Country Music Hall of Fame visitors unaware greeter is star

Country Music Hall of Fame visitors unaware greeter is star 


NASHVILLE, TENN. — No one has any idea about Rose Lee Maphis' past when they take a museum pamphlet from her on their way into the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.In two years only one person in the thousands she greeted has noticed her name tag, then gone through the Bakersfield Sound exhibit and put together that she is that Rose Lee — the one with her name stamped on the leather guitar strap and scrolled across the Martin D-18 that, until last week, was displayed behind glass on the second floor.



During the 1950s and 1960s, Rose Lee Maphis and her husband, Joe, ranked as one of show business's most successful husband-and-wife duos — known by many as "Mr. and Mrs. Country Music."These days, Rose Lee Maphis, who just turned 92, works front of house at the museum on weekdays, saying hello to visitors entering the expansive lobby and directing them toward the tour of country music's past.


It's just so Nashville.In this city, you never know who is filling a plate next to you at the Whole Foods hot bar or doing yoga alongside the trail as you run through Percy Warner Park.Rose Lee Maphis says of her place: "It's like I am supposed to be here."Maphis shares a full smile that brings out the joyful crinkles at the side of her bespectacled eyes.To this day, she marvels at the tour on which life has taken her, a long and thrill-filled journey from the East Coast to the West and then, finally, to Nashville.Born Doris Schetromph, she grew up on a farm in Hagerstown, Maryland, where her parents produced eggs and butter, sold Christmas trees and built a few cabins to rent down by the Conococheague Creek that ran through the property.


Living a simple country life, she didn't think much about the future.In my days, there was no planning ahead," she says.At age 15, her favorite hours were spent listening to the "Suppertime Frolic" out of Chicago and Nashville's "Grand Ole Opry" on Saturday night radio. Her aspiration was simply to learn to play the guitar like her aunt's metal-bodied National.


That got her an audition at the Hagerstown station in 1939, and soon she was the star of a 15-minute program every Saturday evening.Before her first performance, the producer asked what she was going to call herself. (Doris Schetromph didn't exactly roll off the tongue.) When she didn't have any ideas, the producer called her "Rose of the Mountains" for the flower in her hair and the theme song she played that night, "Carry Me Back to the Mountains."But her spot behind the microphone wasn't guaranteed. It was a career crafted over many songs and through many miles.She spent several years as a member of the Saddle Sweethearts, a Western group of four young gals who sometimes played the same bill with Gene Autry and Roy Acuff. And then she headed back home to work as the bookkeeper for the dirt racetrack that her daddy built.

For a moment, it looked like the end of the performance road for Maphis. But she had gotten word that Mother Maybelle and the Carters left the "Old Dominion Barn Dance" — a live bluegrass and country radio show in Virginia — and girls were needed to sing.Going changed Maphis' life.Outside the Lyric Theater in Richmond, the line wrapped around the block as fans lined up to see the WRVA broadcast hosted by Mary Workman, known as "Sunshine Sue." The show drew an audience of about 3,000 people and was broadcast twice a night nationwide.


It was the place where Richmond introduced America to country music.It's also where Rose Lee met her fella, Joe Maphis.Years later, Rose Lee Maphis walks past the encased country relics in the recently closed but not-yet-dismantled Bakersfield Sound exhibit on the museum's second floor, and memories of her husband embrace her.He was tall, dark and slender, but it was the guitarist's frenetic finger picking that caught most people's attention. He was known as the "King of the Strings," and when the couple performed together, Rose Lee Maphis would often watch the expressions in the audience, stares of awe "because he made it look so easy," she says.


For a time, the two both held a spot on the "Barn Dance." Then friend Merle Travis persuaded Joe to move to California to work in television. Rose Lee Maphis soon followed. The couple lived together in Travis' house, went to Tijuana to get married and — Rose Lee Maphis recalls with a chuckle — in February of 1953 made it legal in Las Vegas.That same year, the duo cut its first sides, among them the self-penned "Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (And Loud, Loud Music)," which has since become a honky-tonk standard.