Shelby Singleton: Shreveport’s Forgotten Musical Genius
When we talk about the history of music of Shreveport, there are certain people and topics that always come up. Elvis, James Burton, Johnny Horton, Hank Williams and Leadbelly are obvious ones. The Louisiana Hayride is always a major historical marker. But one name most people never discuss is Shelby Singleton. I can almost bet you that you have no idea who Shelby was or what he accomplished.
Singleton was born in Waskom, Texas but moved to Shreveport at an early age. He graduated from Byrd High School at the age of 15 and went off to the Louisiana School of Business. He got married, joined the Marines...had a relatively normal life. Well, until his first wife Margie decided she wanted to be a singer. Her decision put Shelby on a path full of gold records.
At the Louisiana Hayride, Shelby made friends with George Jones and his manager. To make a long story short, through George's connections, Margie got a record deal and Shelby got a gig in promotions with Mercury. After tooling around, driving boxes of records to radio stations across America...Shelby gets his big break. A producer can't make it to a studio session and Shelby is tasked with running the session. Out of that faithful day came Brooke Benson's 'Boll Weevil Song'. That song went on to become a huge hit, reaching #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
After cranking out hits from Ray Stevens, Leroy Van Dyke, Joe Dowell and others over a nine year period; Shelby decided to strike out on his own in 1966 starting his own labels including Plantation Records. Shelby's new venture lead to one of the biggest hit songs of the decade, Jeanne C. Riley's "Harper Valley PTA".
Now, these are just the cliff notes on Shelby's life and career. He worked with the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis and Charlie Rich. He produced dozens of gold records. He was the guy that bought Sun Records from Sam Phillips, including the entire rock and roll catalog. I mean his list of accomplishments is pretty impressive. Not bad for a Byrd graduate.
If you want to learn more about Shelby, there are several books that cover his exploits including Record Makers and Breakers and How Nashville Became Music City USA.