Above: Bela Lam record from my personal collection
In part 1 I asked you to put yourself in the shoes of Bela Lam and his family as they stood in New York for the first time. That’s where we’ll pick this story up…
The group hit their peak during the latter part of the 1920’s when in July 1927 they boarded a train and headed for New York City to record for the Okeh record label. The recording was arranged and pushed forward by John W. Evans of the James K. Polk Company, who distributed graphophone records. Mr. Evans owned a furniture store in Elkton and heard the group play. He knew then that they were something special and wanted to push their name to the recording label.
During the New York recording the group made 6 records and received $50 for each. The news would soon travel fast and local newspapers put the group on the front page upon their arrival back home from the big city. During the next 2 years the group would play at various fairs, picnics, and other community events.
During October of 1929 the group was sent, once again to the big city; only this time the destination was Richmond. While in Richmond they recorded an additional 6 songs but only 4 would make it to be released. Out of the 18 total song recordings all were released with the exception of 4: Listen to the Mockingbird, Watermelon Smiling on the Vine, Two Little Girls in Blue, & I Had a Darling Little Girl.
On February 17, 1930 Bela and Rose would stand in front of the national spotlight once more for a recording for Movietone while their granddaughter: Arlene sat between them. The video that was recorded is seen in part 1 of this series.
The group would continue to play numerous venues throughout the area but their popularity on a national stage had come and gone. Bela lived an eventful life and on December 28, 1944 Bela went on to sing in glory. Rose lived alone at their home in Greene County until she went to meet Bela on November 5, 1951. Both Bela & Rose are buried in the John Wesley Meadows cemetery in Shenandoah National Park. Their son, Alva died just over 19 years after his father on December 29, 1963. The last remaining member of the group, John Paul Meadows died on June 6, 1976 in Charlottesville. It’s been told that he was still singing from his bed after he was no longer able to get out and about.
Bela Lam & The Greene County Singers made a lasting impression that still carries over to this day. The stories still drift around like the sound of a banjo ringing up the hollow…