Red Foley (June 17, 1910 – September 19, 1968) was born on a 24-acre farm in Blue Lick, Kentucky, and grew up in nearby Berea, where he attended the Berea Academy School. He was born into a musical family, and by the time he was nine, he was giving impromptu concerts at his father’s general store, playing French harp, piano, banjo, trombone, harmonica and guitar.
In 1930, as a freshman at Georgetown College, he was spotted by a talent scout from Chicago’s WLS-AM and was chosen to sing with producer John Lair’s Cumberland Ridge Runners, then the house band on the National Barn Dance. In 1937 he worked with Lair and Whitey Ford to help establish the Renfro Valley Barn Dance, performing everything from sentimental ballads to boogie-woogie and blues.
From 1944-59, Foley charted 41 solo country entries, of which 38 were Top 10 hits. Six went to the top, including his 1950, million-selling “Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy,” which also topped the pop charts. For more than two decades, Foley was one of the biggest stars of the country music genre. His 1951 hit, “Peace in the Valley,” was also the first million-selling gospel record, and was entered into the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry in 2006.
Foley was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1967 (the first Kentuckian and one of only six then-living inductees), which honored him as “one of the most versatile and moving performers of all time” and “a giant influence during the formative years of contemporary Country music and today a timeless legend.”
Foley Middle School, named for the singer, opened in Berea in 1978. In 2002, he was inducted into the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame. And on June 10, 2003, a Kentucky State Historical Marker (#2114) was placed at Foley’s boyhood home in Berea.