'Welk Show' Tour Bubbles into City
by Rick Rogers
Daily Oklahoman, Oklahoma City
Long before the days when channel surfing became a national pastime, Saturday night viewers had few choices during television's prime time.

"The Gale Storm Show," "Have Gun Will Travel," "Get Smart," "My Three Sons" and NBC's "Saturday Night at the Movies" each enjoyed substantial runs. But "The Lawrence Welk Show" outlasted them all.
The popular music variety show anchored one of ABC's Saturday night slots from July 1955 to September 1971. The show continued in production and was syndicated through 1982.
Nearly two decades later, "The Lawrence Welk Show" is still drawing substantial audiences, both in Branson, Mo., and on tour. The "live" version of the show comes to Oklahoma City on Tuesday for a single performance at the Civic Center Music Hall.

"The Lawrence Welk Show" began as a summer replacement in 1955. TV Guide's assessment of the show was that it lacked "the necessary sparkle and verve to give it a chance against any really strong competition."
Viewers clearly disagreed. Welk's formula of old-fashioned music presented by wholesome singers kept audiences tuning in every weekend. Much of its appeal was due to a group of regulars, including accordionist Myron Floren, Irish tenor Joe Feeney, ragtime pianist Jo Ann Castle and a vocal quartet known as The Lennon Sisters.
Along with many others, they became part of Welk's close-knit family, a steadily growing group that has since introduced that brand of music to subsequent generations.
The "live" production coming to the Civic Center will feature dancers Jack Imel and Mary Lou Metzger, country vocalist Ava Barber, jazz clarinetist Henry Cuesta and singer Ralna English.
English joined the show in 1969 and remained a regular through its final broadcast in 1982. She has since teamed with many of her colleagues for special engagements and tours.
By the late 1960s, English had worked as a singer for more than a decade. Hoping to parlay her considerable experience into something more permanent, English finagled an audition at Welk's Santa Monica, Calif., office.

The famous bandleader didn't have an opening at the time, but two months later, he invited English to make a guest appearance on his show. Soon thereafter, she became a regular.
English often appeared on the Welk show with her then-husband Guy Hovis. They divorced in 1984 but still perform together in various Welk reunion shows.
English attributes the show's enduring appeal to its focus on family. But when asked whether the show was targeted to a specific demographic, she answered with an emphatic no.
"It was pure Lawrence Welk - what he liked, loved, created and wanted to produce," she said. "I think when he created his 'musical family,' he didn't really know how much of a family we'd become in the end.
"We know each other well, and we keep up with everyone's children and grandchildren. I'm convinced Lawrence Welk would be very proud."
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