It was 65 years ago, deep in the Idaho wilderness, when one woman took poetry, turned it into music, and recorded it. Her collection of songs and poems lives on to this day, thanks in part to one dogged researcher and a librarian, both of whom wanted to share this special music with the world.
About eight years ago, song historian Gary Eller got a call out of the blue from a woman in Blackfoot. She said she found a dozen homemade recordings at a garage sale that were made in Cascade in 1950. Eller figured they were probably just popular records, and didn’t think much more about it.
“After a year or two I got over there and looked at them and wow, it was this lady who had one of those homemade recorders where you could put a blank plastic disc on, sing into the microphone and it would cut the groves into the record,” says Eller.
Eller was fascinated, and after some research, he tracked down Thielke’s stepson, who is now a dentist in Seattle. His timing was perfect.
“And he said, interesting you called me. I was about to haul these 24 boxes of recordings to the dump. So I said ‘don’t do that!’"
Eller got a hold of the boxes and ended up with 278 records and 22 reel-to-reel recordings. Altogether, there were 500 individual files, mostly from between 1948 and 52, of recorded songs like this one titled Riding Fences All Day.
Ione Love was born in California. Her father was a cowboy who played the guitar. Her mother played mandolin. The family spent a lot of time singing, and moving all around the county. Eventually Ione married Dick Thielke who came from Emmett. By 1940, they had settled in Cascade when it was a big lumber town…where Ione made quite an impression.
“I talked to a few people that recall her. They refer to her as the crazy person, who would dress in formal clothing, nice hat and a parasol, walking around town. So that must have cut quite a figure, don’t you think?” Eller asks.
While there, Thielke turned her poetry singing into a business. For five dollars, she would turn anyone’s poem into a recording, interwoven with music. Thielke also wrote advertisements, including a song for Shore Lodge in McCall, made not long after the iconic hotel opened.
Thielke recorded songs about the environment, America, Idaho, ranching and anything else that caught her attention. She also recorded 15-minute shows that were played on the radio. Gary Eller says it’s a glimpse into Idaho history.
“It turns out to be a snapshot of the lay poetry community into Idaho and a glimpse into the common person’s way of making music at the time and it’s a glimpse into rural radio of Idaho at the time, too,” Eller says.
Thielke eventually moved to Mill City, Oregon. She lived there until she died in 1979. But that’s not the end of the story. Once Eller got ahold of Thielke’s collection, he brought it to Cheryl Oestreicher at the Boise State Library Special Collections and Archives.
“No one had listened to these in probably 50 years or more,” says Oestreicher.
Oestreicher says the records were very fragile, with pieces flaking off the discs.
“We have a record player, but we didn’t want to play them, because you might only be able to play them once. You don’t know until you do it.”
Oestreicher got a grant from the GRAMMY Foundation and had the discs professionally recorded into a digital format. Her goal was to put the music online.
“This is a snapshot into history that no one else has. So if we didn’t have it, it wouldn’t exist at all,” says Oestreicher.
Gary Eller says now anyone can get on the internet and find Thielke’s music. Eller says he’s glad others can now hear her songs because he grew quite fond of Ione Love Thielke while researching her history.
“Yup, I’d love to sit down and have a cup of tea with that gal. Maybe pick a song with her.”
Find Samantha Wright on Twitter @samwrightradio
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