'Welk Show' veteran enjoys variety in her life

South Bend Tribune Correspondent, South Bend, IN
March 3, 2002

It's been a long journey for someone who was raised in the small Texas town of Spur, sometimes charitably described as a "suburb" of Lubbock. Along the way Ralna English has performed as a solo vocal artist and with the ensemble of "The Live Lawrence Welk Show" across the country and around the world. And even with all that traveling -- her next stop with the Welk troupe is South Bend -- she's not tired of the road or the music business yet.

"I have done this since I was 13 years old," she said, laughing. "I don't know any other life. I was born to sing. I know that without a doubt."

English began singing in her early teens with a junior high school rock band, often performing from the back of a flat-bed truck. Her discovery by a music producer, her work in nightclubs and singing for commercials, a USO tour, and numerous appearances singing with other celebrities at The Horn -- a night spot in Santa Monica, Calif. -- ultimately led to her long sting with "The Live Lawrence Welk Show."

If nothing else, English said, her current exhausting tour is giving her time to recover from an injury sustained pursuing her other passion.

"I'm a tennis bum," she confessed. "I've got a little torn cartilage that needs some rest."

Those who come to the show will discover that the performers in this variety troupe take that word -- "variety -- very seriously.

"The show is pretty, it's lively, it's fun, it's musical," English said. "If you don't like something, just stick around for a minute, you'll find something else."

The current tour includes a mix of jazz, marimba, country, inspirational and gospel music.

"There's also going to be a lot of nostalgic music and a patriotic segment," English said, adding, "We'll have Broadway, music from the '30s and '40s, and Dixieland jazz, which was Lawrence's favorite."

There's also a band from Branson, Mo., an 11-piece orchestra and the Russian Adagio Dance Team of Pasha and Aliona.

And because this is "The Live Lawrence Welk Show," there will, of course, be an accordion player.

English also will be performing her signature song "How Great Thou Art." Although she has sung that song innumerable times, she says she doesn't get tired of it.

"I always remember that for these people it may be their first time to hear it. For others it's their favorite they've been waiting to hear," English said. She added that she's aware many performers have very short careers and she is thankful that she's been actively involved with "The Lawrence Welk Show" since 1969.

Variety shows are rare, English said, if for no other reason than they're expensive.

"I've asked industry people why we don't see more musical shows on television. It seems all we get is MTV, videos and things like that. I've been told that it's just too expensive hiring orchestras ... things like that.

"I don't necessarily buy that. All I know is that 'The Lawrence Welk Show' has been in production for 50 years now. It's an unprecedented thing."

English was one of several Welk veterans interviewed about that half-century of shows on "The Larry King Live Show," but the broadcast was pre-empted by the Sept. 11 attacks. The show has been rescheduled for March 25, "barring breaking news," English said.

English says she is delighted by the many younger fans of the show.

"There are people in their teens who write into my Web page (www.RalnaEnglish.com).

I remember during our tour across Canada when a woman came through the autograph line with her 12-year-old daughter and told us that when she was 3 years old and the family was flipping through channels, she made them stop at 'The Lawrence Welk Show,' and they'd been watching ever since."

'The Live Lawrence Welk Show'
7 p.m. Monday at the Morris Performing Arts Center, South Bend.
Tickets are $39.50, $35.50 and $32.50.
For more information, call 235-9190 or log on to the Web site: www.morris center.org.




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