Sparkle Moore, a Rockabilly Icon

Posted by Liz T. on

Sparkle Moore was an influential pioneer of early rockabilly music, despite only being in the spotlight for a couple of years. Notably for the time, she wrote, played, and sang her own material. She was a multi-instrumental musician who got her start on a Hawaiian guitar as a child, later performing on cello, bassoon, string bass, and, of course, with her unique voice.

With her lilting voice and swooping delivery, she rose to recognition after sending a home recording of an original piece to KOWH DJ Grahame Richards. He was very much impressed by her talents and put her in touch with Fraternity Records, the label with which she recorded and released her singles in 1956 & 1957. 

Sparkle, born Barbara Morgan, took her stage name from the Dick Tracy comic strip character, Sparkle Plenty. In her own words: “I had real long blonde hair at the time and all the girls back then had their hair cut short so folks would just call me Sparkle because of the character in the Dick Tracy comic strip, who had long blonde hair clear down to her seat.“ She couldn’t use the character’s exact name for legal reasons, so she took “Moore” from her real last name.

Sparkle Moore Quote Exciting Wild

At a time when female singers were expected to look and sound more like Doris Day than Elvis Presley, Sparkle stayed true to her individual sense of style and refused to conform to gender norms in her performance. Despite being encouraged to wear “something more sexy, like a gown,” she always performed in oversized suit coats and slacks - what she called her “playing suit.” 

She has kept a very low-key media profile and refused most requests for interviews since retiring from the spotlight in 1957. Many of the articles I could find on this legendary lady were written by men, comparing her to men. Summarizing her as “the female Elvis” or “the female James Dean” is a high compliment, but it also doesn't give a full picture of her unique talents and achievements as a female musician in that particular genre at that particular time. 

Image from Sparkle Moore interview in Kicks Magazine, Issue 6, 1988I really wanted to hear her own words about her time on the stage, but could only find a handful of quotes across the web - although there are a few audio recordings of her performances on Youtube where you can hear her talking or laughing between songs that are worth a listen! Finally I hit the jackpot: a grainy scan of a 1988 interview in issue #6 of Kicks, a zine-esque music mag put out by the founders of indie label Norton Records and devoted to obscure rock, soul, and rockabilly music. Reading about her band playing all the way from Omaha to Hollywood for tips and her early musical adventures is a rare treat.

“That’s one thing that bothers me to this day, that people have to peddle skin to sell a record, like you’ve gotta sell skin if you’re a woman. Whereas men can go on true talent, women still have to sell their bodies. I don’t like it.” -- Sparkle Moore (Barbara Morgan), 1988.
She was scheduled to perform at the Grand Ole Opry but was forced to cancel due to laryngitis. Although she left behind the bright lights of the big stage in 1957 to focus on raising her family and mostly fell off the public radar, she has never left music behind. In 2010, she was inducted into the Iowa Rock n Roll Hall of Fame for the inspiration she provided to rockabilly and early female rock and roll musicians. Also in 2010, she released a home-produced album called “Spark-A-Billy” that proved that the passing of 55 years hasn’t rendered her musical talents any less captivating.


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