Carolina Cotton (aka the Yodeling Blonde Bombshell) was best known for her unique style of Western Swing yodeling, during the Golden Age of Western entertainment in the 1940s and 1950s. She was born Helen Hagstrom on October 20th, 1920 in Cash Arkansas and raised on her family's farm there. By 1937 she relocated to San Francisco, joined the O'Neille Sisters Kiddie Revue and performed shows at the Golden Gate Theatre. She became the singer / yodeler in Dude Martin's Roundup Gang in 1942, appearing on Bay Area radio stations.
In 1944 Carolina relocated to Los Angeles and joined Spade Cooley's Orchestra. She began her movie career with "Sing Neighbor Sing" (1944, Roy Acuff), and "The Singing Sheriff" (1944, Bob Crosby), where she made her yodeling debut with Cooley's Orchestra. She also filmed "I"m From Arkansas" (1944, Slim Summerville), and 2 Durango Kid (Charles Starrett) pictures in 1945: "Outlaws of the Rockies" and "Texas Panhandle". Carolina appeared in several soundies and film shorts as well, and radio shows such as the "Hollywood Barn Dance".
Carolina secretly married Cooley bassist Deuce Spriggins in 1945. They left the group, taking along with a few fellow bandmates, and formed Deuce Spriggins Orchestra (which also included the Plainsmen Trio). They also made soundies, and appeared in 4 films with Ken Curtis, and the Hoosier Hot Shots: "Song of the Prairie", "That Texas Jamboree", "Cowboy Blues" and "Singing on the Trail". They recorded a session for Mercury Records ("What's the Matter With You" / "I Been Down in Texas"). But by 1946, Cotton and Spriggins divorced.
The Yodeling Blonde Bombshell soon signed with King Records, releasing her best-loved songs "Three Miles South of Cash in Arkansas" and "I Love to Yodel". She was a regular on the AFRS radio show "Ranch House Party" (Ken Curtis, Cottonseed Clark and others) and KMPC Westerners (Pappy Cheshire, Plainsmen). She eventually appeared on numerous radio and early TV shows. In 1947 she toured with Bob Wills and filmed "Smoky River Serenade" (Hoosier Hot Shots). She recorded for Crystal Records, producing the popular songs "Chime Bells" and "You've Got Me Wrapped Around Your Finger". In 1948 Carolina toured with the Sons of the Pioneers, as the only "daughter" of the group. She appeared in the film "Smoky Mountain Melody" (Roy Acuff) and became one of the first femalle disc jockeys in the country, spinning records on LA station KGER. On TV she guest starred on KTLA's Sunset Ranch.
In 1949 Miss Cotton starred with Ken Curtis in "Stallion Canyon", and with Eddie Arnold in "Hoedown". She recorded 2 releases for Masterone Records, including "Put Your Shoes On Lucy", "Hoosegow Serenade" and "The Old Square Dance is Back Again". By 1950 she signed with MGM Records, recording such songs as "I Betcha I Getcha". There were plans for Carolina to have her own adventure Western show, "Queen of the Range", but it never materialized. She began touring overseas for the Armed Forces, beginning with a tour of Europe (she made several tours with the USO to Korea and the Far East). In Germany she received the title of "Deputy Provost Marshal", the only citizen to receive this award.
Carolina made numerous personal appearances across the country, from parades to rodeos to countless charity benefits. She toured and performed events with Western entertainers such as Doye O'Dell, Jimmy Wakely, Smiley Burnette, Eddie Dean and many others. Carolina learned to ride horses early in her career, and soon became an Outstanding Horsewoman. She often rode in parades as Grand Marshalette.
In 1951 Carolina recorded with Bob Wills, remaking "Three Miles South of Cash". In 1952 she co-starred as more of a leading role in 3 films: "Apache Country" (Gene Autry, Pat Buttram), "The Rough Tough West" (Jock Mahoney, Smiley Burnette) and her final film, Autry's "Blue Canadian Rockies". Among her last MGM recordings were "Yodel Yodel Yodel", and the yodeling showcase "Nola".
Between 1953-55, Carolina continued her personal appearances, and guesting on radio and TV. "Carolina Cotton Calls" radio show was heard worldwide through the AFRS. In 1956 she made a final overseas trip to South Africa, touring hospitals of children with cerebral palsy. She decided that if she ever left the entertainment business, she would do something to help kids with disabilities.
By August 1956 Carolina married LA area musician Bill Ates (nephew of character Roscoe Ates). At a time when Western Swing and B movies were waning, she began involving herself more in family life and less in Show Biz. The couple had 2 children: son William, and daughter Sharon. Unfortunately the marriage did not endure into the 1960s; Bill and Carolina divorced.
Still wanting to help children with disabilities, she became a teacher, earning her Masters Degree in Special Education, as well as traditional education. She held different teaching positions over the years and settled in Bakersfield CA in the early 1970s. After her kids were grown Carolina attended jam sessions at Bakersfield's Grange Hall, a popular spot for local musicians who helped invent the "Bakersfield Sound" of Country music. Among them was Bill Woods.
In the mid 1980s through the mid 1990s, Carolina became a regular guest speaker at Western Film Festivals. Sadly in 1994, Carolina was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer. In spite of enduring treatments, she kept the same enthusiasm she was known for over the years. In March 1997 she retired from her teaching career. She entered the hospital in April, where she passed away the morning of June 10th, 1997.
Carolina Cotton is remembered fondly by her fans, and her films and recordings (which are in the midst of restoration) continue to be enjoyed by all who love the Golden Age of Western Entertainment.