Every day when I shuffle into the Oren Dunn City Museum, I get a lift right away. Over on the right side of the room, hanging over the piano, MORNIN’ in its bright red beams down on the room. That sign holds in its memories decades of entertainment.
Last Sunday, the Queen of Tupelo, as Mal Pope once crooned, took her final bow from the lights on her show. A show that kept audiences toe tapping and humming long after the final note. For 41 years, Ms. Kay Bain has come across our televisions or glided across our stages to give us sunshine.
She hasn’t always stood as just a local entertainer. Back in McNairy County, Tennessee, where she grew up, her daddy, Con Crotts, a well-known fiddler, recognized his daughter’s talent for singing and encouraged her to make that joyful noise.
And she did.
At the tender age of 13, Kay sang on The Farm and Home Hour on WCMA in Corinth. Buddy Bain, already a recognized radio personality, hosted the show. She returned as a guest on the show. After she finished high school and in 1957, Kay and Buddy solidified their partnership with wedding vows.
They sang live and on the radio. In fact, at one live performance in Corinth a singer from Tupelo, Elvis Presley, shared the bill. Elvis heard Kay and Buddy warming up with a gospel song, and later asked to share the duet on stage with Kay. She took the stage with the future King of Rock and Roll and they sang “I’m Feeling Mighty Fine,” much to the delight of the audience.
Elvis wouldn’t be the only star to shine on the couple. During their career together, Kay and Buddy interviewed or sang with Roy Orbison, Bill Anderson, and many others. They serenaded folk from the stage of the Grand Ole Opry and picked and grinned with Buck and Roy on “Hee Haw.” Kay and Buddy even introduced country music fans to little-known musicians, like Tim McGraw, who would become mega-stars later.
In 1997, Buddy passed away, leaving Kay as a single act. She did not stop. Instead, one has to wonder if she didn’t lift her sorrow at losing her partner, her best friend in song – making the audience’s load a bit lighter. Perhaps, at least I’d like to think, she kept performing, knowing that somewhere Buddy was right there, with her.
Five years ago, at the opening of an exhibit honoring her and Buddy, Kay sang their trademark song, “Tupelo.” The crowd joined in.
Kay has retired. No more duets. No more Saturday or Sunday morning early rising to catch her sunshine. But here at the Oren Dunn City Museum, the sign brightens me. I try to hum a little of “Tupelo” and think, “Thanks, Miss Kay. You gave us some great times.”