Remembering her sweet baby’s arms By Kim Swindell Wood Editor firstname.lastname@example.org Published: Tuesday, April 1, 2014 8:03 AM CDT A petite and beautiful dark-haired woman whose endearing stories of her late husband Lester Flatt kept everyone mesmerized as she recalled their lives together has now passed on to rejoin the man she always talked about with fondness.
Gladys Flatt, who was 98 when she passed away on March 31, 2014, has left an indelible mark on the Sparta community. She will forever be known as the wife of bluegrass legend Lester Flatt; however, Gladys also had her own claim to fame.
The following story was originally published in October 2002 when Gladys talked about her memories of the man she adored and how they met as young teenagers.
Just like the memories of yesteryear, Gladys Flatt only gets better with age. Her stories of a day and time that were spent enjoying the musical heyday of the man she loved are mesmerizing and intriguing.
Flatt was born July 29, 1915, and her beauty at 87 years old still surpasses that of many women who are half her age. She recollects the day when she met Lester Raymond Flatt and how the bashful teenager won her heart. "I had gone to a girlfriend’s house," Gladys said. "We were walking to church when a car pulled up and a young man asked us where we were going. We said we were going to church, and he said, ‘Get in and I’ll take you.’" This coincidental meeting was the beginning a love story that would expand through decades of struggle and success. Lester and Gladys were married in 1931 when he was only 17 and she was 16. Lester continued to work in the sawmill for his father. Eventually, he went to work at the shirt factory, where Gladys was his boss.
"He didn’t like that too much," Gladys said, as she laughed out loud.
Gladys vividly recalls every moment of her life with the bluegrass legend, almost as if she were talking about events that took place yesterday.
"I liked it when we played with Charlie Monroe," she said. "Charlie didn’t mind women singing in the group; and when he and his wife Betty found out I had sung with Lester, they asked me if wanted a job, too."
Gladys said Lester bought a bus and would travel on the weekends at the beginning of his career.
"He did well in North Carolina," she said. "He’d put the boys in the back and had a place fixed up for them to sleep. It was around this time when he got his break with Charlie Monroe."
According to Gladys, Charlie Monroe was at the height of his career. He was the brother of Bill Monroe, who was just hitting the charts with "Blue Moon of Kentucky." According to Gladys, the two brothers were "equally big."
Somewhere during this rollercoaster ride to the top of bluegrass fame, Lester received a telegram from Bill Monroe. "I intercepted the telegram," said Gladys said. "I sort of held on to it all day and thought about if I wanted to give it to Lester. I knew Bill didn’t like women singing with his group, and that would mean I couldn’t perform with Lester any more."
Gladys grinned with her gorgeous, yet sly, smile. "I did give it to him, but I didn’t have to," she said. "Just think about what would have happened if I hadn’t." The rest of the story is now bluegrass history, as Lester Flatt rose to national and international fame through his work with Bill Monroe.
"Lester worked with Bill for about five years," Gladys said. "Bill came to me and asked for my help. He asked if I would beg Lester to not quit."
Gladys said there have been many books and articles written about Lester’s life, which have not been completely accurate.
"They just don’t know the whole story," she said. "I always knew he would go somewhere in life. He was so talented. Songs would just come to him out of the clear blue." Gladys recalled when Lester wrote one of her favorite hymns. "We were riding down the road," she said, "and all of a sudden he just started singing the words to a song. He said to me, ‘Gladys, write this down.’ I didn’t have one piece of paper, but there was a paper bag in the back seat. I picked it up and wrote down the words to ‘Be Ready for Tomorrow may Never Come.’"
Lester Flatt was a legend in bluegrass music, and Gladys said he wrote approximately 300 songs, all of which he recorded. Lester was always helping young people get started in the music industry, and Gladys said she was not surprised when he came home one night and told her about a young singer and musician he had met.
"Lester told me he had heard this young boy sing," said Gladys said. "He thought the boy needed a break in Nashville because he had talent. The only problem was his parents lived in Mississippi, and they wouldn’t let him stay in Nashville unless he stayed with us. Well, Marty Stuart ended up living with us for about three-and-a-half years."
Gladys has maintained her interest in the music industry since Lester passed away on May 11, 1979. Her extended family is where she devotes her time and energy. She had been an advisor and mentor for her grandson-in-law, Mike Brumfield, who has rerecorded one of Lester’s hit songs, “Roll in my Sweet Baby’s Arms.
Brumfield’s wife Tammy is the granddaughter of Gladys and Lester Flatt.
Tammy, who is the daughter of Brenda Flatt Green and Milton Herren, said this is the first musical experience her grandmother has had in 45 years.
"She gave up her musical career for my grandfather," Tammy said. "We just want her to have a chance to shine in the spotlight again." (bio by: Find A Grave)