(Story From Tom Davis)
Legendary entertainment representative Jim Halsey was honored in his hometown of Independence, KS Saturday night just ahead of the Oak Ridge Boys Down Home Country Christmas Show at Memorial Hall.
It was a very special moment Saturday night when Halsey, 89, received a plaque that states Memorial Hall is now named after him. The plaque was presented to him by the Oak Ridge Boys—the Country Music and Gospel Music Hall of Fame quartet that he represents to this day.
Halsey grew up in Independence, Kansas, a town of 10,000 people where his family owned the Halsey Brothers Department Store. He absorbed the basic rules of retail early on: "Everyone worked hard to please customers, finding good merchandise and giving value at a fair price," he writes in his 2010 book, Starmaker: How to Make It in the Music Business.
At 10, he went door-to-door as a salesman, pushing Dolly Dozits or pot scrubbers that he describes as "a small tool full of metal strips coiled tighter than Little Orphan Annie's hair." After selling out his entire inventory, he realized he'd overcharged by 5 cents apiece and set out the next day to correct his mistake; to his surprise, the customers not only weren't mad, they bought even more.
"The satisfied customer is the reason you stay in business," he says. "And that's what I'm still doing today with The Oak Ridge Boys."
These are just some of the acts Halsey has represented as a manager or, for much of his career, an agent: '50s star Hank Thompson was the first, then dozens of others, like Wanda Jackson, George Jones, Merle Haggard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Willie Nelson and James Brown. The Godfather of Soul insisted he call him "Mr. Brown" and reciprocated with "Mr. Halsey." In the mid-'50s, he paid a star he'd never heard of, Elvis Presley, $1,800 to open six shows for Thompson.
Halsey was instrumental in helping revive the Neewollah Festival that has run for over 60 years in downtown Independence, Kansas. The famous nine day Halloween themed festival features live theatrical productions, concerts, three different parades, 5K/10K fun runs, pageants, a carnival, a chili cook off, vendors, food and more.
The first Neewollah celebration actually dates all the way back to 1919 as an effort to provide positive activities for kids of all ages in place of the typical Halloween pranks that occurred in the community. In the beginning the events centered on parades of decorated cars and carriages during the morning, afternoon, and night on October 31.
In 1981 HBO produced a music special from Neewollah - also organized by Jim Halsey, Sherman Halsey, and directed by award winner Marty Calliner - starring Roy Clark, Merle Haggard, Ronnie Milsap, Johnny Lee, Charlie Rich and Lacy J Dalton. Other stars that have headlined the festival over the years have been Don Williams, Mel Tillis, BJ Thomas, Roy Clark, Oak Ridge Boys, Reba McEntire, Ray Price, and The Bellamy Brothers.