Lawrence Welk singer to perform at July 4th Popera

by Robin Galiano, Reporter, Longview News-Journal, Friday, June 27, 2003

For baby boomers who watched "The Lawrence Welk Show" growing up, Ralna English is probably a familiar face.

The singer and her former husband, Guy Hovis, were two of Welk's favorite performers on a show that featured upbeat orchestral music, dancing, singing, glamorous costuming and, yes, those happy champagne bubbles.

"It was a Saturday night family affair," English said in a phone interview from her home in Arizona. "You'd roll your hair with Dippity-Do getting ready for church the next morning, have some popcorn and a root beer float. It's amazing, I've heard that story over and over."

English will perform in Longview at a 'Patriotic Pops Popera Program' 7 p.m. July 4 in T.G. Field Auditorium, Second and Magrill in downtown Longview. Sponsored by Opera Longview, the concert also will feature Keith Harris, the company's "Young Artist of the Year" for 2002, and the Opera Longview Orchestra, made up of 39 area symphonic musicians under the direction of Dr. James Snowden.

English joined "The Lawrence Welk Show" in 1969. The program has been on the air for more than 50 years, and English credits the show's family atmosphere for its popularity.

"It's been handed down from generation to generation," she said. "People still flip through the dial and their kids make them stop on 'The Lawrence Welk Show.' It was a pretty show; the colors, the costumes, the movement. That appeals to young children. He would have been 100 years old this year had he lived. he would be so proud that the show has carried on."

More than 2.5 million people still watch the program each week on 277 public television stations. English's recent national television special, "Lawrence Welk: God Bless "America," debuted in March on PBS. She also toured 25 cities that month with teh "live Lawrence Welk Show," which featured six of the program's original performers.

"We have the bubble machine," English said.

But that's just part of English's ongoing career. She also performs in concert halls from Atlantic City to Las Vegas and on stages from Branson, Mo., to New York City. She has a wide repertoire of jazz, blues, gospel, country, pop, patriotic and songs from the 1930s and 1940s.

But her favorite is gospel music, a style that became even closer to her heart when she had a spiritual experience during the 1980s.

"I had a breakdown and was hospitalized. I felt his hand on me in the hospital. Once you've experienced God's love like that, nothing else comes close. It just changed me. My heart is so into expressing that joy that comes from knowing him. I do love jazz, but I think my calling is gospel."

She and Hovis have been divorced since 1984, but English said the former couple are still close.

"Guy still is my partner. We're great friends. I have a lot of respect for Guy. We're family, we truly are," she said. "God heals all wounds if we let him. He's remarried now to Sis. She's a doll. She calls me her wife-in-law."

Her musical career was launched early on. While still a toddler, English began singing before she was talking.

"When I was 7 years old, I remember being on a stage for the first time in Lubbock singing 'Daddy's Little Girl' and wondering if everyone could see my knees knocking. I was so nervous."

By 13, she had her own band, Ralna English and the Ad Libs. The group played for Rotary and Lions clubs and sororities. Eventually, she performed with the "Saturday Night Jamboree" hosted by Jimmy Dean.

English has been recognized by the Gospel Music Association with a Dove Award nomination for her recording of "How Great Thou Art," and has an honored place on the "Buddy Holly Walk of Fame," along with other west Texans such as Mac Davis, Jimmy Dean and Waylon Jennings.

For English, the Longview concert will be a kind of homecoming. Growing up in Spur, she had an aunt who lived in Overton.

"I would come visit her in the summertime when I was 10, 12 years old. We would just have a great time. We would go to Longview for lunch. That was the big thing."

The Patriotic Pops Program will feature patriotic songs including "God Bless America," "Strike Up The Band," and "Battle Hymn of the Republic," as well as "Amazing Grace," "Let There Be Peace on Earth" and her signature song, "How Great Thou Art."

English will be available to meet the audience and sign autographs at the end of the performance. English also will sign copies of her CD "My God, My Country" from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday at Barron's, Loop 281 and McCann Road.

Tickets to the Fourth of July Patriotic Pops Popera Program are $15 each or $25 per couple. For tickets, call the Opera Longview box office.






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