Five years ago I wrote a story about a country singer who was this close to becoming famous but instead became only a legend. In March 2001, Helen Hall, who was born October 20, 1927, in Navarro County, was singing backup in the Fairfield Christian Center church choir outside Palestine. Five decades earlier, as I wrote at the time, she had a recording contract with legendary Decca Records' Coral subsidiary, a starring slot on the Big "D" Jamboree housed in the now-torn-down Sportatorium on Industrial Boulevard and "enough fans to have been voted among the best female country singers in more than one magazine (often, ahead of women who would become legends)." Among her cheatin'-hearts songs were such titles as "Wasted Life," "What Else Does She Do Like Me?," "Rock Till My Baby Comes Home," "Hello Baby" and "Honky Tonk Husband," some recorded in the 1950s and others cut as late as 1973. Yet in 2001 she was little more than a footnote in Dallas' rich musical legacy.
Some of those songs appeared in 2001 on David Dennard's The Gals of the Big "D" Jamboree compilation, a sequel to 2000's Big "D" Jamboree Live! Volumes 1 & 2, a double-disc collection of recordings made on the Sportatorium stage in the 1950s by no less than Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Ronnie Dawson, Jerry Reed and Wanda Jackson. Dennard, whose Dragon Street label issued the first recordings by Tripping Daisy, came across recordings Hall made in 1955 at the studio of producer Jim Beck, who co-wrote Lefty Frizzell's immortal "If You've Got the Money (I've Got the Time)" and died after asphyxiating on cleaning fluid in his Ross Avenue studio. Dennard also had demos she made in her Fort Worth home in 1957. As Dennard recalled in 2001, when he called Hall to tell her he wanted to issue her material at so late a date, she was "surprised to no end."
But Hall's story has come to an end: Yesterday, Helen Hall's family sent an e-mail bearing the news that she died September 24 at her home in the country near Oakwood, Texas. Mary Ann Baker, whose husband was Hall's newphew, says the 78-year-old's funeral was held at the Fairfield Christian Center, which is the last stage upon which she performed; she was buried Wednesday at Oakwood Cemetery in Corsicana. The cause of death was lung cancer, with which Hall had been diagnosed only last month. She's survived by her husband, Maurice, and daughter, Dolores, who live in Oakwood. "As you know," Baker writes, "Helen Hall was a special lady."
For proof of how special her music was, I am including a couple of tracks off The Gals of Big "D" Jamboree, which you should own if you don't already; aside from Hall it features such greats as Charline Arthur and Wanda Jackson and others (including Sherry Davis, who's repped with a Buddy Holly duet) who were once as much a part of Dallas' rockabilly past as electricity itself. --Robert Wilonsky
Helen Hall, "Something Special" (from the 2001 release The Gals of the Big "D" Jamboree)
Helen Hall, "Hello Baby" (demo) (from the 2001 release The Gals of the Big "D" Jamboree)