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Roni Stoneman, Country Music’s ‘First Lady of the Banjo,’ Dies at 85

Roni Stoneman, a virtuoso banjo player, mainstay of the country music television show “Hee Haw” and one of the last surviving members of the Stoneman Family, a renowned Appalachian string band, died on Thursday at her home in Murfreesboro, Tenn. She was 85.

Her death was confirmed by Julie Harris, a family friend. No further details were available; a cause was not given.

Ms. Stoneman made her mark in 1957 with her driving instrumental version of “Lonesome Road Blues,” which made her the first woman to play modern bluegrass banjo on a phonograph record. Also known as “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad” and often including lyrics, the song was included on a compilation album of three-finger, five-string banjo numbers in the style popularized by Earl Scruggs.

Ms. Stoneman’s greatest claim to fame, though, came 16 years later, when she joined the cast of “Hee Haw,” entertaining millions while proving herself to be a rustic comedian on a par with Minnie Pearl and June Carter Cash.

From left, Marianne Gordon, Roni Stoneman and Cathy Baker, from the cast of “Hee Haw” in 1978. Ms. Stoneman played the gaptoothed character Ida Lee Nagger on the show for almost two decades.Credit…CBS, via Everette Collection

Her most amusing, and enduring, character on the show was the gaptoothed “Ironing Board Lady,” Ida Lee Nagger, a beleaguered housewife whose feckless husband never lifted a finger to help her. A case of art imitating life, she said, the skit drew on a time in Ms. Stoneman’s life when, as a young housewife and mother of four children, she fell on hard times and had to take in washing to feed her family.

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