Courtesy: Ed Bayes
Janis Martin was born at Sutherlin on March 27, 1940. She showed an interest in music at an early age. When she was four, she began playing guitar by standing it up like a fiddle as she was too small to hold it on her lap. By age six, she had mastered the basic chords and began singing. Although she was small her voice was loud and strong. At age eight, she entered her first talent contest and placed second. For the next two years, she entered eleven contests over a three-state area, winning first place in each one, and winning over 200 or more contestants in a statewide talent show that took four days of elimination.
At age 11, she began her career as a member of the WDVA Barndance in Danville, Virginia. This same show launched the careers of the famous Louvin Brothers, Charlie and Ira. From the barndance, she traveled with Glen Thompson's band for two years and then went on the road with Jim Eanes, a former Starday recording artist. In 1953, she appeared at a Tobacco Festival with Ernest Tubb and Sunshine Sue. As a result of this appearance, Janis was invited to become a regular member of the Old Dominion Barndance in Richmond, Virginia. At that time, this stageshow was the third largest in the nation, ranking only behind the Grand Old Opry and The Wheeling, West Virginia Barndance. Such stars as Jean Shepherd, Hawkshaw Hawkins, Sonny James, Martha Carson, the renowned Carter Sisters and others appeared on this show and encouraged Janis to try for the "big time". Two years of travels with this show gave her the experience in show business that she would need later in life. She was noted for her dynamic stage appearance and was happiest while on stage, whether in a theater or tent show, Janis lived for one thing - entertaining people. Two staff announcers at WRVA (the station that carried the barndance over the CBS network) were successful songwriters. They wrote the hit "Little Things Mean A Lot".
When the fifties exploded with rock or rockabilly music, they wrote a song called "Will you, Will yum". They asked Janis to sing it on the barndance for audience reaction, and they cut a demo tape of it to send to their publisher in New York. When the demo tape arrived at Tannen Music in New York, the publisher not only accepted the song but rushed over to Steve Sholes of RCA Victor, so he could hear it. Sholes wanted to know who the vocalist was on the tape and called Richmond to find out. Janis was contacted and invited to Nashville to record the song on Victor Records. So, at the age of fifteen, she became a recording artist. This record was her biggest hit and on the flip side of the record was a song called "Drugstore Rock And Roll" that Janis wrote herself. This record sold about 750.000 copies and she became in constant demand for appearances all over the US.
This was at the time that Elvis Presley was the biggest rock singer in the country and he also recorded for RCA Victor. Elvis and RCA were so impressed with Janis' delivery of a song, that Janis was given permission to use the title of "the Female Elvis Presley." Elvis sent his wishes and a dozen red roses when she appeared in Miami, Florida at the RCA convention to introduce her to the RCA representatives and officials from all over the world. Appearing on the show with Janis at the convention were Jaye P. Morgan, Homer & Jethro, and Eddy Arnold.
Janis went on to appear on the Tonight Show, American Bandstand, and Ozark Jubilee with Red Foley which featured Brenda Lee before Brenda began her recording career. Janis traveled all over the nation, making appearances on TV, radio and stage. She did her first road tour with Hank Snow and went on other tours with Faron Young, Porter Waggoner, Jim Edward Maxine and Bonnie Brown, Johnny Cash, Del Wood and Carl Perkins. She was chosen by RCA to become a regular member of the Jim Reeves show and traveled with him exclusively. In 1957, this package show went overseas to entertain the armed forces in Europe. On returning to the States, Janis was selected from the package to appear on the Today Show with Dave Garroway to tell of their experiences and to sing her latest record, "My Boy Elvis". After this show, she was invited to appear an the biggest one of all - the Grand Old Opry.
Janis was voted the 'Most Promising Female Artist of 1956" at the annual disc jockey convention and received the Billboard Magazine award on plaque. With much success behind her, she formed her own band called the "Marteens" and began her travels in the U.S. and Canada, playing clubs and fairs. She made a screen test for MGM, but Janis had married her childhood sweetheart at the age of 15 and in 1958 she gave birth to a son and temporarily laid her career aside, although she continued recording and appearances into 1959. When her son was two years old, she signed with Palette Records and recorded four sides with them, but her marriage and family interfered with her career to the point that she decided to retire and just be a wife and mother. Since 1960, she has kept in "musical shape" by making appearances on a local basis. A while she formed another band and began statewide appearances.
Janis' band today is known as "Janis Martin & The Variations", She carries saxophone, rhythm guitar, organ, herself on electric lead guitar, and her son on drums. They have a wide variety of music to offer, from country to big band songs. They are talented musicians and Janis Martin intends to carry them with her wherever she goes.