English lessions

'Lawrence Welk Show' singer Ralna English brings her charm and memories to Cypress Gardens Saturday and Sunday
Weekend Plus Editor
Polk County News, serving Winter Haven, Florida
March 15, 2002
Gracious to a fault, singer Ralna English acts like she truly doesn't mind a phone call too early in the morning.
"This is fine, fine!" she exclaimed from her Arizona home. It's clear that she wasn't expecting the call for several more hours, but English is too polite to indicate exactly how long she has been awake.
After all, she was trained by one of the kings of gracious behavior. This is Ralna -- as in "Guy and Ralna" from "The Lawrence Welk Show."
Aah, the Welk Show.
"It's a phenomenon. Who knows why it has lasted so long? Maybe because it was always family entertainment first and foremost," English enthused. "It was beautiful, colorful, lively and so much fun to be part of."
"The Lawrence Welk Show" began a 16-year run on ABC in 1955 and enjoyed an 11-year run in syndication afterwards. The show can now be seen on PBS.
The show usually revolved around a theme -- the Fourth of July or a hoedown, for example -- and featured the Welk Orchestra and soloists and other acts like Guy and Ralna. The broadcast ended with Welk inviting a lady from the audience for a dance to "Champagne Fanfare" or "Bubbles in the Wine," his signature tune.
This was a formula that worked, but the Welk show had something extra.
"He had certain standards about things that he wanted," English recalled. "It was his show and he had the last say-so -- as it should be. I had no problem with it. Some people had a problem with that, and they didn't stay long."
That's as much gossip as English was going to offer about the bandleader.
"I liked him a lot," she said, "He was the most charismatic man I've ever met. Part of why the show worked so well is because of that charisma."
A native of the Lubbock, Texas, area, Ralna is the daughter of Raul and Lena English (hence her unusual first name, a combination of her parents' names).
After a stint at Six Flags Over Texas, English moved to Los Angeles, then found herself singing in Las Vegas casinos before joining the U.S.O. for tours through Southeast Asia.
Appearances with Jim Nabors, Jack Jones and Steve Martin at a club in Santa Monica, Calif., led to her long run on the popular "Lawrence Welk Show."
For years, she performed with her then-husband, Guy Hovis, as part of Guy and Ralna, but the off-stage partnership ended in 1984.
They're still very close and perform together occasionally and have several appearances scheduled throughout 2002.
"It seemed like the love story of the ages, didn't it?" she said, her voice "smiling" through the telephone lines. "But we've learned to take our messes and make them into something good."
Meanwhile, Guy has moved out of the entertainment business and into politics, serving on the Washington, D.C., staff of Sen. Trent Lott, a Republican from Mississippi. They're both active in the life of their daughter, Julie, who's a student at Arizona State University, along with their own busy schedules.
Even though the Welk program left national syndication in 1982, English and other veterans of the show regularly take part in show retrospects.
The most recent special, "Lawrence Welk: Milestones and Memories, a Musical Family Reunion," was filmed live at the Welk Theatre in Branson, Mo., and is available on videotape. The show features a first-time-ever performance by Bobby Burgess and his three dancing partners (Barbara Boylan, Cissy King and Elaine Balden), the Lennon Sisters, Pete Fountain, Tom Netherton, Anacani, Myron Floren and guest appearances by all five living Champagne Ladies, Lois Best, Jayne Walton, Helen Ramsay, Roberta Linn and Norma Zimmer, who has held the title since 1960.
English said the special was "an absolute thrill" to make, adding that its always fun to work with other Welk performers.
Fortunately, English gets to do just that on a regular basis. Her show Saturday and Sunday at Cypress Gardens will feature another Welk veteran, Ken Delo.
English said her show features some of her older songs like "Tangerine" and "Lovesick Blues," as well as a little gospel, some Broadway and Hollywood (often something from "Cats" and "New York, New York") and some contemporary classics like "Wind Beneath My Wings."
"The Live Lawrence Welk Show" continues to draw large audiences, with appearances throughout the Midwest this winter and spring, as well as in Atlantic City's Tropicana Hotel.
English headlines this show, along with Mary Lou Metzger, Jack Imel, Ava Barber, Henry Cuesta, The Welk Orchestra, Pasha and Aliona, and Tim Padilla.
English also tours with "Four Wunnerful Women," with Ava Barber, Mary Lou Metzger and Gail Farrell. As if that's not enough, English makes appearances at churches and has a 1 1/2-month gig at the Welk Resort in Branson late this year with the Lennon Sisters and Henry Cuesta.
Barring any breaking news events, English will also appear on CNN's "Larry King Live!" on March 25 at 9 p.m. for a tribute to the bandleader. She will be joined by Bobby Burgess, Janet Lennon, Larry Welk Jr. and Larry Welk III. The show had been postponed from September.
English is also active as an ambassador for Childhelp USA, a privately funded charity that focuses on the prevention of child abuse and treatment for victims. The singer said she gets a great deal of joy from her work with the organization. Still, it's the association with Lawrence Welk that keeps her name before the audiences.
"After all these years, people still love what we did with the 'Welk Show,' English said. "I have more work now with these concert dates than I ever have. That should tell you something about the show's legacy."
The Ralna English and Ken Delo concert is free with paid admission to Cypress Gardens. For more information about English, visit www.ralnaenglish.com.


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