Thursday, September 11, 2008


DANVILLE, Va., Sept. 4 (AP) — Janis Martin, a rockabilly pioneer billed as the Female Elvis, died on Monday. She was 67.

Janis Martin

Her death, at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., was announced Tuesday by her husband, Bradley Whitt, who said the cause was cancer. She learned that she had cancer shortly after what turned out to be her last public performance, a cancer benefit in Richmond in March, Mr. Whitt said.

Ms. Martin rose to fame in the 1950s as Elvis Presley’s label mate at RCA Victor, which promoted her as the Female Elvis. Her first record and biggest hit, “Will You Willyum,” was released in 1956, when she was just 15. The song made the Billboard Top 10 for one week and sold about 750,000 copies.

She appeared on the “Tonight” show and “American Bandstand” and toured with Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Faron Young, Hank Snow, Porter Wagoner and Jim Reeves. She became a star in Europe, where she is still popular, Mr. Whitt said.

Ms. Martin was voted Billboard’s most promising female artist in 1956. She formed her own band, the Marteens, and played clubs and fairs before retiring from show business in 1958. She remained largely inactive in the business until the late 1970s, when the rockabilly revival led to extensive tours in Europe and introduced Ms. Martin to a new generation of fans.

She had been scheduled to perform at the Americana, an international rockabilly show in Britain, on July 4, but had to cancel because of her illness, Mr. Whitt said.

Along with performing, Ms. Martin managed the Danville Golf Club.

In addition to her husband, she is survived by a sister, Geraldine Connor of South Boston, Va.; a granddaughter; and a great-granddaughter. She had a son, who died, by a previous marriage.

“She was a free-spirited lady who was devoted to her fan base,” Mr. Whitt said in a telephone interview. “She would stay for hours after a show and never leave a person standing, taking pictures and signing for them for four or five hours.”

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