William A. “Bill” Bolick passed away on March 13 at the age of 90. Bill and his brother Earl, who passed away in 1998, grew up near Hickory, North Carolina and learned to sing gospel music and hymns from their parents.
By the mid-1930s when they became known as the Blue Sky Boys, their music beamed from radio shows from cities all over the South, from Asheville, North Carolina to Shreveport, Louisiana. Though RCA Victor initially billed them as “the new hillbilly kings,” Bill and Earl soon traded their rustic plaid shirts and straw hats for urbane suits and ties. Bill’s high tenor and bubbling mandolin and Earl’s baritone and smooth guitar gave them a signature sound that stood out among the popular brother duets then dominating the air waves. The Blue Sky Boys made nearly 125 recordings for RCA Victor and Bluebird, specializing in songs such as those made famous by the Carter Family such as “Sunny Side of Life,” “Hymns My Mother Sang,” and “The Chapel in the Hills.”
Bill and Earl carried their music with them into the US Army when the country entered WWII in 1941. Bill, who served in the Pacific Theater, wasn’t discharged until Christmas Day, 1945. He returned home three months after his brother, and the Blue Sky Boys were back on the radio by March 1946. The duo retired from their musical career in 1951 when Earl Bolick moved to Georgia with his wife and two sons to work as a machinist with Lockheed Aircraft.
After his retirement from a professional musical career, Bill Bolick had gone to work as a railway postal clerk in Washington, D.C.. and then transferred to Greensboro, North Carolina. In February 1957, he had married Doris Wallace. He remained a devoted husband until his death. In one of the Bill’s boxes, a relative found what he guesses are 100 cards—every one Doris ever gave her husband. He had saved them all.
During the height of the 1960s folk revival, the brothers emerged from retirement and began giving concerts again. They re-released some of their earlier material, created two new albums, and retired a second time in the late 1960s. Their last recording on Rounder was from a session recorded in 1975.