Break out the bubbles, Welk's 'wunnerful' women are coming to town
by Susan Harrison Woffis
Muskegon Chronicle Staff Writer

You can hear their boss now, can't you

Let any of them sing, dance, play the piano, step on stage.

And it was always "wunnerful, wunnerful."

So really, what else could Ralna English, Mary Lou Metzger, Ava Barber and Gail Farrell - once stars of "The Lawrence Welk Show" - call themselves when they got their act together and took it on the road a few years ago?

They had to borrow from their former boss, the late, the great, the irreplaceable Lawrence Welk, a man so enduring 30-year-old shows are seen in reruns on public television.

They had to call themselves "4 Wunnerful Women."

"That's what we are," said Ralna English, the Welk performer credited with the idea for creating just such a reunion on stage.

"One night we were at Mary Lou (Metzger's) house, and we said that some day down the road, we should sing together," English said.

Evidently others agreed.

"We were booked before we even had a show," she said.

English, Metzger, Barber and Farrell wrote a special song to introduce themselves to audiences: "Here we are, 4 wunnerful women. Here we are, 4 wunnerful gals...4 wunnerful pals."

That's not the only time the four will join voices in the show.

Expect to hear special versions of "Mr. Sandman" and "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" when the foursome comes to Muskegon's Frauenthal Center for Performing Arts for a one-night only performance Oct. 4.

"It's a fabulous show. It's just so much fun," English said in a telephone interview from her home in Scottsdale, AZ. "It's the most fun thing I've been involved in in years."

Although she performs solo more than 125 concert days a year on stages as diverse as Atlantic City to Las Vegas and Branson, MO., to the New York State Fair, English will forever be linked to The Lawrence Welk Show.

She was a veteran of USO tours and concert dates in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe when she joined the TV show in 1969. But it was on The Lawrence Welk Show that she gained national fame as part of a duet, singing with her former husband, Guy Hovis.

She - and Barber, Farrell and Metzger - are still part of the Welk "family," taking part in specials that feature Welk reruns produced by The Oklahoma Network public television network. The specials are full of names that once dominated Saturday night television on the Welk show: Bobby Burgess, Myron Floren, Joanne Castle and, of course, Ralna English.

"When I look at these old shows, it just really hits me ... tey're shows that the whole fmaily can stay together and watch together," English says. "They're pretty shows, colorful and a lot of un."

And they've held up to time, too.

Each week, 2.5 million viewers watch Welk reruns on public television.

"Generation after generation hand down the (Welk) tradition," English said.

English has just released a new recording of spirituals and patriotic songs, "My God, My Country." She also recently recorded "My Favorite Love Songs,' which features big band hits from the 1930s and 1940s.

English and Hovis are the parents of a daughter Julie, who teaches in a Montessori School and is working on her master's degree. The two even tour together, despite their divorce in 1984.

"God healed my heart on that long ago," English said.

When she's not performing, English is active as an "ambassador" for Childhelp USA, a non-profit organization that works for the prevention of child abuse. She has worked on the group's behalf since 1978.

"I do it to give back some of what I've been blessed with," she said.




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