner mourning the loss of his son, a heartbroken woman with no will to live, a girl dreaming out loud about the type of man she would marry.
Like many writers, mother was self-demeaning and told me more than once that she wrote “corny ol’ songs.” But as iconic steel guitarist Shot Jackson (co-founder of legendary Sho-Bud in Nashville) wrote to me in a letter in the mid-’70s, “Your mother wrote good songs.”
I remember once when I was a little boy I was listening to mother work on a song at home. It was a heartbreaker. I hated it and asked her why she wrote sad songs. She smiled at me and said, “You’ll understand someday.”
(Shot, who co-founded the legendary Sho-Bud Guitar Co. in Nashville, was Red Sovine’s steel guitar player when mother met him at the Hayride. He became a lifelong friend of hers and had called her a few days before she died to see how she was holding up. Webb Pierce also called her and asked her to come to Nashville and write for Cedarwood. He offered housing, a car, good income ... whatever she needed. But she declined. "I just don't have the fire anymore," she told me the last time I saw her, a week before she died.)
Given Jewell’s close ties with the Hayride, did she have any Elvis stories?
She had two that I heard her talk about.
She was among those who urged Horace Logan to give Elvis a chance on the Hayride. She had heard him sing. She heard destiny in his voice.
Once sometime in 1956, on her Friday night Country music radio show on KCMC, Elvis called in and complained, “Jewell, you’re not playing my songs.”
Well, Elvis,” she replied, “this is a Country show and you sing rockabilly.”
You quote poet Maya Angelou’s work to set the stage for Jewell’s website. Why?
Maya Angelou wrote: “There is no greater agony than carrying an untold story … “
The truth behind that great poet’s insight hit me like a ton of bricks. Mother is an unknown in the annals of country music history.
That hurts me, knowing how much she loved the genre and its artists. But it's a one-sided love. I want to change that and tell her story to the extent possible even if I'm limited to offering perhaps no more than a few footnotes for country music history.
Mom was an important part of the lives and careers of artists who are now legends. She helped them, supported their work and celebrated them, yet she's not at all a part of their stories.
It reminds me of her song on a demo tape that we discovered a few years ago. "Your side of the story," she wrote, "is all that's ever told."
This website, its companion blog (https://wordpress.com/view/jewellhousetribute.wordpress.com and mom's Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JewellHouseWriter) simply focus on telling and celebrating the Jewell House story to the extent possible for country music fans, historians, journalists. Maybe there will be aspiring country music songwriters, artists and musicians who explore this website and find inspiration. Jewell would love that.
And I like to think I hear applause for Jewell House Tribute -- from Hank, Red, Webb, Shot and so many more.
1920 – An East Texas farmgirl, Jewell was born on June 22, 1920, in Delta County to sharecropper James M. Hancock and his wife, Minnie Treece Hancock. The second-youngest of eight children, Jewell grew up in Red River County, Texas, with a passion for learning, poetry, singing and dancing.
She was an excellent basketball player in high school, but her mother banned Jewell from the team when she learned the girls' uniforms involved wearing "immodest" shorts.
Jewell learned to play the guitar and banjo from her brothers, Claude and Huey. She said both were excellent songwriters as well.
She dreamed of a college education, but her mother forbade that path, saying "good girls don't leave home."
1935 – Jewell named queen of the then-famous Tomato Festival in Avery, Texas.
1935 – James, Jewell’s father, dies of a heart attack in February, leaving his family virtually destitute and struggling to avoid starvation.
Around 1937 – Broke and unable to make ends meet on the farm, Minnie moves the family to Texarkana, Texas, when her sons had found enough work there to buy a small house.
Jewell earns money by singing at parties and lands a vocalist role on KCMC’s Friday night “hillbilly” show.
1939 – Jewell goes to Still's Pharmacy a few blocks from her home to have a prescription refilled. She meets Mr. Still's rowdy, charming stepson, Charles House, who works there, loves music and plays several instruments. They fall in love.
1940 – Jewell elopes with Charles on her birthday. They are married by a justice of the peace in Ashdown, Ark., a move that infuriates Charles' mother, an educator and daughter of a Boswell, Okla., physician, Dr. Charles H. Hale.
1942 – Charles is drafted for service in WWII and assigned to the U.S. Army 84th Infantry Division, 309th Combat Engineer Battalion, the Railsplitters. During his three years of service, his battle actions included the Battle of Germany, Battle of the Rhine and the Battle of Ardennes. His decorations included the Bronze Star.
As escapes from worry while working as a waitress at the Jefferson Coffee Shop in downtown Texarkana, Jewell begins to write poetry in earnest and to read voraciously, mostly classics.
1944 – Son David is born. Jewell earns a cosmetology license and works as a beautician.
1946 – After Charles’ return in 1945, Jewell begins to dabble in songwriting. Second son, Rick, is born. Jewell sells some songs to Nordyke Publishing Company of Hollywood, Calif., and Four-Star Publishing in Los Angeles.
1948 – Jewell becomes a devoted fan of a new radio show, The Louisiana Hayride, and one of its stars – Hank Williams. In the fall, she manages to meet Williams backstage and shows him a collection of her songs. He loves one in particular – “My Son Calls Another Man Daddy.”
1950 – Williams records the song in 1949 then again in 1950 when it’s released as the B side to the No. 1 hit, “Long Gone Lonesome Blues,” and climbs to No. 9 on the Country & Western charts, launching Jewell’s career as a songwriter.
She's pleased to learn that at one of Williams' shows in Heidelberg, Germany, American soldiers had asked Williams to sing encores of "My Son Calls Another Man Daddy" again, again, again, again, again, again, again, again -- eight times.
Williams and Jewell begin to collaborate on other songs and become close friends. Williams begins to occasionally visit Jewell’s home in Texarkana, Texas, where they work on songs together.
Their collegial relationship opens doors for Jewell at the Louisiana Hayride where she becomes close friends with the artists, especially Webb Pierce, Red Sovine, the Wilburn Brothers, and Tillman Franks along with Hayride producer Horace Logan.
Jewell writes songs tailored for many of the artists, typically selling all rights to them.
1952 – By that spring, Jewell has 200 published songs, many for Starday. She is on contract to Acuff-Rose Publications in Nashville, Tenn., and Arkansas-Louisiana-Texas Publishing Co. Her extensive work with Red Sovine includes “A Loveless Marriage,” voted by 18 DJs as the nation’s No. 1 hillbilly hit. She will go on to writeh for many more artists, including T. Texas Tyler, Wally Fowler, Leon Payne and Sheb Wooley.
Jewell’s growing interest in producing shows gets a boost from Horace Logan, Jim Denny and others who mentor her. She begins to book top Hayride and Grand Ole Opry artists for shows in Texarkana at the Arkansas Municipal Auditorium (AMA), the Four States Fair and Rodeo and other venues.
She’s also singing Friday nights on KCMC’s Four States Jamboree (see photo above with Jewell between steel guitarist Jimmy Evans and an unidentified singer).
1953 – The Texarkana Hayloft Jamboree, sponsored by the Texarkana Athletic Commission to raise money for youth activities, debuts in February at the AMA with Jewell as director and a lineup of Hayride stars, including Sovine and the Carlisles. (See story in News Clips.)
Webb Pierce and Jim Denny found Cedarwood Publishing in Nashville and sign Jewell to their stable of songwriters.
1956 – Jewell has her own country music radio show on KCMC and draws heavy regional listenership.
1957 – In January, Jean Shepard releases “Tomorrow I’ll Be Gone,” written by Jewell and WSM DJ Eddie Hill.
1958 – Jewell's beloved mother, Minnie, passes away, a loss from which Jewell never fully recovers.
1962 – Jewell realizes a bit of her dream of higher education, graduating Texarkana College's nursing program and becoming an LVN. Still writing songs, but her work in nursing becomes her passion.
1970 – Charles, Jewell's best friend and beloved husband, dies of a heart attack at age 51.
1971 – Crushed in spirit, despondent and exhausted from grieving, Jewell dies alone at her home on Sept. 3, 1971, at age 51. For reasons we will never know for sure, Jewell burns almost all of her files from her songwriting career just days before her death. Some of what she kept is shared on this website.