In 1943, the editors of Time magazine did something that for them was rare. They recognized a country music performer. In those early days, the big national periodicals preferred to ignore such topics, hoping they would go away, but in this case they could not. The particular artist in question, headquartered over KMOX in St. Louis, was reaching an audience of over two and a half million, and was recognized by most standards as the leading radio act in the nation. And this act wasn’t Bob Wills or Roy Acuff or Gene Autry or any of those slick-sounding country crooners who had a band full of muted trumpets and accordions. This was a high-spirited mountain performer who sang at full throttle, frailed the daylights out of a banjo, and played the blues by squeezing a blownup rubber glove. And this wasn’t some white-bearded old mountain man, but a vivacious blonde who blazed the trail for the Dollys and Rebas yet to come. Her real name was Cynthia May Carver, but all her fans knew her by her radio name: Cousin Emmy.
In the article from Time, Cousin Emmy tried to explain to the reporter just what it was that made her show so popular. “First, I hits it up on my banjo, and I wow ’em. Then I do a number with the guit-ar and play the French harp and sing, all at the same time. Then somebody hollers, ‘Let’s hear her yodel!’ and I obliges. And then somebody hollers, ‘Let’s see her dance!’ and I obliges. After that we come to the sweetest part of the programs—hymns.” It was the kind of powerhouse, in-your-face entertainment that never came across in records or songbooks. That’s why Cousin Emmy, like other country greats such as Lew Childre, Cowboy Slim Rinehart, Minnie Pearl, and Lazy Jim Day, never worried much about making records. She didn’t need them, not during her heyday. Unfortunately, people who rely on records for their history of the music hear about such stars and wonder what the fuss was about. Cousin Emmy was part of that fuss.