As I continue to write Marshall Flippo’s authorized biography, I ponder his life and how it unfolded. Flippo’s success as being the most famous square dance caller in the world didn’t just happen. He had friends galore across the United States and internationally, and he treated them fairly and returned to square dance clubs and festivals for decades for repeat performances at numerous places. How did he engineer such a successful career?
He always credited Neeca, his first wife, with his business success. Early on his career, she planned out a successful tour after people became acquainted with him at Kirkwood Lodge at Osage Beach, Missouri where he spent six months of his year. From the clientele that visited there, Neeca lined up a tour across America and the world, and the clubs and festivals were so pleased with Flippo’s performance, that he was repeatedly asked back—some places over thirty to forty years of continuous visitation.
Imagine that—an annual six-month tour filled to the brim with dancers who were anxious for his return every year. Marshall’s supreme memory compelled people to love him dearly because in many cases, he called them by name after his year absence. This can’t be explained or identified at face value—his people skills endeared him to the dancers.
So, what made him so successful? When asked, Flippo said it was luck and being at the right place at the right time, but there was so much more.
He was committed to his craft of square dance calling and practiced extensive hours—Melton Luttrell, his longtime caller friend, remembered him practicing singing calls while he was driving down the highway. Being on the road for six months of the year gave him ample practice time.
Another caller noted Flippo refusing to participate in an after party at a convention so he could practice his calls before the next day’s events.
Flippo’s talent of unique choreography and his wonderful singing voice won him many fans—he was a star in the square dance world to many. To hear him sing “The Auctioneer” which was his first recording and became highly successful, his clear voice and choice of popular music shines through.
Check out a snippet of Flippo’s famous singing call recorded in 1958:
He connected deeply with other callers who helped him. One caller mentor was Betty Casey of Abilene, Texas who had studied with Lloyd “Pappy” Shaw in Colorado Springs, Colorado and influenced Flip with Shaw’s teachings. She is the one who taught Flip to call.
Flip received more of Shaw’s dance philosophy from another mentor, Bob Osgood, the editor of the highly successful square dance magazine, Sets in Order.
Another mentor from Abilene, Texas was J. C. Wilson who took the young Flippo under his wing and help him with his rhythm and shared something unique—Burma Shave jingles that were popular at the time. J. C. used the jingles as fillers as dancers did certain calls or moves. Flip became known for his selection of these jingles and other callers followed suit and “borrowed them” from Flip.
Flippo’s career started in the late 50’s and early 60’s during a time that square dancing flourished, so he had events with record numbers outrageous in size compared to ours today. The large number of dancers increase Flippo’s popularity worldwide and the number of fans increased.
Success formulas are hard to analyze—as Flippo said being at the right place at the right time did have a impact, but his personality, talent and well-planned tour with its connection to Kirkwood put him in a place to become one of the most successful square dance callers in the world.
And, I promise you, as I continue writing this amazing book, I will continue sharing my musing with you!
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Whitey & Gladys Puerling were playful friends of Flippo’s who created a Fan Club. I thought it would be fun to recreate this group. Would you like to join the Marshall Flippo Fan Club Facebook page? Read interesting posts about Flippo’s life. https://www.facebook.com/groups/328325644382769/
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