Radio Address by O'Daniel, August 3, 1941
W. Lee "Pappy" O'Daniel's rise to fame and the governorship of Texas almost defies credibility. O'Daniel had worked most of his adult life as a flour salesman. He moved to Texas in 1925, at the age of 35, to become sales manager of Burris Mills in Fort Worth. In 1928, he took over the company's radio advertising. Showing an untapped genius in the new field of broadcasting, O'Daniel developed a wildly popular show which featured Western swing music by the Light Crust Doughboys, the original members of which were future superstars Bob Wills, Herman Arnspiger, and Milton Brown. With himself as the show's host, O'Daniel fashioned a regional broadcasting network and brought the show to thousands of listeners across Texas.
With the music of the first-rate band as the lure, "Pappy" held forth, reciting sentimental poetry, reading Bible passages, and urging Christian values on his listeners. Pappy even contributed new songs, including "Beautiful Texas," "Memories of Jimmie Rodgers," and "On To Victory, Mr. Roosevelt." (See Texas Treasures for the sheet music for "Beautiful Texas.") He showed considerable business acumen, expanding the radio network constantly, and going out on tour with the band in a huge touring automobile plastered with signs extolling the virtues of Light Crust Flour from Burris Mills.
O'Daniel hardly missed a beat when Burris Mills severed its relationship with him in 1935. He recruited new musicians, cobbled together a new radio network, and began to market his own Hillbilly Flour. The radio show and the flour bags both boasted the famed slogan, "Pass the Biscuits, Pappy."
On Palm Sunday, 1938, Pappy made a seemingly casual reference on his show about running for governor. He received 55,000 letters of support. Most seasoned political observers dismissed his candidacy as a publicity stunt, but Pappy proved to be phenomenal. He and the Hillbilly Boys attracted enormous crowds in rural Texas; press reports estimated many of the rallies to have attracted over 40,000 fans apiece. The band played "Beautiful Texas," then Pappy would launch into a speech that advocated the Golden Rule, the Ten Commandments, a populist agenda, and an assault on the political establishment. He shocked the establishment with a landslide victory.
Though thoroughly inept as governor, Pappy maintained his hold on the public's affections through a skillful use of his radio program. The Hillbilly Boys accompanied him to the Governor's Mansion, and every Sunday Pappy continued to make his folksy broadcasts.
His showmanship propelled him all the way to Washington. He entered the 1941 special election to fill a vacancy in the U.S. Senate. His main opponent was Representative Lyndon Johnson, who created his own rival roadshow. The election was extremely close, and only some East Texas vote fraud in Pappy's favor put the singing governor on top. Pappy bid good-bye in this radio broadcast before decamping to Washington -- with the Hillbilly Boys in tow.
Radio Address by O'Daniel, August 3, 1941, Records of W. Lee O'Daniel, Texas Office of the Governor, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.