Some might say musician Ray R. Myers was born behind the eight ball. Born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania on January 2, 1911, he arrived in this world without arms. Yet, Myers did not share the belief that he was born disadvantaged. As he later said to one newspaper reporter, "I don't feel handicapped at all. A handicap is a state of mind." Indeed, Myers lived a life which showcased his enthusiastic worldview.
Instead of whining and wallowing in despair about his lot, Myers adjusted, adapted, and thrived. Everything done by most individuals with their hands, Myers accomplished with his feet. As one contemporary article stated, "he writes, combes his hair, shaves, winds his watch--all with his feet--but his specialty is music." Piano, guitar, trombone, and harmonica were counted among the instruments he played using his feet.
His musical career began in high school in where played the trombone in the school band. According to Hillbilly Music.com, he purchased a Hawaiian steel guitar which he kept under his bed until he had learned how to play. He performed in local events and talent shows and WGAL in Lancaster gave him a program.
Myers did not only adjust to his unique nature, he capitalized upon it. In 1934 he played at the Chicago World's Fair, performing in Ripley's Believe It or Not "Odditorium." He was later invited to perform on Ripley's radio program in New York.
In 1937, Cowboy Loye the star of the WWVA Original Jamboree, heard the "Armless Wonder" play. Loye hired Myers to perform on WWVA. This opportunity opened many paths for Myers who was soon in demand by other stations. Myers could be heard strumming along with the Mays Brothers and Cindy Coy at WPDX in Clarksburg, WV.
Realizing people were interested and inspired by his story, he told it often and became Ray R. Myers "The Armless Musician." Myers had souvenir pamphlets printed and sold to fans curious about his abilities. The date "1938," is penned on this souvenir folder, at which time Myers was a member of Cowboy Loye's Blue Bonnet Troupe.
The souvenir folder, sent to Mrs. Harry H. Sheetz (most likely Laura Potteiger Sheetz 1885-1973) of Bernville, Pa. demonstrates that Myers faced hurdles throughout his life--even after adapting to his extraordinary physique.
Several newspaper clippings fell out of Sheetz's folder describing an incident in which a computer nearly undermined Myers' ability to perform daily tasks. In 1964, the Traffic Safety Bureau's new computer system found Myers ineligible to drive because of his physique. The computer suggested his license be revoked even though Myers had a near perfect driving record and only one accident in 29 years of driving. The accident was not even Myers' fault, it was due to a drunk driver who rear ended him.
In typical fashion, Myers was undaunted by the threat to his driving privileges. He hired attorney Theodore L. Brubaker.*** He also had the support of Pennsylvania governor William Warren Scranton (1917-2013). Early in 1965, his license was reinstated.
Myers died on May 16, 1986. An announcement for his funeral is in the May 19, 1986 edition of The Morning Call. Furthermore, Jack Brubaker author of Lancaster County's Own Armless Guitarist, provides an overview of Myers' life and accomplishments. Brubaker also discusses George Dennehy of Ashland, Virginia. Dennehy was also born without arms and yet, today is a popular musician. Although Dennehy may not even be aware of Myers' existence, their accomplishments are alike. People such as these capture the human spirit and are testaments to the strength of that spirit. Best, Pat
*The entire booklet is not being shown over concerns of copyright.
**As stated on the website, "Prodigies, James G. Mundie's Congress of Oddities," not all of Myers musical success can be attributed to his unique presentation. He was often featured on radio and as such, the listeners could not see his performance. The authors of the website are not wrong. Even if Myers were presented as "The Armless Musician" the performance would not have the same impact as seeing a live rendition of Myers' skill and talent.
***Probably the father of George Theodore Brubaker. Although I could suss out some information on George, I found little on Theodore--even using variations of the name.
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External Sources regarding Myer's fellow performers:
Coy, Cindy. Limited Information. February 23, 1952. Billboard Magazine reports she has replaced Happy Ison.
Mays Brothers. No information.
Pack, Loye Donald. "Cowboy Loye". 1900-1941. Find-A-Grave