Welk singer entertains in reruns, concerts
by Joanne Weintraub, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 23, 2002

Q. Happy birthday. Which one would this be?

A. Oh, no, don't ask me that! Just say I'm old - but I'm not as old as I look! Actually, it's been a great birthday so far. Yesterday I had a wonderful massage at a spa - it was a gift from a friend - and a honey-almond scrub. This morning I played tennis, and later I'm going to have lunch with my tennis gals. And then my sister, who's a master pie maker, is going to make me a lemon meringue pie.

Q. You were a nightclub singer in Las Vegas before you went on the Welk show. Did some of your friends from those days make fun of you because the show was considered pretty square?

A. Sure they did, but it didn't bother me. You know, I was never big on the show myself in those days. I really just wanted to be on it so my grandmother could see me. I'd traveled all over, but she'd never seen me in a show, and she just loved "The Lawrence Welk Show." So my grandmother finally got to see me perform. And now, of course, I'm so glad my life took that turn. It just opened up a whole career for me.

Q. How did Welk's taste in music affect what you sang?

A. The one thing he wouldn't tolerate was jazz, which is my great love - Etta James, Ella Fitzgerald, all of those wonderful singers. As a matter of fact, he liked jazz himself, but he didn't think his audience would go for it. One of my first weeks on the show, they gave me "The Windmills of Your Mind" to sing, and he didn't like it. He said to me, "My curl" - that's how he pronounced it, "my curl" - "My curl, you're singing that song too jazzy." But as long as you didn't improvise, he was fine.

Q. Why has the series now been running so much longer than anyone predicted?

A. For one thing, it serves a portion of the population, older people, who have so little to watch on TV. And children love it, too. A woman came up to the autograph table at one of our shows in Canada a couple of years ago and told me that her family's been watching it ever since her 3-year-old discovered it. We're like "Barney" or something for little kids. And then there are immigrants who don't even speak English but appreciate the show for the beautiful costumes and the music. Someone else told me that her friend's grandmother, who had just come here from China and spoke no English, loved watching the show. She didn't even know the name. She called it "Pretty Girls."

Q. A few months ago on Larry King's show, you said you'd taken some heat on the Welk show because of your necklines. Why was that?

A. Oh, that! What happened was that our wonderful costumer went out and bought exactly the same dresses for all the girls, but I was maybe a little bit more well-endowed than some of them, so the dresses just fit me differently. And we started to get these letters, you know, from these little old ladies at home, about my "low-cut" dresses, which weren't really low-cut at all. Well, Lawrence finally came up to me one day and put his arm around me, and said, "My curl, we're having some problem with da dresses that they're cut down too low for you," and I just lost it. When he brought it up, it was one step over the line, you know. I said, "There's nothing I can do about that. You'll have to talk to God about that." And he was angry, but he got over it. That was the only cross word I ever had with Lawrence. He was wonderful.

For ticket information about today's show, call (414) 297-8011.

Singer Ralna English joined the cast of "The Lawrence Welk Show" in 1969 and was still making champagne music when the series halted production in 1982. Still a public TV staple in almost 300 cities, the show can be seen in reruns at 5 p.m. Saturdays on Milwaukee's WMVS-TV (Channel 10). Texas native English - whose unusual first name combines her father's name, Raul, and the title of her mother's favorite book, "Jalna," by Canadian novelist Mazo de la Roche - now plays about 125 concert dates a year. Along with her longtime singing partner and ex-husband, Guy Hovis, and former Welk dancers Bobby Burgess and Elaine Balden, she will appear at 3:30 p.m. today at Elmbrook Church, 777 S. Barker Road, Brookfield, in a benefit concert for Channel 10 Friends. Journal Sentinel TV critic Joanne Weintraub spoke to English on Wednesday from her home in Scottsdale, Ariz., where the singer was celebrating her birthday.

Appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on June 23, 2002




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