Forgotten Artists: Bradley Kincaid (1895-1989)

Paul W. Dennis | August 25th, 2008

Bradley Kincaid

In a manner similar to Alan Lomax, William Bradley “The Kentucky Mountain Boy” Kincaid was one of the great American musicologists and collectors of American folk, country and parlor songs, and helped preserve a rich heritage through publication of his songbooks. Unlike Lomax, however, Kincaid was also a top-flight songwriter and performer. Unfortunately, if Kincaid is remembered at all today, it is usually as the man who tagged Louis Marshall Jones with the nickname of “Grandpa,” the name by which one of the most beloved country performers, Grandpa Jones, would be known throughout his life.

Bradley Kincaid was born in Point Level, Garrard County, Kentucky, but would come to prominence through radio appearances in Chicago, starting with his first radio appearance on the National Barn Dance on WLS in 1926. Kincaid stayed at WLS for four years, performing folk and country songs with his most requested song being “Barbara Allen.” This song inspired Kincaid to name his first two children, twin daughters, Barbara and Allyne. Kincaid was so popular as a performer that he annually received over 100,000 fan letters during his time at WLS. While working for the station, Kincaid would use his radio shows as the launching pad for his live appearances, making appearances in the general broadcast area of the station–a pattern that would continue throughout his radio days.

From WLS, Kincaid moved to WLW in Cincinnati, receiving 50,000 letters during his first month there. By 1935 Kincaid was at WBZ and while in the Northeast, he teamed up with the man he dubbed Grandpa Jones. He continued performing at radio stations for many years, usually moving on after a year or two. The stations he performed for were KDKA (Pittsburgh), WGY (Schenectady), WEAF (New York City) and WBZ (Boston). After ten years in the northeastern US, Kincaid moved to Nashville in 1945 where he appeared on the Grand Ole Opry for the next five years.

In 1928, Kincaid published his first songbook titled My Favorite Mountain Ballads. The initial printing sold more than 100,000 copies and subsequent printings brought the sales totals to over 400,000. Over the course of the next twenty years, Kincaid would publish a total of thirteen different songbooks.

Kincaid’s recording career started in 1927 for Gennett Records and over the course of the next 23 years, he recorded steadily for a variety of labels. Later on, Kincaid re-recorded some of his songs for labels such as Blue Bonnet and Old Homestead during the 1960s and 1970s.

The Billboard Country Music Charts started on January 1, 1944 by which time Kincaid was already 48 years old. His music hearkened back to an older tradition, anyway, so even if he were younger, it’s unlikely he would have been a charting artist in the 1940s. During the late 1920s and 1930s, however, Kincaid was very popular live performer and his records sold well.

His most successful record may have been “Letter Edged in Black,” which he recorded for RCA in 1934. It was the recording from which Jim Reeves learned the song for his successful recording about 25 years later. Kincaid’s best known songs as a songwriter were “The Death of Jimmie Rodgers,” “The Life of Jimmie Rodgers,” “Captain Bill,” and “The Legend of the Robin’s Red Breast.”

A careful businessman, Kincaid largely retired from performing in 1950, making occasional appearances at music festivals. In 1971, he was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. He turned over his musical archives to Berea College in Berea, Kentucky where they remain to this day.

The Ernest Tubb Record shop usually has some of Bradley Kincaid’s CDs available for sale. Beyond that you’ll need to do some digging to find his recordings. For more about Bradley Kincaid, there are two books which can help fill in the gaps: Everybody’s Grandpa by Grandpa Jones (an entertaining and often hilarious book) and Radio’s ‘Kentucky Mountain Boy’ Bradley Kincaid by Loyal Jones, who was with the Appalachian Center at Berea College.

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2 Pings

  1. [...] The new blog Allen’s Archive kicked off with seven volumes of vinyl rips from Bradley Kincaid, who you might remember from Paul’s Forgotten Artists feature last August. [...]
  2. [...] his old-style banjo performing and yodeling while in his late teens. As the story goes, folk singer Bradley Kincaid referred to Louis Marshall Jones as “grandpa” because of Jones’ grumpy demeanor while trying [...]
  1. Sam G.
    August 25, 2008 at 9:24 am

    My grandmother fondly remembers the WLS Barn Dance show, and she has talked often about how much she liked Bradley Kincaid’s music. Thanks for providing such a mice synopsis of his career, not to mention the song. I’ve never heard “Barbara Allen” before.

  2. Rick
    August 25, 2008 at 10:56 am

    Paul, thank you for another truly interesting feature on an artist I had never heard of. The contributions of these musicologists that preserved so much traditional music cannot be overstated.

    I would like to hear more about how he came to give “Grandpa” Jones his nickname. One cowboy singer I like sings “I Am My Own Grandpa” and claims that it was that song that gave Grandpa Jones his nickname although I don’t know if its true(?).

    As for the song “Barbara Allen”, I first encountered it on the soundtrack of the 1993 TV mini-series “The Wild West” that featured many country artists. Crystal Gayle sings that song in a historically accurate manner that gives me goosebumps. Fortunately a music video was made that is on YouTube! Here’s the link:

  3. Brady Vercher
    August 25, 2008 at 2:33 pm

    If y’all keep listening or press the “next” button, there are a couple more tracks to listen to.

  4. Steve Parry
    October 16, 2008 at 1:11 pm

    I read with interest the article about Bradley Kincaid by Paul Dennis. I was intrigued by the comment from Sam G. about his grandmother who remembers listening to the WLS Barn Dance. Sam G. can you please contact me? I’m producing a PBS documentary film about the National BArn Dance and was wondering if I might be able to talk with your grandmother? I’m always looking for former listeners of the Barn Dance.


    Steve Parry
    PRoducer: The Hayloft Gang
    312-587-8700 x 223

  5. Paul W Dennis
    August 22, 2009 at 9:31 am


    At the time I wrote this article there was very little available on Bradley Kincaid. The Ernest Tubb Record shop had one CD which largely overlapped a cassette I had dubbed onto CD and sent to Brady to accompany the article

    Since then several blogs (mostly in Europe) have come into existance which have posted much old-time country music. The following blog isn’t one of the more extensive blogs BUT it is the only one which has any significant amount of Bradley Kincaid music available for your listening pleasure

  6. Keith Melbourne
    January 5, 2011 at 3:22 am

    I am a radio announcer in Australia. I am 85 years of age. Apart from The Letter Edged in Black, one of my first memories of Bradley Kingaid would have been a song title For Sale a Baby. This was one of our most requested songs. The Fatal Wedding was also a very popular Bradley Kincaid song.

  7. Barry Mazor
    January 5, 2011 at 7:39 am

    My understanding is that a lot of the time he was at WSM, Kincaid had his quasi0folk radio show right before the Opry, not on i, In effect, he’s one of the fathers of commercial folk music, with an in-between style that also affected country. He’s one of the vocal influences behind Mac Wiseman, for instance.

  8. David B
    March 13, 2011 at 11:43 am

    I’m 30 years old. Country music history is somewhat a hobby of mine. I have read and heard of Bradley Kincaid for several years now. Listening to his music lately that I have found on YOU TUBE I can see the great influence he had on several artists.

    Growing up I remember Grandpa Jones singing “What Will I Do With The Baby-O” and “Gooseberry Pie” on the Opry. I realize now those were first Kincaid’s recordings. Like, Barry I can also hear Mac Wiseman’s style in Kincaid’s music.

    Several of his recordings are songs I remember my grandparents singing, “Red Wing”, “Cindy”, “Barbara Allen”…etc..

    I can see a need for Bradley Kincaid to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame for his pioneering efforts from 1925-1950. Will it ever happen? Maybe someday. Pop Stoneman sneaked in a few years ago.

    I hope to find some of his remastered recordings for sale to add to my collection of Classic Country Music.

  9. Susan Denise
    August 23, 2011 at 2:23 am

    Bradley Kincaid is my great uncle. When I was a child and we went to my Greatgrandmother’s (his sister Viola Susan Kincaid Burnside) house for Christmas, they both played and sang. After Christmas dinner and the gifts were all open. The instruments would come out. She also played guitar and piano. I grew up listening to her play his records and when my mom sang us lullabies, they were mostly his songs.

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