Recently, I picked up a package of Martha White flour from a grocery store shelf. Immediately, the company’s famous slogan, "Goodness gracious, it’s good!" entered my mind. Soon, I started thinking about Martha White’s long standing connection with quality entertainment, especially bluegrass music.
"Martha White shares a deeply rooted heritage with bluegrass music. Home-style family meal time moments bring back great memories just like your favorite bluegrass songs," said Maribeth Badertscher, communications manager for Martha White.
More than a century ago, Richard Lindsey, who founded the Royal Flour Mill, named the company’s flour after his 3-year-old daughter. Over the years, the company provided the finest of products to the Nashville area. In 1941, the Williams family sold their Tennessee farm to purchase the company. Their first move was to change the name to match that of the highly popular flour.
The link between Martha White and home-grown music dates back to the 1940s when the company sponsored the "Martha White Biscuit and Cornbread Time" radio show on WSM. The program aired at 5:45 a.m. By 1948, Martha White was advertising on the Grand Ole Opry. Ever since, they have been a continuous sponsor. Last year, that union was taken to another level as the famed radio show officially announced Martha White as their first partner sponsor.
Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs started hosting Martha White’s early morning radio program in 1952. The duo started a series of television shows with the sponsorship in 1955. Within four years, the program was in syndication and a whole new generation was being introduced to bluegrass music.
In 1960, Martha White offered Jim & Jesse a television and radio sponsorship. Like Flatt & Scruggs, this meant constant travel, but Martha White played a major role in that area. Promotional posters helped advertise upcoming shows. Plus, artists handed out coupons for free five and ten pound bags of flour and cornmeal at their performances.
The ultimate example of the power of Martha White’s sponsorship came when Flatt & Scruggs taped a live album at Carnegie Hall in 1962. On the album, you can hear the New York crowd shouting for Flatt & Scruggs to perform Martha White’s catchy theme song. This established the fact that the Martha White name had made it from the rural South to the big city.
In 1996, the International Bluegrass Music Association presented the Martha White Flour Company with the Distinguished Achievement Award. They continue to sponsor the IBMA awards show, as well as the IBMA Fan Fest. Ironically, at the first IBMA awards show, the Entertainer of the Year trophy went to Hot Rize, a group that took their stage name from Martha White’s secret ingredient.
"They have been a great partner for many years. Martha White’s products and bluegrass music have been much like a marriage. I think they’re a natural match," said Dan Hays, former executive director of the IBMA.
Today, Rhonda Vincent’s bus is adorned with the Martha White logo. In addition, the popular artist has recorded the Martha White theme song on multiple occasions. If you’re wondering about the cute little girl for which the company is named, she grew up in Nashville. In 1923, she married an orthodontist, Dr. George M. Russell. They had three children. In 1931, the family moved to Memphis, where she died in 1949.
The seemingly never-ending bond between Martha White and bluegrass simply makes sense. After all, homemade music served with homemade biscuits, cakes, pies and cornbread is awfully hard to beat.
Beebe native Charles Haymes is a member of both the Country Music Association and the International Bluegrass Music Association. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.