All is Welk

After 32 years, "Lawrence Welk Show" star still has a song in her heart

By Benjie Hughes
Aurora Beacon News, Aurora, IL

She wanted to do it for her grandmother.

Ralna English lived with her parents and her sister in Spur, Texas. Her grandmother lived in Haskell, two hours away. The family visited on Saturdays. And every Saturday night, at grandmother's request, the family found itself watching The Lawrence Welk Show.

English began making a living as a singer at age 13. If her grandmother was going to see her perform, she quickly realized, she would have to find a way to get onto The Lawrence Welk Show.

Of course, there was lots of work to do first. English made her way from junior-high rock band to a "Six Flags Over Texas" college show to singing jingles and appearing at nightclubs. In an Atlantic City, N.J. club called the Steel Pier, she and then-husband Guy Hovis took the stage each night after a troupe of performing chimpanzees. The backstage hallway was narrow, and the chimps used to lunge at her on their way offstage. It was the price of working in show business.

By her early 20s, English was performing at The Horn in Santa Monica, Calif. with regulars like Jim Nabors and Steve Martin. She started asking around about Lawrence Welk. Someone had a connection. She managed to get an audition. It went reasonably well.

When Lawrence Welk invited English to sing on his show in 1969, she didn't know she would become a regular. She certainly didn't know she'd have the same job 32 years later.

"I never in a million years would have thought that I would still be doing this," English says now. "Nobody thought we'd be on television this long."

The Lawrence Welk Show is now in its 50th season. It airs weekly on 275 public television stations across the nation. The touring version playing the Paramount Arts Center on Tuesday features English, Mary Lou Metzger, Jack Imel, Henry Cuesta and Ava Barber, all from the show's original cast, in addition to the Lawrence Welk Orchestra, accordionist Tim Padilla and Russian dancers Pasha and Aliona. Its intent is to recreate the spirit of the television show in a "live" format.




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