Harriet Hilliard Nelson

2007 - Women Who Rock

Hometown: Des Moines, IA

Bio: Harriet Hilliard Nelson was born Peggy Lou Snyder in Des Moines on July 18, 1914. She attended St. Agnes Academy.

A beauty queen, she chose singing with big bands as her vocation and selected the "stage name" of Harriet Hilliard. She met orchestra leader Ozzie Nelson when he hired her to be the girl singer in the Ozzie Nelson Orchestra. They married in 1935. She was a recording artist for Brunswich, Vocalian, Victor and Blue Bird labels.

Following a success radio run, the couple’s show "The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet" hit the television screens in 1952 and Harriet became the role model for mothers everywhere. The show depicted an "average" American family and starred the couple along with their sons David and Ricky. The show had an amazingly long run from 1952-1966. In the mid 50’s, when rock and roll "reared its ugly head", the majority of parents were sure that music would doom their kids for ever, that it was surely evil.

Harriet convinced her executive producer husband to put rock and roll music on the air and have their son Ricky perform that ‘evil music.’ When the television show, written by Ozzie, continually showed rock and roll as part of the family’s daily life, America became enamored with the music and it lost its ‘evil’ label. If it was okay for the Nelsons, it was okay for America. Rock and Roll was here to stay!

Harriet, in addition to supporting the career of her son Ricky, became the grandmother and loving supporter of the rock music careers of her twin grandsons, Matthew and Gunnar Nelson, aka/Nelson.

Harriet Nelson (Peggy Lou Snyder) was a band singer; recording artist; movie, stage and television star. This Iowa native taught America it was okay to love rock and roll; that you would not "go to hell in a handbasket" for listening to it. She left a legacy of rock and roll music through her son and grandsons who were/are talented performers and songwriters. She was named the Los Angeles Times’ "Woman of the Year." She passed away in Laguna Beach, Calif., in October of 1994 at the age of 85.

For the impact she made on the course of music history, for her many performing years and for the legacy she left behind, Harriet Hilliard Nelson takes her rightful place in the IRRMA Hall of Fame.

The Iowa Rock 'n Roll Music Association Hall of Fame & Museum exists to preserve the legacy of rock and roll music in Iowa by honoring achievements, educating youth and inspiring artists. Established in 1997, we are a501(c)(3) non-profit statewide organization with many areas of service.

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