Miss Wanda Faye, country singer, halls of fame member
At 81 years old, Wanda Faye’s singing voice is as clear as a girl’s. As we discussed her life, Faye sang a few bars of more than one song as we talked about her life, and she asked me each time, “Do you remember that?” Of course, the song she sang first was one she wrote in honor of the alleged UFO crash here in Roswell. She said she thinks she named it, “Rhinestone Cowgirl.” However, Roswell archivist and historian Elvis Fleming thinks it might have been named “Gonna Get On A UFO.”
Born in Roswell on Oct. 24, 1929, Wanda Faye Narmore attended Missouri Avenue Elementary and Roswell High School. She was born into a musical family, though her father had a five-acre farm in the 700 block of South Sunset Avenue. “My mother and daddy sang together,” Faye said. “I came from a musical family.” Later on, father John Narmore sold a heifer, so they could buy Wanda Faye a piano.
By the time Faye was 12 years old, she said she had joined the family band. They performed anywhere they could play, and they were paid $25 a performer in those days. “I played the piano during church services, and could hardly reach the pedals.” Faye said. From her youth, she remembers swimming in the community pool and going to movie shows. She also remembers the dances and boys in their trucks. “We had barn dances at Crossroads every Saturday night near Walker Airforce base sometimes Faye remembers. “Boys and girls would come loaded up in the boys’ pickups.” In 1951, Faye and Bob put together a band called The Sunset Westerners. “Hondo Bessie” Narmore, Bruce Owens, and Gene Roberts became part of the band. They played everywhere in the Pecos Valley from churches and theaters to store grand openings.
She remembers they played at the grand opening of the first laundromat that opened in Roswell. Faye said people came from miles around to see what it would look like. The first recording they made was a 78 rpm record. “Bob, my mother, me and other local people in Roswell made that record,” Faye said. “During the war, no records were made. So when we did this, we were pioneers, I guess.” That first song was called “Down Yonder.” It was part of the Country Song Round-up, Faye said, right after the war.
It was a Rich-R-Tone label and shot up to No. 4 on the Billboard Magazine Country charts. BeBe Mills Clements, who was a sheep rancher in Roswell and Riverside as well as a musician, wrote songs that were played by the Sunset Westerners. According to Fleming, when Clements was inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame in 1984, she told him that she sponsored the Sunset Westerners Southwest tour, so her songs would be promoted. Faye remembers that time period.
She also remembers going to Hollywood. “People got very excited. Louise Massey and BeBe from Hondo got me all fixed up. Louise said I was her protege,” Faye said. “They taught me how to hold a fork and a spoon. They dressed me up and put me on a plane – a little ole’ country girl like me.” The high points of Faye’s life is the stuff most people see in movies. Lefty Frizzel, who later became a country star himself, gave Faye her first chance to be a guest on a live radio program on KGFL. She was able to sing on radio for the first time when she was still a young girl. Later, Jud Roberts, the radio station manager, offered Faye her own radio show. Her first appearance in Roswell, Fleming said, was the Yucca movie theater on West Third Street. That was during the time period of the Sunset Westerners.
After Faye’s divorce with Bob Wolfe, She soon met Weldon Rogers. Faye said she met her second husband, Weldon, in Albuquerque when she went up to the KOB radio station to see if they would play her record. At the station, she said, he told her to wait. He wanted to talk to her. “Don’t run off. I want to talk to you. I own Jewel Records,” Weldon said. “I want to know if you would help me make a record. I know a guitar picker we could get by the name of Glenn Campbell.”
She signed on with Jewel Records in 1958 with Weldon Rogers. They married and performed together. Faye and Rogers recorded 30 songs together. Faye said one of the most exciting points in her career was when Columbia Records offered her a contract. “It was my biggest thrill when Columbia Records asked me to sign with them,” Faye said. Several records Faye made contained songs she wrote herself, including “The Longest Night” and “Old Memories Keep Returning.” The first time she appeared live on the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, they introduced her as Miss Wanda Faye. The name stuck to this day, she said. Faye was 32 years old that year. At the banquet following the Nashville show, she was seated between Mother Maybelle and daughter Helen Carter, members of the Carter Family, the mother and father of country music.
In her career, she performed with June Carter and Johnny Cash. “They were just regular people,” Faye said. “I loved her and Johnny.” Ernest Tubbs, Minnie Pearl and Roy Orbison were other musicians out of many Faye worked with. The Western Swing Society Music Hall of Fame recognized Faye’s lifetime of dedication to her music career on Oct. 5, 2003. It was held in the Country Club Plaza ballroom in Sacramento, Calif. She lives in Modesto, Calif., and is not one to slow down. For awhile, she continued her career in California. Wolf and Faye dabbled in television shows and other venues. Faye now plays the piano every Sunday at church, and she is trying to write a book on her life and the many and varied entertainers and people she has met along the way as a country western singer and musician. The Historical Society of Southeast New Mexico, 200 N. Lea Ave has expanded the Wanda Faye exhibit it is open and availible to the public. Faye bought her first guitar in 1953 at Ginsburg Music Co. The guitar is now part of the exhibit.
Contact: Roger K. Burnett, Administrative Director (575) 622-8333 for more information tour dates & hours.