Bettmann Archive

An estimated 30,000 copies of the record were made for upwards of $70,000.

Abbey White
September 13, 2017

In 1966, Kentucky Fried Chicken founder Colonel Sanders spent an estimated $70,000 to fund the production of a children's mandolin band album.

That's according to Noisey's Sean Neumann, who recently published a deep-dive into the incredible and odd history behind the expensive (and not very lucrative) hobby of one of fast-food's most recognizable faces.

The album was not a promotional stunt but was the result of a deal between Sanders and Gene Hall, the leader of a local Christian children's band made up of Hall's sixth- and seventh-grade students from Finchville Elementary School. In turn for funding their album, Hall's band would dress up in the Colonel's classic white suit and black string tie during live performances.

"The Colonel's Mandolin Band" released a 15-track, self-titled vinyl of church hymn running just under 25 minutes and featuring songs like "Amazing Grace" and "America, The Beautiful." According to Neumann, during the album, the band's vocalist David Arnholter even "occasionally drops in to rain praise to Jesus Christ."

KFC's corporate office isn't confident about how many of these albums the Colonel managed to sell, let alone how many are still in existence. Corporate claims they are only aware of "several hundred" that were bought by a former executive of the restaurant's Corbin, Kentucky franchise--the location of the first, original Kentucky Fried Chicken. But employees at the location say there are significantly more—upwards of 30,000—sitting in a KFC warehouse in southeastern Kentucky.

While 30,000 seems like a lot when you consider just how long ago they were made, there are probably more. Frances Hall, the widow of the former band leader, says she has had people reach out to about finding the album in attics or "at the bottom of boxes" at garage sales. One former band member, Michael Swigert, also claims that along with a personal bible containing a note from the Colonel inside, he and his fellow former band members were given 100 copies of the record.

For only $5, you can purchase the album at the Corbin KFC store, along with other memorabilia. But on sites like eBay, the little-known record is going for as much as $250.

While the story of Sander's Christian children's band may seem new to many, the chicken franchise acknowledged the band's role in the restaurant's history during its 75th anniversary celebration in 2015. In a 30-second commercial, "The Colonel's Mandolin Band" stands in the background as comedian Darrell Hammond, playing Sanders, promotes KFC's new "$5 Fill-Ups."