The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History
received a collection of objects from the Baldknobbers, a variety show based in Branson, Mo. The donation documents the long and rich history of this variety jamboree show and its place in American entertainment culture.
The group was formed in 1959 when brothers Bill, Jim, Lyle and Bob Mabe began entertaining visitors on the Taneycomo lakefront with “The Baldknobbers Jamboree.” The Baldknobbers were named after an Ozarks vigilante group from the 1880s and are considered Branson’s first country music-and-comedy show.
The Mabe brothers performed with folklore instruments: washtub bass, banjo, guitar, washboard and a mule’s jawbone to provide rhythm. The performances were an instant hit with visiting tourists and local fishermen. The band became so popular that it outgrew its original location and moved into an old skating rink, converting it into Branson’s first live-entertainment theater. The group continued to expand and today The Baldknobbers Jamboree Theatre seats 1,500 people in the heart of Branson’s entertainment district.
“This donation tells an interesting story about a homegrown genre in American entertainment,” said Brent D. Glass, director of the museum. “The collection expands on the museum’s country-music holdings.”
The donation includes Jim “Droopy Drawers” Mabe’s stage costume, hat, washboard and glove; Lyle “George Aggernite” Mabe’s costume and washtub bass; Bill Mabe’s red-and-gold fringe stage shirt and boots; plus brochures, souvenir books and pamphlets. Ed Snowden donated a Dobro guitar on behalf of the late Dennis Mabe (Bill Mabe’s son).
“It not only means a great deal to our family to have these items included in the Smithsonian collections as a tribute to my dad and uncles who started the show in 1959, but it also is a tribute to all the entertainers who perform in Branson,” said Tim Mabe of the Baldknobbers.
Although three founding Mabe brothers are now deceased, the Baldknobbers continue to be a family affair and the group has grown to include 16 musicians, vocalists and comedians.