The Blue Sky Boys

A tale of two North Carolina brothers whose old songs and vocal harmonies captivated southern radio audiences for generations.

During the 1940s, country music was rapidly evolving from traditional songs and string band styles to honky-tonk, western swing, and bluegrass, via radio, records, and film. The Blue Sky Boys, brothers Bill (1917-2008) and Earl (1919-1998) Bolick, resisted the trend, preferring to perform folk and parlor songs, southern hymns, and new compositions that enhanced their trademark intimacy and warmth. They were still in their teens when they became professional musicians to avoid laboring in Depression-era North Carolina cotton mills. Their instantly recognizable style was fully formed by 1936, when even their first records captured soulful harmonies accented with spare guitar and mandolin accompaniments. They inspired imitators, but none could duplicate the Blue Sky Boys’ emotional appeal or their distinctive Catawba County accents. Even their last records in the 1970s retained their unique magical sound decades after other country brother duets had come and gone.

In this absorbing account, Dick Spottswood combines excerpts from Bill Bolick’s numerous spoken interviews and written accounts of his music, life, and career into a single narrative that presents much of the story in Bill’s own voice. Spottswood reveals fascinating nuggets about broadcasting, recording, and surviving in the 1930s world of country music. He describes how the growing industry both aided and thwarted the Bolick brothers’ career, and how World War II nearly finished it. The book features a complete, extensively annotated list of Blue Sky Boys songs, an updated discography that includes surviving unpublished records, and dozens of vintage photos and sheet music covers.

Dick Spottswood is a musicologist, historian, and the producer and online host of Bluegrass Country’s Dick Spottswood Show, aka The Obsolete Music Hour. He is author of numerous books, including Banjo on the Mountain: Wade Mainer’s First Hundred Years, published by University Press of Mississippi.

Highly recommended ...

This book comes highly recommended for readers interested in the country music industry at a time of transition from its rural roots to the increasingly urban sounds of the post WWII era, as experienced by one of the more popular acts spanning the 1930s and 1940s.

Richard Jones-Bamman in the Journal of Folklore Research, September 25, 2020.  Read his full review here.

The Blue Sky Boys