'Wunnerful' Ralna English

She and other Lawrence Welk regulars have revived that unmistakable champagne sound
 
by Sandy Posnak
The Whoot newspaper, Atlantic City, NJ
 
When The Live Lawrence Welk Show appears in the Tropicana Showroom on Friday and Saturday, vocalist Ralna English will be among five original cast members appearing with the Welk entourage. English has enjoyed a long and "wunnerful, wunnerful" association with the Welk Show. But it's a career that almost didn't happen!
 
When the singer first performed on the show in 1969, she thought that it was just for a one-night stint, and that was just fine with her. She already had an established career and was happy with the way things were progressing. "I had moved from Texas to California in 1967 and was kept busy doing so many things. I was working at a club in Santa Monica called the Horn where people like Jim Nabors, Steve Martin and Vikki Carr got their start. But 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 recalled during a phone interview from her Scottsdale, Ariz. residence.
 
As luck would have it, another performer at The Horn knew someone connected with the Welk Show who arranged for English to audition with Welk. "Lawrence listened to me sing. He was very gracious and very charismatic with that big smile of his. And he said basically, 'You know, I don't have a place for you right now, but I'll give you a call if anything opens up.' And I thought, 'Well, that means don't call us, we'll call you.' But a few months later a girl left the show and he [Welk] called and asked me to do one of his television shows. I was very thrilled, of course."
 
Ralna's initial appearance was followed by an invitation from Welk to become a show regular. "My first inclination was to turn the offer down. I really had not planned for my career to be The Lawrence Welk Show. I just wanted to do that one show. But my parents threw a fit and Guy (her former husband, vocalist Guy Hovis) thought that I was crazy. So I thought maybe I should do it."
 
English joined the show and became a part of a musical legacy that began more than fifty-years-ago. "It has been the most wonderful career for me; I have learned so much and grown so much," she said.
 
The Lawrence Welk Show first aired on KTLA TV in Los Angeles in 1951 and began broadcasting nationally on the ABC network for years later. Its casual, easy-listening format featured smiling performers dressed in colorful outfits, celebrity guests, and of course, The Lawrence Welk Orchestra with its trademark champagne bubbles. The show landed a syndication deal that kept it in production until Welk retired in 1982.
 
Welk was born in Strasburg, North Dakota, in 1903. He achieved a measure of competence on the piano and accordion prior to forming a dance band in the mid-nineteen-twenties. He died of pneumonia in 1992 at the age of 89.
 
"We did our last television show at ABC Studios in Hollywood in February of 1982," English recalled. "Then in 1984, we did a special and in 1985 we did another special.
 
"In 1987, Public Television came into our lives with a show about Lawrence Welk called Television's Music Man. Because of its success, Bob Allen from OETA - a public television station in Oklahoma - brought it to public television nationally on a weekly basis. Basically, we take the old shows and we do what we call 'wraparounds.'" Wraparounds are original Lawrence Welk shows introduced and hosted by original Welk performers, including Ralna. The hosts relate interesting tidbits about their years on the shows and often perform some of their current music. "I just did a wraparound in Escondido and Guy (Hovis) also did a wraparound in Escondido; we were there at the same time.
 
"On the particular show that I hosted, Guy played the guitar, I sang 'Amazing Grace' and we did a duet together. And then on his show we did a duet together," Ralna explained. Both shows were taped for future broadcasts of The Lawrence Welk Show, which is viewed by more than two and a half million Welk fans each week.

"We are celebrating more than 50 years on television this year and this is unprecedented; no other show is still in production after so many years," Ralna said.
 
Ralna expressed her thoughts about the reasons for the success and longevity of the Welk show. "I think that it's a family affair. Generations of parents have shared this show with their children; grandparents have shared it with their grandchildren. It's a show that the whole family can sit and watch, as opposed to the language and sexually oriented programs on TV today. And it was pretty to look at visually. We had beautiful sets and colors.
 
"We had so much fun on the show but we didn't realize the magnitude of what we were doing. This man (Welk) was charismatic and brilliant in his performances....He was a great mentor and we miss him still. We have a place in Branson called the Champagne Theater and every time that I walk in there and stand on that stage I think how he would love to perform for the people there."
 
Larry Welk Jr., is the producer of The Live Lawrence Welk Show. In addition to English, it features original cast members Ava Barber, a country singer who's recording of "Bucket to the South" ranked high on the charts; Henry Cuesta, a clarinet virtuoso who has been compared to Benny Goodman because of his technical mastery of the clarinet; Jack Imel who is known for his marimba experitse and his fast-stepping tap-dancing skills, and singer/dancer Mary Lou Metzger, the gal who danced with the champagne maestro at the end of each weekly television show. Also appearing are Welk Russian dancers Pasha and Aylona, accordionist Tim Padilla, and The Lawrence Welk Orchestra.
 
"It's a fun show," English said, "And it's very notalgic."

 

 

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