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Pennsboro Ladies Quartet
The Pennsboro Ladies Quartet are, from the left, Marge Talkington, Carol Morrison Ocheltree, Joanne Morrison Lawrence, and Margie Hess Connon Leggett. Photograph by Michael Keller.

Sweet Harmony in Pennsboro

By Torie Knight

Around Ritchie County, the three girls were known as the Pennsboro Harmonettes. Sisters Joanne and Carol Morrison and their friend Margie Hess had been singing together for years, for their own enjoyment and for appreciative local audiences.

Then in 1950, the group of young gospel singers had a chance to live out their dream.

Joanne (now Joanne Lawrence) says that it was the Sunshine Boys, a traveling gospel quartet, who first encouraged the trio to try their luck on the stage of the famous "Wheeling Jamboree." The "Jamboree" was hosting a talent contest, and the winners could become regulars on the show. Joanne and Carol (now Carol Ocheltree) remember the day well. They went to the city and gathered with more than 80 other contestants.

"We wore our navy blue dresses that we all had alike. We called them our 'funeral' dresses because we usually wore them when we sang at funerals," Carol recalls. "We sang 'If I Had My Way.'"

"I don't think we had sense enough to be scared," Joanne says. "We never thought we would win. We were 18, 19, and 20. We were just kids - hicks from a small town." She pauses and gets a glimmer in her eye.

"We were just going to audition for the 'Jamboree' and then just go run around over town. Wheeling was a great big old bustling city. But the people at the studio wouldn't let us leave," Joanne recalls. The studio folks wouldn't let the girls go because they wanted them to be present when the winners were announced.

"We couldn't believe we had won," Carol says.

The singers soon became known as the Jamboree Sweethearts, and their lives quickly changed. Early each Saturday, a friend would take the three to the train station in St. Marys. They would get to Wheeling early so that they could practice with the studio band for a morning broadcast. That evening, they would perform in front of a live audience from the stage of the "Wheeling Jamboree" while the show was broadcast nationally over 50,000 watt WWVA radio.

You can read the rest of this article in the Summer 2002 issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.