“Everybody get real comfortable, kick off your shoes, dance in the aisles,” Sunshine Sue would tell the audience at the Old Dominion Barn Dance. “And who knows? You might get lucky and get a better pair when you go home.”
It was Virginia’s biggest hoedown. First airing in 1946, the Old Dominion Barn Dancewas broadcast on Richmond’s WRVA radio as the city’s version of Nashville’s Grand Ol’ Opry. Hosted by pioneering femcee Mary “Sunshine Sue” Workman, the country music variety show lasted a little more than a decade, but its steel guitar-sweetened echoes still resonate.
“The Barn Dance had great entertainers, musicians, and vocalists,” remembers Cal Newman, 86, a fiddler who grew up listening to, and later performing as a backup musician on, the Saturday night performance. “A lot of legends used it as a stepping stone to greater things, like Chet Atkins, Mac Wiseman, Reno and Smiley … for some, it became a jumping off place to Nashville and stardom.”