The Louisiana Hayride was a popular radio program that originated from the Municipal Auditorium in downtown Shreveport, Louisiana. The decade-plus of the program's popularity ran from 1948 to 1960, and a number of performers from the world of country and pop music who were prominent in that era made an appearance there, many of them early in their careers.
Taking its name from a book by the same title that had been written by Harnett Kane earlier in the decade, the Louisiana Hayride was initially broadcast weekly over KWKH radio in Shreveport beginning on April 3, 1948. Put together by producer Horace Logan, who served as the emcee initially, it was a hit right from the beginning. It was a program that was modeled after other so-called "barn dance" radio shows that had been popular in other regions of the country, most notably the WLS Barn Dance in Chicago and the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. The show would feature performers who were sometimes established names and sometimes struggling young singers, many of them from the South, and as its popularity increased it was picked up by an ever-growing network of radio stations. In addition, there were radio stations in other regions of the country that adapted its style.
The Louisiana Hayride distinguished itself from the most popular such radio program, the Grand Ole Opry, by featuring young up-and-coming performers on a regular basis. Among the artists who made an appearance on the program over the years were Johnny Cash, Floyd Cramer, Johnny Horton, George Jones, Claude King, Jim Reeves, Tex Ritter, Kitty Wells, Slim Whitman, and Hank Williams. In 1954 nineteen-year-old Elvis Presley, who was beginning to draw notice in the South, made his first appearance on the Louisiana Hayride, singing That's All Right, Mama and Blue Moon Of Kentucky. Despite a less-than-enthusiastic initial response, he was signed to a contract paying him $30 per show and returned several more times, a move that served to enhance his popularity early in his career. Presley was changing the music scene; up to that time the Louisiana Hayride had primarily employed country acts. Presley's influence helped to pave the way for the era of rock-and-roll in American popular music.
As time went on the regional network of radio stations picking up the Saturday night performances from the Municipal Auditorium in Shreveport continued to grow, and some broadcasts were aired in other parts of the world, including some over the Armed Forces Network. For a time the shows were broadcast nationally on CBS radio. It came to be known as the "Cradle of the Stars" and brought country music to a wider audience. Television was also seeing a rise in popularity in the 1950's and the Louisiana Hayride became a television program for a time.
But the rising phenomenon in the 1950's and 1960's of some of the same cultural changes that the Louisiana Hayride had helped to usher in -- namely rock-and-roll music and television -- served to diminish the popularity of what had been a strong influence in the music business of the 1950's. The final weekly performance of the Louisiana Hayride at the Municipal Auditorium was broadcast on August 27, 1960.
The Municipal Auditorium from which the shows originated had been built in the 1920's and seats about 2,000. It has been used for a variety of purposes in Shreveport over the years, including events such as sporting contests, concerts, political rallies, and conventions and at one time it housed the Shreveport City Morgue. Now known as the Municipal Memorial Auditorium, it is open for tours.
Several runs have been taken at reviving the Louisiana Hayride, first as a monthly radio program and later as a quarterly show. It ceased operations from 1969 to 1973, then was revived and continued on until 1987, but it never again would reach the heights that it had in the 1950's, when its popularity in its genre was second only to that of the Grand Ole Opry. In the late 1990's Horace Logan co-wrote two books titled Elvis, Hank, and Me: Making Musical History on the Louisiana Hayride and The Louisiana Hayride Years: Making Musical History in Country's Golden Age. Memorabilia is still available for sale, and the name Louisiana Hayride has been kept alive in Shreveport.
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