Harrington Historical Society to release documentary on record company

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Sam Short and his wife, Ethel Thompson Short (Photo courtesy of Greater Harrington Historical Society)

Despite having a vast collection of artifacts and information on the history of Harrington, the Greater Harrington Historical Society recently announced that even they learn new things about their town. One was when they recently had visitors who were looking for the location of Blue Hen Records. The result is a documentary that will be released on June 15, 2024, at 6 PM at the Harrington Fire Hall.

Asking around the town, the visitors, Steven Leech and Michael Ace, were directed to City Hall where they were provided a few phone numbers, one of which was Viva Poore, an officer and member of the historical society. Although she was able to provide a little information, she did not have much on Blue Hen Records. Leech and Ace, both members of the Delaware Rock and Roll Society, came to Harrington looking for a general store that once had signage reading “Former Home of Blue Hen Records.”

“You never know what will come in the door next,” Doug Poore, curator at the society, said. “About four years ago, I interviewed Honey Voshell, owner of the Drum Pad in Felton. I recalled that Mr. Voshell had played in a band that recorded with Blue Hen Records, so I reached out to him.”

According to Voshell, Blue Hen Records was founded by Sam Short who was also the owner of a local grocery store, housed in the building that Leech and Ace were looking for. Unfortunately, the building was demolished in the early 2000s.

“Sam wrote and produced much of the early music,” Poore said. ”He originally recorded country gospel songs onto 78 rpm records, which he sold in his store. He then switched to rockabilly music, a really hot sound during the 1950s. From 1955 to 1959, Blue Hen Records produced over 100 records in the rockabilly style using artists from around the country. There is a rumor that Patsy Cline turned down recording with Blue Hen Records.”

Voshell told Poore that the first big recording and still one of the most sought after recording from Blue Hen Records was “Hot, Hot Mama,” produced in 1956 and featuring Jimmy Stayton on lead vocals, Mort Marker on lead guitar and Voshell on drums.

“At this time, Jimmy was managed by Reese Harrington, a businessman and entertainment mogul,” Voshell told Poore. “Right after the record was released, I left the band and was replaced by Patsy Saunders in a new group they called the Country Cats.”

Left to Right, Morty Marker, Jimmy Stayton, Honey Voshell. (Photo courtesy of Greater Harrington Historical Society)

Blue Hen Records gained recognition with their recording of the Country Cats as far east as the Mississippi River. Music was recorded at Draper Studios in Salisbury with the wax masters sent to Capital Records in Nashville. The success led to the creation of Del-Ray Records in Felton with Jimmy Stayton as part owner as well as World Records in Dover. The last known recording from Blue Hen Records was in 1959.

“We acquired several 45s and 78s, placing some of the 45s in our jukebox at the museum,” Poore said. “But we thought that was the end of the story. Then, the granddaughter of Sam Shorts visited the museum, and we learned a bit more. This led us to talk to 302 Stories in Wilmington about a documentary not only on Blue Hen Records, but also about the rockabilly movement in Delaware. With a grant from Delaware Humanities, we were able to fund this documentary.”

During research for the documentary, the historical society reached out to Short’ grandson, James, who was the current owner of the Blue Hen Records label. He purchased the entire catalog from the Library of Congress as well as recording contracts, contracts for record production and a significant amount of memorabilia. He was also able to provide stories about his grandfather.

The documentary will be shared at 6 PM on June 15. There will be refreshments served and the society is asking everyone to get into the spirit by wearing their “best poodle skir and leather jacket.” Admission is free. For more information, contact the Greater Harrington Historical Society at (302) 398-3698 or visit them at 108 Fleming Street in Harrington.




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