Uh one, uh two

By DEBBIE MOOSE, Correspondent
Raleigh-Durham News and Observer
February 28, 2003
 
Return now to the days of yesteryear, when women were "lovely little gals" and men were "boys" who still had their own teeth and hair.
 
When a song like "Love Me Tender," which Elvis packed with quivering passion, could be glossed into spun sugar without a giggle. When the world was a sweet and peaceful place.
 
Return to the world of "The Lawrence Welk Show."
 
Actually, "return" is not the right word to use. The show never left.
The hourlong variety show debuted in 1955, and ABC canceled it in 1971. But the show went into syndication, and, in the years after Welk's death in 1992, repackaged versions of the old episodes have thrived on public television stations. The show has been on TV for nearly 50 years.
   Lawrence Welk, in the glory days of his long-running TV show.

There's the Welk Resort and Champagne Theatre in Branson, Mo., where surviving original performers and compatible newcomers perform shows year-round, plus Welk resorts in San Diego and Palm Springs, Calif.
 
Fans can sign on to welk.buffnet.net to talk about their faves, whether they be Anacani "the little singing hostess" or able accordionist Myron Floren.
 
And a 16-state "Live Lawrence Welk Show" tour will stop in Durham tonight, bringing former cast members Ralna English, Jack Imel, Mary Lou Metzger, Ava Barber, Henry Cuesta and Dick Dale to the Carolina Theatre. Also appearing will be Russian dancers Pasha and Aliona, accordion player Tim Padilla and, of course, the Lawrence Welk Orchestra.
 
Add it all up, and Lawrence Welk probably tops Elvis as the most frequently spotted dead entertainer.
 
Love it for the memories or mock it for its treacle, "The Lawrence Welk Show" has developed a life of its own.
 
"It's pure Americana," singer Ralna English said in a telephone interview.
English, raised near Lubbock, Texas, had a local singing career going when she joined the show in 1969 for what she figured would be a one-shot deal. She had auditioned just because her grandmother liked the show so much, but wasn't sure it was the best long-term gig for her. She never left, even bringing her then-husband, Guy Hovis, in as her singing partner. English had no idea she'd be here, 34 years later, still talking about Lawrence Welk.
 
"Heavens, yes, I'm surprised," she said. "Although I've ceased to be amazed about all this. It's gone on longer than I ever thought it would, but generation after generation keeps coming. Little children love this show because of the music and the dresses are so colorful."
 
Older viewers fondly remember the big band music. Baby boomers recall seeing those folks -- their parents -- dance around the living room floor as gentlemanly Welk gracefully swung women from the audience for a turn or two to the "champagne music."
 
Watching the show today, with the women in matching colorful dresses and men in coordinating sweaters or ruffled shirts singing against softly sparkling backdrops, is like being at a perpetual prom. Everyone is on his or her best behavior under the sharp eye of the chaperone, and no necking is allowed.
 
Welk called most of his performers, regardless of age, his "kids," and there was no question that he was the head of what he always called his "Musical Family." He wrote a lot about the family concept in six autobiographical books, each of which packs personal optimism and positive thinking as dense as a Jersey barrier against which a negative notion would shatter on impact.
 
English said she and her fellow performers didn't think of themselves as a family at the time, but they do now.
   Ralna English acknowledges the nostalgia for 'The Lawrence Welk Show.'

 
"We talked about our children, we shared our ups and downs. I was close to the other girls, especially, and I made lifetime friends," she said. "We didn't realize we had become a family, but we have."
 
English thinks that the show has survived for a couple of reasons. For one thing, it has become a solid, reliable brand.
 
When you turn on "The Lawrence Welk Show" or see a live performance, you know what you're going to get (whether you like it or not) -- no four-letter words or bodacious booty that make you send the kids out of the room. Viewers get fooled on a lot of shows today, she said.
 
The main reason the Welk show has hung on is that it fills a niche, and one that has changed from when the TV show began in 1955.
 
"When it started, I think people watched it for the music," she said. "The big bands were popular, but there were none on TV at the time and Lawrence filled that niche, that spot. It was colorful and beautiful, and the music touched people's hearts.
 
"I also had people who had just come over from other countries say they watched it because they could understand the music and we had music from all over the world.
 
"Now, there's such nostalgia for a lot of people. It's one of the few things people can watch as a family."
 
Kim Jones, advertising and marketing communications manager for PBS station WUNC-TV, said that the Welk show, which airs Saturdays at 7 p.m., is one of the station's top 10 shows. Jones said the primary audience is people age 50 to 55 and older, but that there's also interest from the children of people in that age group.
 
The weekly shows are old broadcasts repackaged to remove commercials, which are replaced with new segments from performers. The performers talk about their days on the show, what they're doing now and their families.
New Welk specials are good draws during WUNC's Festival fund-raising time, and one will be shown in March. "Lawrence Welk: God Bless America" will air Saturday at 6 p.m. (with Bobby Burgess in the studio) and be rebroadcast March 15 at 7 p.m. (with Tom Netherton in the studio).
 
English said that in her travels -- she's on the road about 125 days a year with the show and her new CD, "My God My Country" -- she gets the sense that people are looking fondly for a place far from terrorism and war.
 
"It was a time when things were so different," she said. "Back to that peaceful, safe, family feeling."
 
Reach Debbie Moose at moosedj2001@yahoo.com.
 
What: The Live Lawrence Welk Show.
When: Tonight at 7.
Where: Carolina Theatre, 309 W. Morgan St., Durham.
Cost: $38.50, $40.50.
Call: 560-3030.
 

 

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