Roni Stoneman, The First Lady of the Banjo & ‘Hee Haw’ Star Dies at 85

Hee Haw Roni Stoneman, 1969-1997
CBS/Everett Collection

Veronica Loretta “Roni” Stoneman, a prominent bluegrass banjo player and comedian has died. She was best known for her role in Hee Haw but she also belonged to a famous family as the youngest daughter of Ernest V. “Pop” Stoneman, patriarch of the Stoneman Family.

Pop was one of the first-ever country musicians to make a living recording country music. He was known for his hit song, 1924’s “The Sinking of the Titanic” as it became the first ever million-selling country music record. He lost everything during the Great Depression but resumed his career in the 1950s, starting a family band with his wife Hattie and their children. Roni joined the family band, playing the banjo in 1957.

Roni Stoneman playing banjo

Walden S. Fabry Collection, circa 1965. Courtesy of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

The family became a touring act and even got their own TV show called Those Stonemans in the late ’60s. In 1967, they won the CMA Award for Vocal Group of the Year. Pop died a year later and Roni decided to pursue a solo career, finding fame when she joined the cast of Hee Haw in the 1970s.

Hee Haw Lorrie Morgan, Roni Stoneman ca. 1984, 1969-93

Everett Collection

In recent years, Roni and her sister, mandolinist Donna Stoneman continued to perform occasionally. Now, Donna is the only surviving member of the Stoneman Family band. Kyle Young, CEO of Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum shared after the news broke of her passing, “For Roni Stoneman, known as ‘The First Lady of the Banjo,’ country music was a birthright and her life’s work. The second youngest of twenty-three children born to Hattie and Ernest ‘Pop’ Stoneman, Roni was an integral part of a bedrock country music family, who were longtime fixtures in the country music scene of Washington, DC. For eighteen years on ‘Hee Haw,’ she stole scenes as both a skillful banjo player and as a comical, gap-toothed country character. She was a great talent and a strong woman.”

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November 2019

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