Friday, September 3, 2010

Remembering the Original Amateur Hour and the Minstrels from Southeast Missouri

Before American Idol and America's Got Talent, even before Star Search, the Original Amateur Hour was introducing Americans to singers, dancers, comedians, and other performers through television and radio broadcasts for 70 years, from 1935 until 1970 -- with a total of 3 1/2 million auditioning and 25,000 acts performing on the program.  Such notables as Ann-Margret, Frank Sinatra, Pat Boone, Maria Callas, Joey Dee and the Starlighters, The Gentrys, Penny Marshall, Beverly Sills, Jim Stafford, and Gladys Knight appeared on the Original Amateur Hour and countless others competed for the public's votes each week.  The "Wheel of Fortune" was spun at the beginning of each show to determine the order of the acts' appearance ("Round and round and round she goes andwhere she stops, nobody knows").  From there, audiences enjoyed jugglers, baton twirlers, tap dancers, ventriloquists, and a variety of other acts -- all applauded and supported by friends and family back home.

In 1964, residents of Kennett, Missouri and the surrounding area supported a group of young men called The Minstrels.  The Minstrels were folksingers and first performed together in a Teens Against Polio assembly in January of 1963.  David Freeman, David Kerr, Ken Stuart, Terry Hunter, Richard Cleek, and Steve Reagan went on to compete in several area talent shows in Senath, Deering, Portageville, Hayti, Rector (Arkansas), East Prairie, Cardwell, Charleston and Jackson.  They also performed at numerous local and regional events, on Memphis television and Missouri and Arkansas radio stations. They were also among the finalists at the Mid-South Fair talent competition in Memphis in 1963.

The Minstrels won their audition for the Original Amateur Hour at the 1963 Delta Fair Talent Show .  They tried out for the Ted Mack show in June and were scheduled for an appearance in August.  The group sang "Frogg #1" (also known as "Frog Went a Courtin'") and won that evening, entitling them to a second appearance, where they performed "Waterfall."

I was a Minstrels fan throughout the existence of the group, attending most of their talent shows, and I was proud of my brother for being a member of the Minstrels. They brought pride to their community and continued to do so as they grew into respectful and respected young men.  I believe that this is because they were a product of their community, which expected and rewarded great things from them.

I was visiting with a group of friends recently and the conversation went to Sheryl Crow and up-and-coming country star David Nail, both of whom grew up in the small community of Kennett.  Credit was given to the outstanding music education opportunities and support that the community offers to its young people.  I agree with that assessment and appreciate the benefits of a strong school music program to everybody -- whether it be through a noted local performer or an individual's  lifelong enjoyment of music.  The contributions of music teachers, band directors, music club organizers, and all of those who support music for young people can't be overestimated.  Groups like the Minstrels and performers like Sheryl Crow and David Nail are products of their work -- and make us all proud.

5 comments:

Joy said...

I used to watch those shows regularly. Good memories!

Leanne said...

Awe, Annie!! I absolutely LOVE this post - and I love how I always learning something every tiem I come by here! How absolute COOL that your brother was a part of the Minstrels. Really great post.

heather@actingbalanced.com said...

thanks for stopping by Acting Balanced - this was great to learn more about the Minstrels... growing up in Toronto, Canada I was able to watch the birth and launch of many Canadian musical careers and it's always great to be able to say "I was a fan when..."

♥The Sweet Life♥ said...

Hi! I found you through the Lady Bloggers Tea Party. Your blog is very interesting.

Karen Peterson said...

The Original Amateur Hour was a little before my time. Such great memories of a better time. Where I live, we just don't have the same sense of community and it makes a very obvious difference.

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