She and Him
Bluegrass Broadcaster Brenda Lawson Honors the Music and Her Husband’s Legacy
by Stephen Pitalo
If you want to have an authentic radio experience, tune in to “The Bluegrass Jamboree” online Sunday 7-10 am, where Brenda Lawson plays bluegrass, gospel, and she takes requests from listeners.
“If I have it, I’ll play it!” Brenda laughed. But the road to this moment was bumpy.
“Bluegrass was a part of my entire childhood; my father introduced us all to the music and took us to many jamborees,” said Brenda, who was not a bluegrass fan. “As a child, I can’t say I enjoyed it too much, but as I grew, I found a love for the music and the people. My interest grew further when my family began putting on bluegrass festivals, and that is when I realized the true meaning of bluegrass music.”
Starting as the cook of her family festival, Brenda soon found her talent was not over a stove but in front of a microphone.
“My father encouraged me to become the emcee ‘against my will’ because he always felt I had a very outgoing personality. As usual, my father was right, and my personality won the heart of David Gee, owner of a local AM radio station WXGI. He was the first to offer me a spot on Sunday mornings from 10 am-12 pm. I talked it over with my husband Calvin, who was from Winston Salem, North Carolina, and he was a businessman thrown into the bluegrass lifestyle. He knew from the start I was a package deal that included my bluegrass family. I decided I couldn’t do the show without Calvin, who became the ‘Him’ in the show title. Calvin believed in me and the show enough to help me decide to go for it; he ran the show behind the scenes.”
Brenda and Calvin’s “Sweet Brenda & ‘Him'” show aired for more than ten years on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights on WXGI AM, WSVS AM, and Bobcat Country WBBC FM.
As SPGMA winners for Bluegrass DJs of the year for two years in a row, the couple also organized many festivals, shows and emceed other bluegrass festivals for other promoters.
“The first Amelia Family Bluegrass Festival I was 22 years old, and we still talk about that festival around the Christmas tree. I honestly can’t believe we ever made it to the second one, much less 44 years of festivals.”
Brenda and Calvin were partners in the Rockahock Bluegrass Festival in Lanexa, Virginia, with owners Randy & Angie Caldwell for ten years, resulting in the couples becoming very good friends. Using their experience and connections in the bluegrass world, they hired the bands, handled promotions and marketing, and assisted in organizing and working the shows. With Brenda and Calvin, however, the love came before the work.
Losing her husband, Calvin, at age 75 was devastating for Brenda.
“The loss of my husband has been a loss I could have never imagined,” she said solemnly. “We did everything together, and the last couple of years without his calm guidance have been very hard. His legacy continues with the relationships he built with fellow promoters, band members, and bluegrass fans/family. Calvin’s business sense and level-headedness not only guided me but all those around us in the industry.”
Brenda also carries on their legacy with the “Sweet Brenda” show to honor Calvin and the music they loved.