Wendall Hall: The Red-Haired Music Maker

Wendall Hall’s (1896-1969) was a name I’d not encountered (or at any rate, not taken note of) until my recent research for my upcoming book on television variety. As it happens, Hall was one of the first performers to host national radio variety shows. Between those and some early hit records, he was a well known pop cultural figure in the 1920s and ’30s.

Born and raised in Kansas, by the early ’20s Hall had made his way to Chicago where her worked as a song plugger and performed in vaudeville, where he played the xylophone and the ukulele, an instrument he became very much identified with. Later, he would expand to many other stringed instruments, including banjo, banjolele, and many others. In 1923 his recording of the traditional song “It Ain’t Gonna Rain No Mo'” sold two million copies thanks to radio airplay. It is considered by many to be the first hit record to achieve popularity by means of the airwaves. Its success got Hall a job as the host of The Eveready Hour in early 1924. Broadcast out of WEAF in New York, many consider it the first ever commercially sponsored radio variety show. The Eveready Hour lasted until 1930. Hall subsequently hosted (and produced) the CBS national variety program The Majestic Theater of the Air (1929-32), followed by regular performances on a show sponsored by F.W. Fitch (1933-35, prior to the better remembered Fitch Bandwagon), and then the Gillette Original Community Sing (1936-37, hosted by Milton Berle.) A prolific songwriter, Hall worked in advertising hawking jingles through the 1940s.

A prolific recording artist throughout the Jazz Age, there were how-to uke manuals bearing Wendell Hall’s name being published as late as 1950. He finished out his days in Fairhope, Alabama, about a half hour from Mobile.

For more on the history of vaudeville, where Wendell Hall got his start, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous