Victor Lewis, Country Music Promoter of Detroit

Cover of the Country Music Hit Parade Jamboree Official Program bookIn 1934, twelve-year-old Victor Lewis left school and his home in east Tennessee. Eventually he found his way to Detroit, where he realized his passion in the theater and entertainment business. He first got hooked in burlesque theaters. “I was spellbound by the magic of the pitchmen,” he said. “I thought if I could do that I would never want for anything.” [1]

In 1958, Lewis produced the Hank Williams Memorial Show, a national tour featuring Audrey Williams, widow of Hank Sr., which also included appearances by young Hank Jr. Detroit bandleader Eddie Jackson and his Swingsters opened for Ms. Williams during the Michigan leg of her tour. Lewis included talent contests for audience participation. Winners received free tickets to events he booked at Ford Auditorium and the Hazel Park horse racing track.

In 1959, Lewis brought his Country Music Hit Parade Jamboree to Detroit. Not only does the official program book include an amazing photograph of the cast (see below) with Michigan Governor G. Mennen “Soapy” Williams, but the insides include early promotionals of Brenda Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Donny Young, a.k.a. Johnny Paycheck. The book described the photo as taken during the intermission of a “recent Michigan engagement.” Lewis signed Detroit banjo picker Ford Nix to accompany Stonewall Jackson when Jackson returned to the region for another tour.

 

Cast of the 1959 Country Music Hit Parade Jamboree, from the official program book

Standing, from left: Ken Marvin, Charlie Louvin, Ira Louvin, Little Lennie Ford, Grady Moss, Harlan Dodge, Earl Scruggs, Lester Flatt, Brenda Lee, Webb Pierce, Pete Drake, Eddie Crandall, Carl Perkins, Michigan Gov. G. Mennen Williams. Kneeling, from left: Red Mason, Slim Vaughn, Dale Potter, Cousin Elmer, Pearce Bradley, Smiley Temple, Victor Lewis (Producer), Eugene Stapleton (Manager), and Jack Ihrie (WEXL Disc Jockey). Correction: Thanks to musician and Lester Flatt/Earl Scruggs fanatic Mitch Manns, who reports the two gentlemen immediately to Scruggs’ left are Paul Warren (left) and Curly Seckler. I copied the names from an original book and had no clue of the error, until Mitch pointed it out. – Craig Maki

 
Poster for Marathon Pictures' Second Fiddle To A Steel Guitar (1965)
By the early 1960s, Lewis moved his office to Nashville. In May 1964 he produced the National Country Music Cavalcade of Stars, a country music variety show at Madison Square Garden in New York City, complete with closed circuit TV coverage. (This also featured Hank Williams Jr.)

He researched his next project by tapping Detroit film producer Victor Duncan for advice about making movies. In 1964 Lewis and Audrey Williams went into business together with Marathon Pictures, Inc. and Lewis issued “Country Music On Broadway,” the first of a series of movies featuring country music stars. Others included “Second Fiddle To A Steel Guitar” (1965) and “Sing A Song For Heaven’s Sake” (1966). Marathon was one of the first film companies based in Nashville.

Lewis retired during the 1980s. He passed away in 2008. [2]

 

Notes

  1. Crile Bevington Jr. “‘Power of Positive Thinking’ Is True Belief Of Nashville Producer” The Times — Tri-Cities Daily (Florence, Sheffield, Tuscumbia, Muscle Shoals, Alabama. September 24, 1967. Vol. 108, No. 177), 17.
  2. “Victor Lewis, 86, died Nov. 13.” http://www.musicrow.com/2009/01/nashville-related-music-obituaries-2008/

 

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