- Champagne music for life
Ralna English is Welk star
through and through
- by Randy Cordova
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 11, 2003 12:00 AM
- For Ralna English, the good
and bad in life go hand in hand.
- Take, for instance, The Lawrence
Welk Show. To an audience fond of lovely melodies and simpler
times, she has been a star for more than 30 years.
- But the Scottsdale woman
is self-aware enough to know that to a good number of people,
being a Lawrence Welk star is right up there with a Kathie Lee
Christmas special and an Osmonds reunion tour.
- "Once I got on the show,
there never has been anything else as a career," says English,
dark-haired, porcelain-skinned and petite. "You're pigeonholed.
You're not gonna do anything else if you're a Welk star. . .
. Forget it."
- Photo by Sherrie Buzby/The
- Ralna English has fond memories
of her late boss, Lawrence Welk, shown with English in a publicity
photo from The Lawrence Welk Show.
- She says the words with a
smile. There's no bitterness, even though she could have been
huge. Lawrence Welk's son, Larry, agrees.
- "The Welk show didn't
do Ralna justice," says Larry Welk, CEO and chairman of
the board of the Welk Music Group. "A lot of things Ralna
can do songwise and vocally, she would never do on the Welk show."
- On TV, English's big number
was the Christian standard How Great Thou Art. She sang it bold
and gutsy, with a tear in her voice. She includes the song in
every concert she does. She was supposed to perform it at Lawrence
Welk's funeral in 1992, but she was too upset to sing it.
- English didn't grow up listening
to gospel. She wasn't much for country music, either, or even
pop. It was jazz that first captured her heart. Dinah Washington,
Ella Fitzgerald, Morgana King - those were the singers she loved.
- Even today, there's something
deep and bluesy in English's voice. No matter what she sings,
there's an intangible soulful quality that is her own.
- "Ralna has a really
unbelievable voice," says Clarke Rigsby, who recorded her
latest album, My God, My Country, at his Tempest studios in Tempe.
"Next to Levi Stubbs of the Four Tops, she's got one of
the most powerful voices I've ever recorded."
- English is no stranger to
compliments. She was 5 when she made her first public performance,
singing Daddy's Little Girl at Spur High School in tiny Spur,
- "I remember standing
almost on the edge of the stage," she recalls, her voice
still dripping with a sweet Southern twang. "I had on a
short dress and a sash, and I remember my knees were shaking,
and I was thinking, 'Can they see my knees?' "
- She formed her first band
in junior high school, playing around the Lone Star State. She
sang backup on a Waylon Jennings record. She beat out Buddy Holly
and the Crickets in a competition, and she has the trophy to
- She did some recording, scoring
a regional hit with a song called Fortune Teller.
- "It was Number 1 in
San Bernardino County (Calif.)," she says with a salty laugh.
- Her life took a turn while
she was playing a club in Los Angeles called the Horn in the
late '60s. It was a popular place, in which the likes of Steve
Martin, Vikki Carr and Jack Jones got their starts.
- "My grandmother loved
The Lawrence Welk Show so much," English says. "While
I was working there, I would always ask, 'Does anybody know anyone
with The Lawrence Welk Show?' "
- One day, someone from the
show saw her. Welk gave his blessing, and she joined in May 1969.
But she didn't jump at the chance.
- "I didn't know if I
wanted to do it," she says. "But my parents had a fit:
'You must do that show!' So I did it."
- A few months later, she got
her husband on the show. Guy Hovis was handsome and clean-cut.
They were perfect looking, like two wedding-cake figurines. Together,
they became the Tim and Faith of the Welk set.
- They were a big deal. They
did the talk-show circuit, including The Tonight Show and Merv
Griffin. Guy and Ralna never had a hit single, but an album of
hymns they recorded sold more than 300,000 copies.
- However, as any Welk watcher
could tell you, the union ended in divorce. They split in 1984,
though they still sing together.
- "The funny thing is,
we are so compatible onstage," English says. "We know
exactly what we're doing. It's like breathing. But in our personal
life, we couldn't handle being together."
- They have a daughter, Julie,
who lives in the Valley. Guy remarried; his spouse playfully
calls Ralna her "wife-in-law."
- English laughs about it,
but it wasn't easy. In 1980, she was hospitalized for two weeks.
- "Lawrence really came
to my rescue. He hid me in Santa Monica (Calif.). They put me
on a floor where there was no traffic and only certain doctors
knew about me. I was in a mental ward overnight."
- That night changed her life.
- "I was lying there,
and I looked up and said, 'Jesus, even you're not here.' And
I got really still, and I felt a hand on my hand. I had this
tremendous feeling of reassurance, blessed assurance. I felt
a love that can't be described in this world.
- "It was a new beginning
in my life. . . . That's why I'm a happy person today."
- These days, English bounces
between her elegant home in north Scottsdale, where she has lived
for nine years, and Branson, Mo., where the Welk organization
has a theater. She keeps fit playing tennis and is active in
the ChildHelp USA charity.
- She'll admit to being in
her 50s, but English looks like a woman in her 40s. The singing
voice is still ripe and strong. It makes you wonder about the
what-ifs: What if she left the world of Welk? With its colorful
costumes, Colgate smiles and homespun philosophies, it's a Mickey
Mouse Club for adults. No wonder toothy ex-Mouseketeer Bobby
Burgess found a home there.
- "It did bother me for
a period of my life," English says. "But I can honestly
say I've been very accepting of the road that I believe was designed
for me. I think God has a plan. God was guiding me."
- Still, you wonder. In 1982,
English was singing at a Los Angeles club, and some A&R guys
from Capitol Records spotted her and talked to her about a label
- "I turned it over to
my manager, who went to Larry Welk," she says. "And
that was the end of that."
- She's a different woman today.
- "I've learned a lot.
Now I handle my own business, my own recordings. If that happened
now, I would not have allowed that to happen."
- Still, English doesn't dwell
on might-have-beens. She's a Welk star, through and through.
- "How many people have
had a career this steady in the business?" she asks. "Not
just a career, but a steady career? I mean, I've been on television
for 34 years. It's phenomenal."
- The Welk connection will
never end, but there will come a time when English returns to
her roots. She promises.
- "I have a feeling in
five or 10 years, I'll be sitting on a barstool in Phoenix someplace,
with a trio, just singing jazz."
- Will the Welk fans accept
- "Some will," she
says with a smile. "Some won't."