By Brian Turpen
The Mother’s Best Flour shows are the most well-known and most sought-after Hank Williams artifact. Unheard for over fifty years, the shows were broadcast over
Some of the shows were pre-recorded to be played on the air when Hank was out on the road. It was these transcriptions that have luckily survived. The format was pretty consistent. The 15-minute shows usually consisted of one country song, one instrumental or guest vocal and a gospel song to close the show. The shows also included a theme song that Hank wrote and sang during the broadcast:
"I love to have that gal around
Her biscuits are so nice and brown
Her pies and cakes beat all the rest
Cause she makes them all with Mother's Best”
But that’s not all the shows had to offer because Hank had more to do than sing. We hear him and announcer Louie Buck selling Mother's Best Flour, as well as self-raising cornmeal and pig & sow feed. We also hear him talk unguardedly about the songs he loved, his grueling itinerary, and much more. The Mother's Best Shows are arguably Hank’s best work and hs most revealing. They capture his personality better than anything else known to exist. It is probably the in-between song chatter that makes these recordings so great becacuse you get a glimpse of what Hank Williams was like as a person.
Although fans and collectors have heard of these Mother’s Best Flour shows for years, very few know much if anything about the company that sponsored these famous radio programs. Here’s a little history of the company that gave us this priceless glimpse into the heart and soul of Hank Williams.
Mother’s Best Flour can trace its origins back to 1919. That year, Frank Little and Alva Kinney incorporated Nebraska Consolidated Mills when they took over Nebraska Grain Mills in
, Grand Island , St. Edward, and Hastings . They were initially headquartered in Ravenna , until they moved to Grand Island in 1922. The company ran at a profit until 1936, when Kinney retired. In 1940, the company began producing flour, and in 1942 ventured into the livestock feed business. Omaha
In 1941, company president R.S. Dickinson opened the company's first out-of-state facility in
Just months after the
Although the head office in
The mill is still producing flour and remains one of the
As for the mill’s parent company, Nebraska Consolidated Mills established Duncan Hines in 1951 as a way to market more flour by selling cake mixes. This venture was successful, but they didn’t consider other food ventures, and eventually sold Duncan Hines to Procter & Gamble in 1956 to returned to their core business. As American households purchased more and more prepared and instant foods in the 1950s and 1960s, Consolidated chose not to expand into the businesses that used their flour, instead turning to poultry and livestock feed. A flurry of acquisitions and internal expansion led the company to change its name in 1971 to ConAgra.
The 1970s brought the company to the brink of ruin when commodity speculation wiped out their margins on raw foods. In 1974, an experienced food industry executive, Mike Harper, took over the firm and brought it back from the brink of bankruptcy. The company set off on a two-decade-long buying spree, purchasing over one hundred prepared food brands, starting with Banquet Foods in 1980. It moved heavily into the frozen food business and the packaged meat industry, and then picked up a selection of other brands from firms like
Hank Williams saw none of that. He lived at a time when housewives stayed home and cooked from scratch. He loved good southern cooking, and at the close of every show he’d call out to his cook to get the biscuits in the oven because he was heading home. Ironically, some of Hank’s Mother’s Best shows have survived because he pre-recorded them, and he pre-recorded because he was hundreds or thousands of miles away from home. Much as he might have wished it otherwise, he wasn’t leaving the