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Jamboree Legend Chickie Williams Dies at 88

November 21, 2007
By JENNIFER COMPSTON-STROUGH
WHEELING — A great lady. A true gem. A major star.

These are just a few of the phrases family members used to describe country music legend Chickie Williams, who died Sunday at age 88.

Named Jessie Wanda Crupe at her birth in Bethany in 1919, the late mother, grandmother and entertainer was better known by her stage name — Chickie Williams. That pseudonym was acquired after she married Doc Williams in 1939.

Doc Williams, who is now 93, reflected on their 68-year marriage, their family and their joint career on Tuesday evening.

“We were lifelong companions,” he said, noting that the loss of his wife was difficult for him.

“I’ve just been reminiscing and enjoying the wonderful life I shared with my wife,” he continued. “It’s a real loss to me.”

The couple met at the Raewood Dance Hall in Hickory, Pa., after Chickie wrote to Doc requesting an appearance there by Doc Williams and the Border Riders — a group that was making daily radio broadcasts over Wheeling-based WWVA. Previously, Doc Williams had performed via WJAY in Cleveland as well as on several radio stations in Pennsylvania.

Doc and Chickie were married at Winchester, Va., by a Methodist minister. The ceremony was held at 9:30 a.m. Oct. 9 — a day when Doc Williams was scheduled to take part in a live radio broadcast at 3:30 p.m. He said he drove at speeds up to 103 mph on a two-lane highway in order to return to the radio station on time.

Doc said he courted Chickie for more than four years before her mother would allow her to marry at age 20.

“Our marriage lasted through the years because we had the same values between us,” Doc Williams said.

Chickie began performing with Doc in 1946; by 1948 she had a hit record of her own — an original arrangement of the hymn “Beyond the Sunset.” It reached No. 3 in Billboard magazine’s Top 100 Country Music Songs.

After decades of performing throughout the eastern United States and Canada, the couple was inducted into Jamboree USA’s Walkway of Stars. They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1989 with a videotaped concert at the now-closed Capitol Music Hall in downtown Wheeling.

W.Va. Sen. Andy McKenzie, the couple’s 37-year-old grandson, recalls that he “grew up backstage at Jamboree USA,” thanks to his grandparents’ careers.

“My grandmother was not only very special to hundreds of thousands of people across the U.S. and Canada, at one time she was as big as any modern-day country singer,” McKenzie said. “To many people, they still are major stars.

“Not a day goes by that someone doesn’t ask me about my grandparents,” he continued. “I credit coming from such great family for being the person I am today.”

McKenzie, a father of three sons with a daughter on the way, said his grandmother instilled in him many of the values by which he lives.

“My grandmother was instrumental in my raising,” he added.

Doc and Chickie Williams have three grandsons in addition to McKenzie.

Barbara “Peeper” Smik, daughter of Doc and Chickie Williams, said Doc and the rest of the family are dealing with Chickie’s death with support from her parents’ fans.

“We’re all getting through this,” she said. “I feel God’s hand was upon her and this family — we’re blessed.

“She died peacefully, with a slight smile on face,” Smik said of her mother, noting she had suffered from a lengthy illness prior to her death.

Smik also noted that people who listened to early radio shows considered Doc, Chickie and their three daughters — Smik, Madeline “Pooch” Johnson and Karen “Punkin” McKenzie — part of their own families.

“There is such warmth and love in the condolences” the family has been receiving online, Smik added.

Funeral services have been scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Saturday at First Baptist Church, 1470 National Road, Wheeling. Burial will follow at Parkview Memorial Gardens, also in Wheeling. Arrangements are being handled by Kepner Funeral Home.

 
 
 

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