Pretty Miss Norma Jean

by Joshua Heston

Pretty Miss Norma Jean knows country music. A legend and icon in traditional country, Norma Jean has been singing since a local Oklahoma radio audition at the age of 12.

Her own show was the result.

One thing led to another. After work with Leon McAuliff, Merle Lindsay and the Oklahoma Nightriders, it was time for a move, first to Dallas for a stint with the Billy Gray Band, then to Springfield, Missouri, to take part in the Ozark Jubilee with Red Foley.

“Red Foley was a wonderful human being,” she remembers, “He was such a great person [and] to me, it was just like a dream because it was really a big break.”

It was with the Red Foley Show that Norma Jean met Porter Wagoner.

“He moved to Nashville when the Jubilee started closing down and asked me to audition with him for a TV show. So we all got together and did it. And the rest is kind of history.”

History it was.

The Porter Wagoner Show became a great success, making Wagoner, Norma Jean, and a host of others including Buck Trent and Dolly Parton, nationally known stars.

Norma Jean was named female vocalist of the year by Cashbox in 1964, nominated for a Grammy award in 1965, then asked to join the Grand Ole Opry.

“I started doing the Grand Ole Opry Show before I was ever on the Opry. They booked me, I guess, because I was on television.”

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plate 1. Norma Jean, Branson, Missouri. April 20, 2008.

Norma Jean (continued):

Signed to RCA by none other than Chet Atkins, Norma Jean recorded a total of 31 albums.

In 2000, she came to Branson, performing there for the first time.

“I’ve kind of come full circle,” she confides, “Jean Shepherd called me and she was going to bring The Grand Ladies of Country Music to Branson. So I came here to do that and ended up staying.”

“I love the country, the people. It’s just a beautiful place to live.”

It also brings back memories of the Jubilee.

“It was such early television. But they were a little afraid to do country music. [And today] There’s a lot of shows that have country flavor. And new country is wonderful on its own. But I miss the old music too.

“I lean to the traditional country.” she notes, “And that's what I’d like to see more of in Branson.”

These days, when she's not performing on 76 Country Boulevard, Norma Jean — with husband and minister Al Martin — puts her efforts into Branson’s cowboy church.

They began the ministry four years ago.

“Both my husband and I started cowboy church because we really wanted to give something back for what all the Lord has given us, which has been considerable.”

June 1, 2008

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