'The Live Lawrence Welk Show' coming to Peoria
Former cast member Ralna English to perform
March 16, 2003
by Brenda Story of the Peoria Journal Star
PEORIA - If you're old enough to remember "The Lawrence Welk Show," you know it had a "wunnerful, wunnerful" run on commercial television.
Those tiny bubbles rose from the stage every Saturday night on ABC from July 1955 to September 1971, then the show was produced in syndication through 1982. The programs are still broadcast on many television stations throughout the United States, including Peoria's WTVP-TV, Channel 47, where it airs at 7 p.m. Saturdays.
And now "The Live Lawrence Welk Show" is drawing audiences to theaters around the country.
When the show is performed March 24 at the Peoria Civic Center Theater, vocalist Ralna English will be among six original cast members appearing with the Welk entourage.
Other originals include the tap-dancing and marimba-playing Jack Imel; one of Welk's favorite dancing partners, Mary Lou Matzger; country singer Ava Barber; crooner and musician Dick Dale; and jazz clarinetist Henry Cuesta.
"I think even if young people do not remember 'The Lawrence Welk Show,' they probably are familiar with who he was," English said during a recent interview from her home in Scottsdale, Ariz.
"I think that generations of parents have shared this show with their children, and grandparents have shared it with their grandchildren.
"It was just that kind of show. It was a family show, and it was pretty to look at. We had beautiful sets and colors. Now we are passing it on to another generation in the form of a live show."
But when English said when she first performed on the show, she thought it was just for one night - she never dreamed she would make it a career.
"I had an established career and was very happy with the way things were progressing," she said. "I had moved from Texas to California in 1967 and was working at a club in Santa Monica called The Horn. People like Jim Nabors, Steve Martin and Vikki Carr got their start there.
"I wanted to get on 'The Lawrence Welk Show' for just one night because I wanted to do something nice for my grandmother who always watched the show," English said.
English knew the show was holding auditions near The Horn and found someone connected to the show who arranged an audition for her.
"He (Welk) was very gracious. But he basically said that he didn't have a place for me, but if anything opens up, I'll give you a call.
"Well, I figured that meant, 'Don't call us, we'll call you.' But a few months later someone left the show, and he (Welk) called and asked me to do one of his television shows. I was very thrilled."
That was in 1969. After her first performance, Welk invited English to become a regular.
"I almost turned him down," she said, chuckling. "But my parents threw a fit, and Guy (English's former husband, vocalist Guy Hovis) thought that I was crazy. So I thought maybe I should do it."
But she didn't know she would become part of a musical legacy.
"The Lawrence Welk Show" first aired on KTLA-TV in Los Angeles in 1951 and began broadcasting nationally on the ABC network in 1955.
Welk's orchestra, with its trademark champagne bubbles and easy-listening style of music, has since found its way into the living rooms and hearts of thousands for more than 50 years.
Welk was born in Strasburg, N.D., in 1903. He was an accomplished piano and accordion player and formed his first dance band in the mid-1920s. He died of pneumonia in 1992 at the age of 89.
"We had so much fun on the show, but we didn't realize the magnitude of what we were doing," English said.
"He (Welk) was charismatic and brilliant in his performances. He was a great mentor to us all, and we miss him still."



Copyright 2001 by R.E.E. Productions. All worldwide rights reserved.
P.O. Box 14522 Scottsdale, AZ 85267-4522