Not long ago, the late Grandpa Jones was conducting one of his informal seminars on country music history. Several old friends, and a few young ones, were gathered around the picnic table on his patio. “Today it’s all about records,” he said. “People remember you because of your records. But there were a lot of people in the old days that were known as big radio stars who hardly ever made any hit records. They were fine, old-time showmen who knew how to entertain you in person. Big Slim was one of them, and Blue Grass Roy up in Illinois, and Sunshine Sue, who was in Richmond, and Cousin Emmy. The best salesman we ever had on the Opry was Lew Childre. Doctor Lew, they called him. A lot of these new people never heard of him, but if you’d been around here in the 1940s, you’d sure have known who he was.”
Another of the great Opry legends, Whitey Ford, the Duke of Paducah, paid tribute to Lew Childre by calling him “one of the greatest one-man shows in the business.” And, indeed, Lew could entertain in a dozen different ways: He could play the guitar, both in standard and in Hawaiian style; sing; buck dance; do comedy; recite poetry; ad lib commercials; improvise dialogue; or tell fish stories. And he could do this both on the stage and on the air, and he could do it with an easy affability that made him one of the most popular and sought-after entertainers from the 1930s to the 1950s. He was one of the last—and best—of the old-time entertainers who had been trained on the stages of the old-time medicine and vaudeville shows. His career ranged from the dusty Depression-era Texas tent shows of Harley Sadler and Milt Tolbert to the early TV stages of Nashville. He worked with many of the greats, including Wiley Walker, Floyd Tillman, Curly Fox, Bill Monroe, Bill Boyd, and Stringbean. He was no instrumental virtuoso, but he had a wonderfully flexible voice that could ease into a complex yodel at the drop of a hat, as well as a rich fund of old comic songs and stories. For years he charmed listeners across the country.