'Welk' cast carries on legacy with live shows
Tuesday, March 25, 2003
By Rich Berry
The Grand Rapids Press
Lawrence Welk died nearly 11 years ago at the age of 89, but his musical legacy is very much alive.

Cast members from Welk's television show -- which aired from 1955 to 1982 -- continue to stay busy as an ensemble performing Welk's trademark-style "Champagne Music" to live audiences across the country. Welk died in May 1992.
The "Live Lawrence Welk Show," featuring singing diva Ralna English, tap-dancing and marimba-playing Jack Imel, Welk's favorite dancing partner Mary Lou Metzger, country singer Ava Barber, jazz clarinetist Henry Cuesta and crooner Dick Dale, will make a tour stop at 3 p.m. Sunday at DeVos Performance Hall.
"Lawrence Welk hired people who were extremely talented. That was what Lawrence did best," English said in a phone interview from a tour stop in Las Vegas. "I really do feel his spirit is with us on this tour. This tour is a lot like the TV show in format, with more interaction between us. We may do a (solo) song and then do another with the group, just like we used to do on the show.
"We really are a musical family. Lawrence had no idea it would be that way. This show has been in production for 51 years, and no other show could have had the long-term success that we have had."
Fans of the "Lawrence Welk Show" remember English for her singing duets with her former husband and singing partner Guy Hovis. The pair divorced in 1984 but remain close friends, she said.
English joined the show in 1969 and has remained a part of Welk's musical family ever since. Although the "Lawrence Welk Show" was canceled by ABC in 1971, Welk immediately began syndicating the show to television stations around the country. The show finally ended in 1982, although the cast continued to perform in a series of prime time television specials in 1984 and 1985. Reruns of the show began airing on PBS in 1987.
The "Live Lawrence Welk Show" was put together by producer Brian Edwards and Welk's son Larry Welk. Their goal was to recreate the spirit of the television show in a live setting.
"This show is more of a production type of show," English said. "We do a variety of music and song-and-dance numbers. We do standards, Broadway tunes and jazz. We have a little something for everyone, including a patriotic segment at the end.
"Dick Dale plays the saxophone and sings. Jack Imel is as funny as all get-out, and he's a great singer. Mary Lou Metzer does tap and dances with Jack. Ava Barber is our country singer. Henry Cuesta plays the clarinet. And I'll do some gospel and patriotic things. It's a great show and we've had great response."
The patriotic portion of the "Live Lawrence Welk Show" has a timely element, but there is not an effort to exploit the war with Iraq, English said.
"People have said to me, 'Are you doing (the patriotic songs) because of the war?' " English said. "I tell them that we've been doing these for years. I never did a show with Lawrence when we didn't sing 'God Bless America,' and there was never a dry eye in the house when we finished."
English's version of "God Bless America" is included on her current CD "My God, My County," which features 10 patriotic and inspirational songs.
Sunday's performance of the "Live Lawrence Welk Show" is the last show on a 20-city tour. Additional cities likely will be added later this year.



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