Ralna English and friends celebrate 100th birthday of Lawrence Welk
by Stephen Mintz, Mature Focus, March 2003, Quad Cities - Moline, IL and Davenport, IA
Although he passed away in 1002, Lawrence Welk has continued to be "wunnerful, wunnerful" in our hearts and on our televisions, still counting "ah one and ah-two" all the way to March 11, 2003. This date would have been Welk's 100th birthday, and in celebration, the big-band sounds and family atmosphere of Welk's hottest stars are coming to Davenport on March 23, to the Adler Theatre.
In attendance will be the much-loved diva Ralna English, one of Welk's original "pretty girls" who has been thrilling audiences since her debut on the popular show in 1069. English has been at it ever since then, including the release of her latest CD, My Favorite Love Songs.
"Oh, I remember Lawrence so well," says the still-pretty starlet, "it was Lawrence who taught me how to work hard and also how to pace yourself." Since English tears herself away from her beloved tennis community for 125+ tour dates each year, she knows about keeping up hard work. "I feel like Mariah Carey sometimes, since I had a breakdown myself in 1980, but like Mariah, I'm back and just enjoying myself so much."
Still inundated with fan mail, English simply cannot wait to bring her sweet Southern charm and lilting song style to Davenport. "I'm loving the chance to see the families who have watched the show for so long and who truly loved Lawrence as we all did."
English remembers the show often. She has performed on 11 previous national TV specials, and will be one of the stars of the all-new PBS special to air in March; Lawrence Welk: God Bless America.
"It was so amazing to be with a hard-working spiritual man like Lawrence. I really think the show is a family affair, passed down from generation to generation," says English. Welk strived to make it so, from the very beginning. Welk was adamant about presenting positive entertainment, and went so far as to cut any words from music that might be offensive to anyone watching. "He was so innovative as well," remembers English. "He had the first black variety performer, Arthur Duncan, the first Hispanic, an Irish tenor, country singers...he covered a lot of territory musically with all of us, to satisfy all kinds of families."
Though Welk has been universally loved, this didn't make him infallible. "Oh, no. He was quite funny. He would come up with those little faux pas moments, like the time we finished a live show and he told the audience to stay behind and enjoy the 'flashlight show.' Of course, he meant the fireworks show. He once tried to say 'potentate' and said totem pole instead! I can't believe he said that...so funny."
Fans of the show are expected to flock to the Adler Theater when English leads the team of stars, including Welk's 'favorite dance partner' Mary Lou Metzger, marimba playing tap-dancer Jack Imel, country singer Ava Barber, and of course and accordion player, Tim Padilla. The accordion is the first instrument Welk ever played, bought for him at age 17 by his accordion-playing father while living in the sod farmhouse they called home near Strasburg, North Dakota.
Brian Edwards of tour host Rocklands Entertainment, expects large crowds of fans as well. "Last year, this Live Welk Show traveled throughout the U.S. and Canada and it was sold out at each venue," said Edwards. "We expect this tour to be as big, or bigger!"
Nothing will erase Ralna English's memory of their biggest shows. "We had 22,000 people at Madison Square Garden. It was quite overwhelming to sing for that many people. Lawrence had to have security because ladies were trying to tear his clothes off! I was frightened several times when people would come at us, and they had to bring in the troops and push the fans back!"
The other memory English won't ever forget is that of Welk's funeral, a small affair at the Holy Cross Cemetery, in Los Angeles. "No media attended, just about 150 of us. We gathered in this chapel, with Lawrence's favorite music playing, a Dixieland band. I sang, and then sat down with the Lennon sisters. It was such a spiritual experience, and we all came together as a family at that service. When he died he left something that will always live. We all have to come to that point, but when you have accomplished what he did, to live and fulfill the American dream in such a powerful way for all these millions of people, even after his death...it's just a phenomenon."
English loves singing. She loves her fans. Like most of the world though, she loves Lawrence Welk. Here's hoping he's around for birthday hundred-and-one, an-a-two, on television, on tour, and through the voice of one of his favorite stars, Ralna English.
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