by Jackie Rowe
When you think of banjo picking in masculine terms, you think of Earl Scruggs. If though those terms happen to be of a feminine nature, Roni Stoneman automatically comes to mind as the counterpart. Both Scruggs and Stoneman achieved this recognition as the result of applying themselves to the point of making the banjo a lifelong career.
She was born Veronica Loretta Stoneman May 5, 1938 in Washington D.C. into a large family of little means. According to her biography,”Pressing On” though, that term “little means” would be a modest asumption. The rise of the legendary Stoneman Family headed by Ernest V. “Pop” Stoneman became a permanent chapter of countrylore with his recent induction into the Country Music Hall Of Fame and these are the established roots of Roni Stoneman.
The family gained national attention in the sixties with their own weekly television show, “The Stonemans.” Most can remember Pop and Mama Stoneman, cute dancing Donna on the mandolin and the brothers. But the one who was most memorable was Roni on the banjo. Even then she stood out as a natural entertainer with a uniqueness that she possesses to this day.
But following the “Stonemans Show,” she became an international icon with her Hee Haw role known to most as the “Ironing Board Lady.” Although she often played the banjo on the show, the public at large identified her with the Ida Lee Nagger character. Even the tabloids bought into it by once identifying her as the “ugly duckling” in contrast to the pretty girls on Hee Haw. In reality it was just another instance of the depth of her entertaining ability. Away from the Hee Haw set, Roni Stoneman was stunning and loaded with class. However, she had and still has the ability to switch gears from sophistication to funny in an instant. She has a keen sense of humor and it kicks in sometimes when least expected like signing an autograph for a guy by writing the words, “Where’s the child support?” Another classic but typical Roni moment happened when she appeared on the Crook & Chase show in the mid 90′s when she jokingly revealed that she was toying with the idea of writing a tattle-tale book about the shenanigans of country music contemporaries and call it “Sex On The Silver Eagle.” By her response, it was obvious that Lorianne didn’t see that one coming…as much as we dearly love Lorianne, to borrow a phrase from Larry the Cable Guy…”That’s funny right there. I don’t care who you are.”
Today Roni Stoneman is still very active in carrying on the legendary Stoneman name and still regarded in her own right as “The First Lady of Banjo.”