Childre family boasts renowned country music star – Lew Childre

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 19, 2010

When the Childre name is mentioned in Covington County, most folks – especially the older ones – think of Lew Childre, the long-time Grand Ole Opry star and radio personality.

Lew was born in Opp on Nov. 1, 1901. He was the son of Charles Tumps and Ada (Atwell) Childre. His early interest in music flourished during his high school years when he played trombone, trumpet and drums. His parents persuaded him to attend the University of Alabama, where he graduated, but he soon joined a tent show group as a singer/performer.

Lew formed a jazz band called Alabama Cotton Pickers, which also included Lawrence Welk. He made several recordings before becoming fascinated with country music, which was in its commercial infancy at the time. During this time, he learned to play a guitar and returned to tent shows. He was regarded as one of the holdovers from the early days of vaudeville shows and one-man bands.

In 1930, Lew joined broadcast radio in Texas. After making several recordings, he toured the state with Wiley Walker, who later of Wiley and Gene fame as the Alabama Boys. In 1934, Lew moved to New Orleans to broadcast over WWL and record for ARC. During the late 1930s, he worked the Texas border station XERA with the Carter family. During the early 1940s, he moved to West Virginia Wheeling Jamboree where his talent for ad-libbing comedy made him a natural for advertising. In 1945, he joined the Grand Ole Opry and began producing transcriptions for General Food, Pepsi and other companies. During this time he worked with String Bean until 1948.

Lew’s career peaked during the 1930s and 1940s. He was billed as the “Boy from Alabama with a relaxed, down-home style comedy, picking and singing.” He performed American standards such as “Alabamy Bound.” He even gave comic advice in this “Doctor Lew” routine.

During the mid-1950s, Lew recorded an LP for Starday and produced an album titled “Old Time Get Together with Lew Childre” in 1958. During his last years between 1955 and 1959, he was featured on some of Red Foley television shows. He retired from music in 1959 and died two years later in 1961.

Lew’s Childre ancestry begins with Nathan Childre who is the earliest ancestor to be identified to date. Nathan was born in 1795 in Wilkinson County, Ga., and was married in 1818 to Martha Wells, also a native of Georgia, who was born in 1800. They later lived in Crawford County where he died and was buried in 1867.

Nathan and Martha Childre reared the following children: William, b. 1819, d. 1888, m. 1838 Mary Ann Paulk; Hampton, b. 1822, d. 1842; Mary, b. 1825; Squire Nathan, b. 1827, m. Ellen ?; Isaac, b. 1829; Martha, b. 1833; Elizabeth, b. 1834; Mikel, b. 1837; and Sara Caroline, b. 1840.

Nathan’s oldest son, William, was married in 1838 to Mary Ann Paulk (1817-1907), daughter of Micajah and Lottie (Ogburn) Paulk. They began their family in Crawford County, Ga., and after having nine children there, they moved to Covington County, where they had five more children. The 14 children included the following: Mazurann Samantha, b. 1839, m. Whit Bozeman; William Jacob, b. 1840, d. 1885, m. Mary Jane Clark; Wade Hampton, b. 1842, d. 1897, m. Margaret Frost; Mary Ann Charlotty, b. 1843, d. 1883, m. Harmon Sasser; Orin Iverson, b. 1845, d. 1923, m. Fanny Smith; Squire Nathan, b. 1846, m. Nealy Hughes; Martha Ann Edney, b. 1848, m. William Sims; Elzyann Priscillia, b. 1849, m. Joe E. Hearne; Isaac Micajah, b. 1810, m. Bethe Windham; Francis Ann Elizabeth, b. 1851, m. Selatha Nall; Susann Martilda, b. 1855, d. 1935; m. William Johns; Mandy Caroline, b. 1856, d. 1861; Margaret Cassie Jane, b. 1858, d. 1949, m. John Davis Mason; and Tillman D. Oxford, b. 1861, m. Willie Gibson.

Sometime after the War Between the States, William and Mary Ann along with at least six of their children moved to Grimes County, Texas. This was about 40 miles north of Houston. William owned a sizable acreage in Alabama and in Grimes County, Texas. William and Mary Ann lived out their lives there and were buried in the Childre Cemetery. About eight of their children remained in Covington County and reared their families here. Some of these are buried in the Valley Grove Cemetery adjacent to the Primitive Baptist Church.

William’s second son, Wade Hampton Childre, and his wife, Margaret Frost, were a couple that remained in Covington County. They were married in 1868 in Crenshaw County and had the following six children: Hillary D., b. 1871, d. 1954, m. Lilly Bryan; Charles Tumps, b. 1873, d. 1940, m. Ada Atwell; Squire Richard, b. 1875, d. 1940, m. Lattie Taylor; Susan “Doll,” b. ca 1882, m. William Short; John W., b. 1881, d. 1918, single; James A. “Jim,” m. Winnie Wright.

Wade Hampton Childre was a leader in his community and helped preserve the law by serving in some capacity such as a justice of the peace. He was murdered in 1897 as he sat beside a window in his house reading his Bible, which was opened at Psalm 23. His second wife was seating on the floor playing with their young child. Members of the family still have the Bible he was reading, which was stained with his blood. Wade was buried beside his first wife in the Valley Grove Cemetery, about eight miles north of Opp on U.S. 331. His second wife Martha died in 1936 and was buried in the Bethel Cemetery at Babbie.

The family believed the shooting had something to do with the illegal manufacturing of moonshine. Although, the case was never settled, there were various rumors of what led to the shooting. Sixteen years after the murder of Wade Hampton, a young lady, Alice Wages, went on trial for being accused of killing her own father. During that trial she told of having knowledge that at least four men, including her uncles, were involved in the murder of Wade Childre. She named Noah Wages, John McPherson, George Whitehead and Noah Whitehead.

Wade’s son, Squire Richard Childre, was married in 1897 to Lattie Taylor, daughter of Washington Benjamin and Louise Virginia (Smith) Taylor. They lived at Valley Grove, eight miles north of Opp and reared the following children: Olive, b. 1898, d. 1970, m. E.P. Russell; Felix Beasley, b. 1902, m. Cecile Sirmon; Judge Labon, b. 1905, d. 1976, m. Ann Thompson; Squire Rupert, b. 1908, m. Eva M. Rhoden; and Gladys, b. 1914, m. C.J. Keefee.

Squire Rupert and Eva Mae (Rhoden) were married in 1938 in Crestview, Fla. They moved to Texas where he worked with an oil company doing seismic testing looking for oil deposits. Their one son, Donald Rupert, was born in 1945 in Brenham of Washington County, Texas. Of special interest to this family is that they were living only about 20 miles from Squire Rupert’s great-grandfather William Childre’s home place. It was years later that they learned how close they were to the location and relatives whom they did not even know.

Donald Rupert Childre is married to Janice Carol Chavers, and they make their home in Opp. Don works in the Opp City Hall where he is responsible for city planning. Appreciation is expressed to Don for sharing his family records, most being from research completed by his mother, Eva Mae (Rhoden) Childre.

The information on the life of Lew Childre is credited to John Bush who wrote “Mini Profiles on Traditional Country Artists and Legends.”

Anyone with additional information on this family is requested to contact this writer, Curtis Thomasson, at 20357 Blake Pruitt Road, Andalusia, AL 36420; 334-222-6467; or e-mail: