As part of a special tab in The Valley News that will be available for Everly Heritage Day this Saturday, June 22, 2019, my "twin"storian sister Sherry and I were asked to participate in a brief interview with editor Cybill Erickson. We provided Cybill with some photos along with our responses, including this photo capturing Sherry and I in the Everly Brothers Childhood Home preparing new exhibit pieces for Shenfest in September 2017.
Sherry and I are grateful to our colleague Shelly Warner for arranging this opportunity for us to speak about the history, the organization and our work. Shelly manages all of the local press as Marketing Director for the Shenandoah Chamber as well as the local operations for the Everly Brothers Childhood Home. Thank you, Shelly! -Sheryl
Cybill: When did the project for The Everly Brothers start in Shenandoah? What type of impact does preserving this type of history have on the town? Why do you think it is important to preserve this history? Why do you think the “sounds” and groups from this time period are still popular? What was special about them? Can you tell me a bit about what you did related to the Everly Brothers Childhood Home?
Sheryl and Sherry: Rock and roll of the 1950s and early 1960s represented a uniquely American moment in music history where the fusion of black and white styles dominated the scene and the Everly Brothers were pioneers of this sound. As many genres of roots music converged to form rock and roll, the Everlys led the way in contributing the tradition of country music and family focused close harmonies which were cultivated in Shenandoah, Iowa. When the Everly Brothers reunited in 1983, Bill Hillman was inspired to bring Don and Phil back to their Iowa hometown. He organized an office with volunteers who worked for two years to bring his dream to fruition. Don and Phil returned on July 5, 1986 to grand hometown fanfare with a parade, reunion, dedication ceremony and concert. The brothers asked their friend and former classmate Jim Danielson to establish The Everly Family Scholarship from concert proceeds. Jim continues to serve on the scholarship committee today alongside Bill as the scholarship administrator.
The Everly Brothers Childhood Home and its activities provide social, educational and economic benefits for Shenandoah through the establishment of cultural identity, music heritage tourism, revenue for small businesses, a marketplace for local musicians and educational programming. The home was saved and relocated in 2006 and dedicated in 2010. Since its dedication, the home has attracted Everly fans from all over the world and has become a hub for community events and tourism activities. In September during Shenandoah's annual Shenfest, the Everly home hosts local entertainment acts, the parade awards presentation and a car show. In December, Santa Claus takes up residence to visit with children during the “Night the Lights Come On” and every Saturday throughout the month. It has become an attraction for visiting RAGBRAI riders and at the finish line of the Wabash Trace Nature Trail Marathon.
We visited Shenandoah for the first time in October 2016 where we met with Bill and his wife Deb and were their house guests. Since 2017, we've been working to establish first efforts in historic preservation planning and tourism development focused on Don and Phil's life in Shenandoah. The brothers spent their formative years here (1945-1953) where they learned the discipline and musicianship integral to their singular success in early rock 'n' roll and broader contributions to American popular music. It was in Shenandoah where their professional careers began as child stars on rival farmer-friendly stations KMA and KFNF during radio's golden age. Their humble 15' x 20' clapboard cottage provides an irreplaceable, authentic sensory testament to these tender and prolific years. Don and Phil's childhood home was saved by The Everly Brothers Childhood Home Foundation and is the only house museum dedicated to the world-renowned sibling duo.
As Music Heritage Preservationists, we have contributed significantly to the Foundation in the way of creating new events, exhibits and partnerships with artists and organizations, including recognition by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We have developed a stronger social media presence as well as identified new resources and research to move the Everly Brothers Childhood Home into the foreground of its local history as well as its and the hometown's broader importance in American music history among not only the Everly Brothers fan community but the general public.
There have been a lot of firsts - i.e., introducing Shenandoah's Everly Brothers history to rock 'n' roll fans from around the world at the Surf Ballroom's annual Winter Dance Party in Clear Lake (2017 and 2019), reawakening the historic armory in town for a concert, introducing new exhibit material in the house and an oral history project to capture memories of classmates and neighbors who knew the Everlys (Shenfest 2017), discovering new research on the Everly Brothers (research fellowship at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Library + Archives in 2018), establishing Everly Heritage Day (2018) as the first independent Everly Brothers event in Shenandoah now in its second year with more than twice the programming as last year (tours, events, panel/guest speakers), the creation and debut of an Everly Brothers pop-up museum and locally made Everly Brothers short film (documentary) in 2019.