Grateful for God’s grace, ‘Hee Haw’ star Lulu Roman sings her heart out
By KEN BECK
Lead Photo by JANA PASTORS
A lifetime ago, comedian Lulu Roman, a big, big star on TV’s Hee Haw, took a hike through the dark shadows of the valley of death, but someone bigger blocked her path, turning her toward the light.
By the kindness of God, this unwanted woman child found charity with no strings attached.
Roman, who has made Mt. Juliet her home for the past 22 years, came into this world with a thyroid dysfunction. Born in a home for unwed mothers when she was four, her grandmother deposited her in a Dallas, Texas orphanage, a place she came to despise.
“What I was doing, I realize now with all the drugs, I was just trying to get away from the ugly reality, and my reality was what those people had screamed in my life, all my life, ‘You’re fat, you’re ugly and no one will ever love you,’” says Roman. “I stayed in drugs. I didn’t have to deal with it.”
Nowadays, the 68-year-old mother of two grown sons walks in the sunshine as she makes a living with her stand-up comedy and gospel music. She also freely shares details of her troubled life from decades ago to those who will listen.
“I am a living example of God’s grace. Everything I tell you has to do with bad choices that I made for my life,” she confesses candidly.
The music, she says, has to come out. Singing is all she knows to do.
“I never had a voice lesson. I don’t read music, and I don’t rehearse unless somebody makes me, but if I want to stand up and sing, God will let me. I’m a chosen singer by God’s right to sing what he wants me,” says the Dove Award winner and member of the Country Music Gospel Hall of Fame, who has 23 albums to her credit.
Roman moved to Mt. Juliet in 1992 after she came here to join Ricky and Sharon Skaggs on a mission trip to Mexico with Abundant Life Church. They delivered 20,000 shoeboxes full of gifts for children.
“I just fell in love with the people at the church. I love Mt. Juliet,” says the performer, who enjoys chilling out with gal pals at Providence Shopping Center (she sat down with us for an interview at the local Panera Bread), and is a self-professed Walmart lover.
“I’m the Walmart queen, honey. Everybody over there knows who I am,” she says with gusto.
Roman narrowly escaped death in 2004 when infection set in after she underwent laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding. The band had to be removed. After recovering, she had the procedure a second time in 2005 and was able to shed 200 of her 360 pounds. Today she is almost unrecognizable to fans of her 45-year-old hit TV show, which airs in reruns on RFD-TV.
“I’d come to a place I felt so helpless,” she says about her weight issues. “I’m not sorry. I would do it again in a heartbeat.
“You have to have some guidelines. First of all you have to set your mind to realize that you will never ever eat the same for the rest of your life, because I used to eat massive amounts. It’s got to be a life-changing event for you as far as food intake, and you’ve got want it bad enough that you will stay there, because you can eat yourself right back up to where you were,” said Roman.
In 2014 she performed in more secular venues than gospel, including events with Hee Hawco-host Roy Clark, shows in Branson, Missouri, and the Ocean City Jamboree in Maryland, but she also appears at Christian women’s conferences. She sings a mixture of gospel, country and standards along with her comedy.
“I never dreamed of being singer. I aspired to be a comedian because I could always make a face and make people fall down,” said Roman, who sang first soprano in her high school concert choir.
Last year she knocked a musical dream off her bucket list.
“I got to do something I had wanted to do all my life, an album of old standards and classics,” she says of her At Last album, which features duets with T. Graham Brown, Linda Davis, Georgette Jones and Dolly Parton. “Dolly sang with me on her song ‘I Will Always Love You.’ It was precious, and when I started singing, she said, ‘Lulu, I had no idea you could sing like that. You’d give Adele a run for her money,’ and I said, ‘Honey, are you out of your mind?’”
Roman notes that recently she has received numerous requests to sing at people’s weddings, whereas years before there were those wanting her to sing at funerals. (She sang “Amazing Grace” at the funeral service of Hee Haw pal Junior Samples in 1983.)
Along with her songs, the entertainer shares stories, jokes, and special memories, and lets fans from the audience ask questions about her experiences on Hee Haw. She was but 23 when the country-variety show hit CBS in the summer of 1969. It was friend and country music star and Hee Haw co-host Buck Owens who got her on the show.
“The creators of Hee Haw made a list. They got a hold of all the top people in country music: Buck, Roy Clark, Archie Campbell, Gordie Tapp. Then they said, ‘Here’s what we want. We’re looking for one gorgeous blonde, one gorgeous brunette, one boy-next-door type, one girl-next-door type, one fat dumb man and one fat dumb woman.’ Buck says, ‘I got your girl, She’s in Dallas.’ They took his word for it,” laughed Roman.
After flying to Hollywood and walking the halls of CBS for an audition, she remembers the first person she saw was legendary comedienne Carol Burnett.
“I was like ‘Ahh!’ She said to me, ‘Shut your mouth, child. You’re fixing to be one of us,’” said Roman. “This is like three or four years out of an orphan’s home. You can’t tell me God’s not up there making plans doing good things for you.”
Of the many scenarios on Hee Haw such as “The Culhanes” and “In the Kornfield,” Roman says her favorite skit was “Lulu’s Truck Stop.”
“That’s because I got to eat. It was always donuts or cake or something. We had a great time throwing food at each other, and they’d bring all the guest stars into the truck stop,” she recollected.
Roman said she tries to stay in touch with her former cast mates but lately they’ve been seeing one another mostly at funerals. Her best friend from the show remains Cathy Baker—the blonde, overall-wearing “That’s all!” girl.
“We’ve been friends since the show started in 1969,” says Baker. “We immediately hit it off. When she travels, if she has anything near the eastern seaboard near Maryland, she will come and stay at our house. We get to see each other six or seven times a year. She has definitely become a part of the family. We have a mutual admiration society.”
As for the transformation Baker observed in Roman after she turned to God and stopped using drugs, Baker says, “Before Lulu found Christ her personality was the same as it is now except once she accepted him it softened the edges. Lulu had always been a very giving, compassionate person, but she had that larger than life comedic personality.”
When Roman reflects upon the 25 years on Hee Haw, which was syndicated around the world, she sums up the experience, saying, “When I look back at it now, it’s like it was a whirlwind because I was going through so many stages in my life: going from absent-minded, rock-stupid little girl through having to learn life lessons because of all the bad choices that I made… to stages of God changing my heart, changing my attitudes, my opinions and choices.
“And then when I look back on it now these 40 some-odd years later, I’m thinking ‘Wow!’ It was just a whirlwind, but it was a wonderful time in my life because I had no family to speak of, and we became kind of like family in that we met twice a year. We went through marriages and divorces and deaths: all the thing that life takes you through. I don’t remember not even one time anybody had a fight on Hee Haw. We were there to make each other look good. They were great support for me when I needed it.”
Support was not what she received while growing up in Buckner Benevolent Orphanage in Dallas. Once freed from the place at 18, she quickly took to a wild lifestyle.
Lulu Roman harmonizes with her country music pals Pam Tillis, left, and Lorrie Morgan, center. Photo submitted
“Before I got to Hee Haw I worked in Dallas night clubs for several years in strip joints. I wasn’t a stripper because I was huge, but I was the funny girl who would make fun of them. I was so crazy, I went to jail for almost everything I did before I got saved,” she said.
“I was so angry with those people at the orphans’ home who said, ‘God loves you and blah blah blah,’ and in the next sentence they’d say, ‘You’re going to hell if you don’t…’ All it did was make me mad. I thought if there was a God he don’t care about me ’cause he dumped me, and moreover he dumped all these other kids.
“At any given time there were 800 to 1,500 kids in this place. We were throwaways. I knew one true orphan. We were kids that nobody wanted. Just the way it was.
“I was very angry in my spirit, and so when I got out of there I just went crazy. I thought, ‘Nobody’s gonna tell me what to do again. I’m going to be somebody and have this and have that.’ I think what I learned right away was I had to learn to be a survivor. I had no one else but me. I had a grandmother. My mother was in a mental institution the whole time I was in the orphans’ home… so traumatic. It seems surreal, but it’s true.”
At eighteen Roman, whose real name is Bertha Louise Hable, was arrested for using a stolen credit card and went to jail. Her cellmates included women who had killed.
“At night the women would all cry, and it made me crazy. I thought, ‘What the heck,’ so I would act silly. I had short hair and put it up in pigtails, and I would just sing and dance and act silly. I had always done that since I was two or three years old because I figured I could make people laugh.”
One of the inmates told the funny girl that she reminded her of Little Lulu from the comic books, so the name Lulu has been with her since. But there was nothing funny about being in jail. Nor was there anything to laugh about when she was kicked off Hee Haw in 1971 after being busted for drugs, and then found herself pregnant.
She was 26 and single, and because of her habit, her son Damon was born addicted to drugs.
“They came and told me he was going to die, but I can remember lying in that hospital bed trying to pray, but I was so mad at God that I didn’t want to have anything to do with him,” Roman remembers.
“The only thing I knew to say was, ‘Yo, dude, if you’re real, I’ll make a deal with you.’ I said, ‘If you’ll let me have my baby then I’ll straighten up and stop doing drugs and I won’t do anything except what you want me to.’
“Dr. James Crabb came in one day, and he said, ‘Little girl, I can do everything I know how to possibly save this baby, but only God can do this one. And next thing I knew they were calling me to get over to the hospital. There had been a change. What happened is they couldn’t find nothing. He was ten days old. They just unhooked all the stuff [the IVs) and picked him up and put him in my hands.
“I didn’t realize until four years later that God healed that baby before I asked Jesus to come into my heart. On the medical records it says: ‘Act of God.’ There is no other medical explanation,” said Roman.
Six months later the young mother, who was still doing drugs, began attending church with a friend. One night she decided to talk with the preacher. He told her that God would take care of all of her problems and he asked her to repeat the words of his prayer.
“He prayed his little prayer. I prayed right behind him. I really had a physical experience like somebody lifted something off my back. I got really light. I felt like a fairy for a minute. I can remember thinking, ‘He said the Lord will begin to change you.’
Among friends joining Lulu Roman, left, on her latest album, At Last, was Dolly Parton as the two performed Parton’s song “I Will Always Love You.” Photo submitted
“Things started happening pretty fast. I went home and went to sleep and woke up the next day and thought, ‘I haven’t had any drugs.’ I called my friend Diane and said, ‘You better get over here. I’m gonna go through withdrawals.
“She came over, and we prayed and sat around and drank ice tea and cleaned the house up and played cards, and it’s been 42 years and I never have had withdrawals. God just took it away,” said Roman.
Her sons, Damon, 41, and Justin, 38, live in Bellingham, Wash., and Nashville, respectively. Justin, who graduated from Mt. Juliet High School, operates a food truck, Bacon Nation, in downtown Music City. Says his mom, “He’s got a hamburger [the 50-50 Burger] that will knock you down, half ground bacon and half ground beef.”
In her free time, the entertainer enjoys creating all sorts of things.
“Oh my,” she says, “anything you can do with your hands, I’m into it. I make jewelry, I paint, I make angel pins, button bracelets, I make soap. I give a lot of it away, and we sell it on tables at my concerts.
“I am a hobby person. People at Hobby Lobby, Michael’s, Joanne’s know who we are too. I’m always over here getting buttons or something,” says the crafty lady.
As for her future Lulu Roman says, “I’m hopeful that I get to continue what I’m doing. There’s a fire that’s still in me to go and do what I do. What I get to do is a privilege and a blessing.
“Somebody asked me, ‘What is your dream job?’ I said, ‘Singer.’ When you are really ecstatically happy with what you are doing, you are really blessed, and there’s nothing I love to do more than sing—nothing. I’m doing it.”
For more info about Lulu Roman, visit her web site at: www.luluroman.com
Lulu Roman cuts up with comedian Gordie Tapp on Hee Haw, 1972. Photo submitted
Cousin Lulu’s quick take onHee Haw family co-stars
Minnie Pearl: Class and sass.
Grandpa Jones: Precious. Suspenders and mileage.
Archie Campbell: Cigars and oil paint.
Gaillard Sartain: Ridiculously funny.
Cathy Baker: Best friend.
George Lindsey: Country bumpkin with a vaudeville hat.
Roy Clark: Happy, happy, happy.
Junior Samples: Spent 43 takes trying to get him to say trigonometry and he never could do it.
Roni Stoneman: Thunder and fire.
The Hager twins Jim and Jon: Talented confusion.