Hidden History: Fostoria musician goes to Nashville, becomes a country ‘Starr’ – Osage County Online | Osage County News

Hidden History: Fostoria musician goes to Nashville, becomes a country ‘Starr’

Burlingame area native Kenny Starr, center, sings with Loretta Lynn during a 1970s era performance. Photographer unknown.

Osage County has long been the home to a strong working class responsible for building the industry in the county. These hard workers and small-town life are the inspiration for the themes of many country music songs. Kenny Trebbe, Osage County native, used his blue-collar roots and his love of music to become a shining “Starr” of the Country Western scene.

Kenny Trebbe grew up in what had been the little mining community of Fostoria, two miles east of Burlingame. His father, William, was a coal miner, construction worker, and vegetable farmer before a back injury limited him to cutting wood for his family.

Kenny got his start in music in elementary school, singing 1950s rock and soul at local venues for nickels and dimes. Some of his first bands were Kenny and the Rebels and later Kenny and the Imperials. His songs were so well received that on one New Year’s Day, he made $13.

His parents, fans of Guy Lombardo’s big band style were not as interested in Kenny’s earliest choice of music but appreciated his switch to country music when he reached his teens. By that time, he had chosen the stage name of Kenny Starr – surname borrowed from a Texas cousin – and created the band Kenny Starr and the Country Showmen.

In 1971, a 17-year-old Kenny entered a talent contest sponsored by a Wichita Radio Station. Ninety-eight contestants participated, but Kenny’s rendition of Ray Price’s “I Won’t Mention It Again” stole the show. His performance caught the eye of Harry “Hap” Peebles, a local promoter. Peebles was able to get him an audience with Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty, who were in town for a show. Kenny was then invited to perform with Lynn and Twitty in both Wichita and Kansas City. Loretta Lynn took a personal interest in the young singer and told him to look her up if he ever got to Nashville, and she would help him get started.

As soon as Kenny got home, he and his mother, Kathleen, prepared to leave immediately to pursue his dreams. A neighbor drove them to Nashville because the Trebbe’s car would not have made the trip, and the group arrived two days later, beating Loretta Lynn home.

Loretta Lynn, true to her word, helped establish Kenny in the country music business. Lynn gave him the opportunity to tour with her band the Coal Miners. When they weren’t touring, she let him live in her mansion. After four and a half years of learning his way in country music, Kenny struck out on his own.

Success did not come right away, however Kenny produced four records on the MCA record label starting in 1973; none created much of a stir. MCA was on the verge of dropping him because of the lackluster response to his early singles, but then came Blind Man in the Bleachers.

Starr’s Blind Man was a re-release of a song written by Sterling Whipple and originally performed by David Geddes. Blind Man was a good old hometown all American song about a football player who plays second string, faithfully supported by his blind father who sits in the grandstands hoping for his son to be able to show his potential. The song brought Kenny to tears the first time he heard it; he said it was a song he could relate to because he felt he was a second stringer, too.

Story songs were popular during this period and Blind Man became a hit single in 1976, reaching No. 2 on the Country Singles Chart, and No. 58 on the Billboard Hot 100. The album reached No. 12 on the Billboard Country Albums Chart.

Kenny continued his career in country music, and also appeared on television shows such as the Loretta Lynn Show, Ralph Emery Show, Hee Haw, and Pop Goes the Country. At one time a sign was placed outside of Burlingame announcing the nativity of the hometown success.

Kenny currently makes his home in Tennessee, but the country star’s first fans were his friends, family and neighbors here in Osage County.

Photos of Kenny Starr performing with Loretta Lynn from Wendi Bevitt’s collection; photographer unknown.

wendibevitt2016bWendi Bevitt is owner of Buried Past Consulting LLC. She lived in Osage County for 20 years and her research interests include Osage County Civil War veterans and Osage County history.

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