Bonnie Lou Moore remembered

‘Bonnie Lou’ Margaret Moore, of the east Tennessee region country/bluegrass/Gospel duo, Bonnie Lou & Buster, passed away on September 21, 2020, aged 93. 

Born Margaret Louise Bell on June 4, 1927, she was a native of Etowah, North Carolina. As a child guitar player and singer ‘Bonnie Lou’ and her younger brother Lloyd were guests on Asheville’s Radio WWNC Farm Hour program. 

Later she met Herbert ‘Buster’ Moore and in August 1945 they married after his discharge from the Army, and he resumed playing with Carl Story’s Rambling Mountaineers as he had prior to WWII. Then Moore relocated to WROL, Knoxville, Tennessee, where he led the Dixie Partners and worked with Ray Atkins and the Morris Brothers. They appeared twice a week at a government recreational hall in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, also. 

Bonnie Lou became a member of the show when her husband asked her to fill in for a sick band member, and she became so popular that she was kept on, and did most of the advertising on the show. At this point she was given the name ‘Bonnie Lou’ since it rolled off the tongue better when paired with ‘Buster’. 

During the early years Buster Moore and His Dixie Partners worked in east Tennessee, in Greenville, South Carolina (with Don Reno); on WRAL, Raleigh, North Carolina – the group then included Buster (mandolin and banjo), Bonnie Lou (guitar), Lloyd Bell (electric bass guitar), Carl Butler (guitar) and Art Wootten (fiddle); in May 1947 they were at WPTF in Raleigh; for several months they then did well working in eastern North Carolina; and they played Saturday shows on The Old Dominion Barn Dance on WRVA in Richmond. 

The following year the group returned to Knoxville, working at WNOX, where they appeared regularly on The Mid-Day Merry-Go-Round as well as the Saturday night show, The Tennessee Barn Dance. The group then consisted of Buster, Bonnie Lou, Lloyd Bell and Willie G. Brewster (fiddle). 

Bonnie Lou & Buster continued to work on radio for several years, spending some time in Memphis, working a mid-day program with Lighting Chance (bass) and Paul Buskirk (mandolin); after a brief hiatus from the entertainment business, Bonnie Lou, Buster and the Tennessee Sweethearts as they became known, went to work at WSVA Harrisonburg, Virginia; and, linking up with his former boss Carl Story, Buster and Bonnie Lou moved to WCYB, Bristol. 

In 1953 Bonnie Lou & Buster become one of the first live television acts for Johnson City, Tennessee’s WJHL. Their three-day-a-week early evening music show, that included Lloyd Bell, Homer Harris (the Seven Foot Cowboy) and some fine banjo work from Chuck Henderson, the Carolina Indian, lasted until 1963. 

In the early 1960s, they began performing on the Jim Walter Jubilee show, sponsored by Jim Walter Homes. This enabled them to eliminate much of their traveling, since most of the shows were recorded at WATE-TV in Knoxville. They remained on the show for 21 years until it went off the air in 1982.

Bonnie Lou and Buster Moore appeared in the major Hollywood romantic drama film, Walk In The Spring Rain (1970), that starred Ingrid Berman and Anthony Quinn. The location scenes were filmed in and around Gatlinburg in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 

Two years later the couple moved to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, and opened their own nightly live show, The Smoky Mountain Hayride, at the Coliseum Theater, playing throughout the tourist season.

Apart from themselves, the show featured steel guitarist Little Roy Wiggins, Don McHan, and many other traditional acts with whom Bonnie Lou & Buster had worked during their many years in the music.

They retired in 1994 and Buster Moore passed away on January 13, 1996. Since then Bonnie Lou sang only in her church choir.

Beginning in 1949 Bonnie Lou & Buster (and The Mountain Music Makers)/The Dixie Partners recorded throughout most of their career, with four sides for Mercury, and four cuts for ACME. 

These were followed by several albums – Hymn Time (Waterfall LP 1, released in 1963); Bonnie and Buster Sing Country, Bluegrass and Gospel (Angel 577177, 1977); Bonnie Lou and Buster Sing Gospel/Country and Bluegrass Style (Angel  33582/Mastercor MLP 2882, 1982); Smoky Mountain Hayride Show (Green, 1983); Homecoming Gospel (Bonnie Lou and Buster 1078, 1986); a sequence of four Gospel music releases for the Crystal label; and two other singles, one on Riviera and another on Smokey Mtn. Records. 

Bonnie Lou and her brother are noted as Pioneers of Bluegrass by the IBMM. 

In February 2012 ‘Bonnie Lou’ Moore reflected on the role that she played in music and TV history. 

R.I.P. ‘Bonnie Lou’ Moore. 

A graveside service will be held on Friday, September 25, 2020, at 11:00am at White Pine Cemetery in White Pine, TN.

Here are the tracks from the Bonnie Lou & Buster – Sing Country, Bluegrass & Gospel LP ….  


Bonnie Lou should not be confused with the singer of the same name who was a King recording artist and a regular on The Midwestern Hayride.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.