Remembering Hee Haw's Roni Stoneman (1938–2024)

  • Sunday, March 3, 2024
  • Earl Freudenberg
Roni Stoneman
Roni Stoneman

Roni Stoneman was known as the first lady of the banjo. The 85-year-old musician died Feb. 22. She performed on the country music show “Hee Haw” for 18 years.

Ms. Stoneman was one of 23 children born to Ernest and Hattie Stoneman; there were five sets of twins.

Her father, known as Pop Stoneman, was the second country music artist to record. His records were made at the legendary Bristol, Tn. studio where his song, “The Sinking of the Titanic” became a hit in 1924.

Roni left the family after her father’s death in 1968 and signed with producers of Hee Haw. She played the character of Ida Lee Nagger.

Chattanooga entertainment promotor Gene Goforth produced the Stoneman Family TV show which ran in syndication for 5 years. The popular program aired on WRGP TV in Chattanooga. Gene Goforth also booked entertainment for Lake Winnepesaukah.

According to “Hello Chattanooga” by David Carroll, the family performed many times at the North Georgia amusement park's free Sunday concerts.

Mr. Carroll’s book documents solo performances by Roni Stoneman on WRCB’s March of Dimes Telerama. She appeared at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Auditorium in 1973 with Jerry Wallace.

Ms. Stoneman was good friends with Bob Elmore, head of the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau. The Fall Color Cruise was in its infancy and Elmore persuaded Ms. Stoneman to headline a free country music show at the Hales Bar Marina.

During her solo career, Ms. Stoneman would visit with Elmore in his Chattanooga office at the Downtown Civic Forum. He said the entertainer was a good resource in helping promote Tennessee Tourism.

In a 1984 interview with Grand Ole Opry Star Archie Campbell on the Nashville Network’s “Yesteryear,” Ms. Stoneman talked about growing up in show business. She said, “I’m so fortunate to have the heritage I have. My dad made many of our instruments and I learned to play the banjo at the age of four.” She revealed that her eyes were injured at birth but she got them fixed before joining the Hee Haw cast. She joked with Campbell, “My sister Donna is a minister but I became a sex symbol. I always asked her to pray for me.”

Country Music Hall of Fame CEO Kyle Young said, “For Roni Stoneman, country music was a birthright and her life’s work. She was an integral part of a bedrock country music family, and for 18 years on Hee Haw, she stole scenes as a skillful banjo player and as a comical, gap-toothed country character.”

Roni Stoneman was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame in 2021 with the rest of her family.

Roni Stoneman
Roni Stoneman
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