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Known by such nicknames as the Yodeling Blonde Bombshell, Westerns First Lady and the All-American Girl, Carolina Cotton came from humble beginnings and became a prolific entertainer in the Golden Era of Western Swing music and B movies, soundies, radio shows and early television. Her fun, lively "pretty little girl next door" personality made her a favorite with Western fans worldwide. She made numerous live appearances, including parades and rodeos. Her countless contributions at charity benefits had earned her the title of "Miss Good Samaritan". Most of all, she was known for her unique style of yodeling, and was considered a World Champion by many in the field.

Carolina Cotton was born Helen Hagstrom on October 20th, 1925 and raised on the family farm in her native town of Cash Arkansas. The family relocated to San Francisco by 1937. As a youngster she joined the O'Neille Sisters Kiddie Revue, and started performing at the Golden Gate Theater. She went on to sing, yodel and play a few instruments in Dude Martin's Roundup Gang, performing on Bay Area stations KPO and KYA. Martin encouraged her to change her name to "Carolina".

A chance meeting with Johnny Marvin in Los Angeles led to Carolina relocating to Hollywood in 1944, and joining the Spade Cooley Orchestra, where she was the featured female vocalist/yodeler. She was only known as "Carolina" at the time, and still needed a last name. Cooley's manager, Bobbie Bennett (who also later became Cotton's manager) held a contest to pick a last name for the Yodeling Blonde Bombshell, and Cotton was the winner. The band played regularly at LA's Riverside Rancho club, and appeared on the popular radio show "Hollywood Barn Dance", on local station KNX. That same year she appeared in the B Western films "Sing Neighbor Sing" for Republic Pictures (Roy Acuff), Universal's "The Singing Sheriff" (Bob Crosby) and PRC's "I'm From Arkansas" (Slim Summerville). In 1945 she signed with Columbia Pictures, filming "Outlaws of the Rockies", (one of 3 Durango Kid/Charles Starrett pictures), and "Texas Panhandle" At that time Carolina also made several film shorts and soundies with Cooley and Merle Travis.

After filming "Outlaws", Carolina realized she should learn to ride horses. Like anything else she did, she gave it her all, and soon became an Outstanding Horsewoman, and appeared in several equestrian events ... rodeos, horse shows and parades. She often rode as Grand Marshalette.

In 1945 Carolina secretly married Cooley bassist Deuce Spriggins. The two left the band, and formed Deuce Spriggins Orchestra (several of Cooley's band members also migrated to this group). The new band also featured Andy Parker and the Plainsmen Trio. They performed nightly at Santa Monica Pier's Western Palisades Ballroom, one of the largest dance halls on the West Coast. Like the Spade Cooley Orchestra, they made soundies, shorts and appeared in 4 films: "Song of the Prairie", "That Texas Jamboree", "Cowboy Blues" and "Singing on the Trail" ... all with Ken Curtis, and the Hoosier Hot Shots. They recorded 1 release for Mercury Records, "What's the Matter With You" / "I Been Down in Texas". But by 1946, Cotton and Spriggins had divorced, and the Spriggins Orchestra dissolved.

Carolina briefly performed with Hank Penny in '46 back at the Riverside Rancho, and soon signed with King Records. The session produced 2 of her self-penned signature songs, "Three Miles South of Cash in Arkansas", and "I Love to Yodel". She appeared on the Armed Forces Radio Service show "Ranch House Party" along with Ken Curtis, Cottonseed Clark and others. Carolina eventually guest starred on several radio and early television programs (some were her own shows).

In 1947, she toured with Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, and made another film, "Smoky River Serenade" (Hoosier Hot Shots). Among her radio appearances was on the long-running series "KMPC Westerners" (featuring Red Rowe, Pappy Cheshire, and the Plainsmen). 2 songs for Crystal Records were released, "You've Got Me Wrapped Around Your Finger" / "Chime Bells".

By 1948, Carolina went on the road with the Sons of the Pioneers. She became the only "daughter" of the group. "Smoky Mountain Melody" (Roy Acuff) was her next movie. She also became one of the first (possibly THE first) female disc jockeys in the country, spinning records on Long Beach station KGER. Carolina also guest starred on the KTLA-TV show "Sunset Ranch".

Carolina made another film in 1949 (briefly leaving Columbia for Astor Pictures), "Stallion Canyon" (Ken Curtis), and released 2 more records for Mastertone, including "Put Your Shoes On Lucy", "Hoosegow Serenade" and "The Old Square Dance is Back Again". She also made a picture back at Columbia with Eddy Arnold, "Feudin' Rhythm". She was a radio guest on the AFRS show "Redd Harper's Hollywood Roundup", and featured on KLAC-TV's Ranch Time.

By 1950, the Yodeling Blonde Bombshell a second film with Arnold, "Hoedown" (Jock Mahoney). A new recording contract with MGM Records produced several memorable songs, including "I Betcha I Getcha", "You're Gettin' a Good Girl" and the spectacular yodeling tune, "Nola". Plans were made for Carolina's own TV Western adventure series, "Queen of the Range". Unfortunately, it never materialized. By December, she was on her way overseas, to entertain at military bases in Europe. This was the first of many such tours, mostly with the USO, to Korea and the Far East. In Germany, Carolina received the title "Deputy Provost Marshal"...the only citizen to receive such an award.

Carolina made a wide variety of personal appearances over the years, including the Out Of This World Series (celebrity baseball game), St Mary's All Western Days fiestas in San Diego, the All-Palomino Horse Show in Ohio, the Helldorado celebrations in Nevada, and the Sheriff's Annual Rodeos at the LA Coliseum. One of her most unusual feats was in December 1951, when she helped place a real "pole" at the North Pole. As a publicity stunt for Alaskan Airlines, the candy striped pole was filled with letters to Santa Claus, and was to be flown over the North Pole, and dropped by Carolina and Alaskan DJ North Pole Nellie. A huge celebration was held in Fairbanks, but at the last minute, Carolina and Nellie were barred from the flight, as the crew had to refuel at a restricted all-male military base. As a tribute to the 2 girls who couldn't attend the historic event, the crew on the plane yodeled, as they dropped the Pole into position.

The Yodeling Blonde Bombshell recorded 4 more MGM songs in '51, with Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys: "You Always Keep Me in Hot Water", "Cause I'm In Love", "I'm All Alone" and a remake of her song "Three Miles South of Cash". She also guested on Hedda Hopper's radio program, among others.

Carolina co-starred in 3 films in 1952, coming into her own as a leading lady. In "Apache Country", she worked with Gene Autry and Pat Buttram, playing an adventurous cowgirl, much like the role she would have played in "Queen of the Range". She made another movie with Jock Mahoney, "Rough Tough West" (also featuring her long-time friend Smiley Burnette). Her final film was the Autry picture "Blue Canadian Rockies", playing opposite Gail Davis. This was also the year she made her last recordings for MGM, which included Yodel Yodel Yodel, from "Rockies".

Carolina continued her many personal appearances. She took over Doye O'Dell's kiddie amusement park in Compton, and renamed it "Carolina Cotton's Tiny Town". While on a USO return visit to Korea, Carolina was honored to have a tank named after her: Miss Carolina--The Cotton Special.

Between 1953-55, Carolina was still doing guest spots on radio and television. The AFRS aired "Carolina Cotton Calls", heard by Armed Forces personnel worldwide. She continued making guest appearances at rodeos and special events. And she made one last tour overseas in June 1956, to Johannesburg South Africa, to visit hospitals of children with cerebral palsy. It was then that Carolina told herself that if she ever left Show Biz, she would become involved in helping those with disabilities.

By the mid '50s, Western Swing and B Movies started becoming more and more of a thing of the past. In August 1956, Carolina had married Bill Ates, nephew of the character actor Roscoe Ates, with whom she did many shows over the years. She began concentrating on her home life and family, and had 2 children: son William, and daughter Sharon. But the marriage didn't endure into the 1960s, as Carolina and Bill divorced. Carolina remembered her promise to help disabled children ... she became a teacher, and earned her Masters degree in Special Education, as well as traditional education.\

Over the years, Miss Cotton taught at different schools. She moved to Bakersfield CA in the early 1970s, where she taught for many years at Mt Vernon Elementary School. Always the type to be "on the go", she took on another job at a local department store (Brocks, later renamed Gottschalks). After her kids were grown, Carolina began showing up at jam sessions at Bakersfield's local Grange Hall, making music with some of the pioneers of the Bakersfield Sound of country music, including Bill Woods.

Beginning in 1984, Carolina Cotton was a favorite Guest Speaker at several Western Film Festivals, most notably in Charlotte NC, Memphis TN and Little Rock AR. She enjoyed reminiscing with her friends from the good ol' days of Show Biz, and loved connecting with fans old and new.

Sadly, in 1994, Carolina was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer. In spite of enduring treatments, she carried on with a smile, and the same enthusiasm she was known for. She continued teaching and working at the department store, attended a Film Festival or two, and managed to enjoy summer visits to Europe. She retired from teaching in March 1997, and entered the hospital in April, where she passed away the morning of June 10th, 1997.

Carolina Cotton lives on in the legacy she left behind, and in the hearts of her fans. She is fondly remembered in her Western Swing recordings, B Western movies, radio and television shows which, luckily, still survive in one form or another. Like other Western stars of the era, Carolina's films and recordings are in the midst of restoration, much to the benefit of generations to come. Carolina Cotton's story is assured a future, as a pioneer in the Golden Age of Western Entertainment.


Posted April, 2005 - Thanks to Carolina's daughter Sharon Marie




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