The York Brothers

The York Brothers played together from the '30s through the '50s, developing a musical style which grew from traditional country into a more contemporary sound. Both George and Leslie York were born in Lawrence County, Kentucky and were heavily influenced by the Delmore Brothers. As a young man, George worked in coal mines and later began his music career in Denver, Colorado, playing in local clubs and on the radio in the evenings. Leslie, who was seven years younger, got his start after winning a talent contest in Lexington, Kentucky. Not long afterward, the brothers teamed and played together on a station in Portsmouth, Ohio. They then moved to Detroit, where their music caught fire with the Southern transplants who had come to work in the burgeoning auto industry.

The Yorks made their recording debut in 1939 and had success with "Going Home" and the controversial, slightly racy "Hamtramck Mama," which was banned in the Polish-American Detroit suburb of the same name. The notoriety got the brothers signed to Decca in 1941, where they released six singles, including "Speak to Me Little Darling." Just as they were becoming popular, World War II erupted, and both Yorks served in the Navy until the war's end. They then joined the Grand Ole Opry and began recording for King in 1947, where they found success with such outspoken tunes as "Let's Not Sleep Again" and "Mountain Rosa Lee." They also became interested in rhythm and blues, a musical style that influenced some of their later songs like "Tennessee Tango" and "River of Tears."

George and Leslie returned to Detroit in 1950, where they stayed until 1953, moving to Dallas to work on local television. They recorded on King until 1956 and then started their own label. Around this time, George began having problems with his voice, so Leslie took over the lead parts. Eventually, the York Brothers went their separate ways; George ran a Dallas night club before his death in 1974, while Leslie worked different jobs until passing on a decade later. ~ Sandra Brennan

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