Welk musicians still uncorking champagne music
By Gina Joseph, Macomb Daily Staff Writer March 08, 2002

Say what you want about "The Lawrence Welk Show," but after 50 years it's still on the air and one of Public Television's top-rated weekly series.

"The show's success is a testimony to Lawrence Welk and his desire to create something beautiful for the American public," said singer Ralna English, an original cast member.
English and several other stars from the show will perform with the Lawrence Welk orchestra in "The 'Live' Lawrence Welk Show" Saturday at the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts in Clinton Township.
"Television is fun," English said, "but I love the live performance the most."
English tours across the country, appearing at civic centers, state fairs, senior expos and in showrooms such as the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City and Harrah's Club in Reno and Lake Tahoe. She's also been the opening act for comedian Don Rickles at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas and Merv Griffin's Resorts International in Atlantic City.
An estimated 2.5 million viewers tune in each week to watch "The Lawrence Welk Show" reruns on PBS (6 p.m. Saturdays on WTVS-TV Channel 56 locally).
Singer-dancer Mary Lou Metzger, tap-dancing marimba player Jack Imel and clarinet player Henry Cuesta and English remain among the Welk favorites on tour.
"We were really like a family and still are," English said of the cast. "Even when we're not working we get together."
Lawrence Welk was born March 11, 1903, in Strasburg, N.D.
After mastering a small playlist on the piano-accordion, he formed a dance band. Welk was in his 20s and dance bands were in their prime.
Music critics knocked Welk and his orchestra for its bland arrangements and no-name acts, however, the group's popularity soared. They played one-night stands and numerous engagements on the dance hall circuit, getting bigger responses with each appearance. Eventually, the show made it on the radio and, after several hit records, made the leap to television.
Welk, refusing to compromise his tastes and insisting he knew exactly what Middle America wanted to hear, called his style "champagne music."
But Welk was open to suggestions.
English said several times she and her former husband and singing partner Guy Hovis brought Welk new music and played it for him. Sometimes it went on the show, other times in the trash barrel.
"It wasn't that he was close-minded," English said. "It was just that he wanted to present a certain type of music to his audience."
Welk's trademark expression "wunnerful, wunnerful" applied to his music -- waltzes, polkas, gospel and jazz (watered-down). He also enjoyed European music and made every effort to feature some of its best performers.
This year's tour, which opened at the Tropicana Casino and Resort on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City, N.J., retains the show style with which Welk's audiences are familiar.
"In the Welk tradition, we will pay special attention to groups who come to these concerts. That is, the Welk Stars will be available during the show's intermission to sign autographs, as well as after each performance," said Brian Edwards of Rocklands Entertainment, the firm promoting the tour.
Also appearing in this show, direct from the Champagne Theatre in Branson, Mo., are the young California accordion wizard Tim Padilla and the Welk Russian dancers Pasha and Aylona.
"It's a really great Lawrence Welk type of show without the man himself," English said. "He died in 1992 and we miss him a lot, but his spirit is with us."
"The 'Live' Lawrence Welk Show" takes the stage at 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, March 9, at the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts, 44575 Garfield Road at Hall Road. Tickets, $39.50 or $35 (group rate), may be ordered by phone at (586) 286-2222, or online at www.macomb.cc.mi.us/macombcenter.

©The Macomb Daily 2002



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