Friday, October 08, 2010

Believe It Or Not

The grandkids were over last weekend and they wanted to know if I had any more of those made up ‘tall tales” about when I was growing up in Charlotte.

As you know, I can’t seem to convince them that my stories aren’t “made up,”

They’re true.

I admit they’re not your run of the mill “granddaddy stories” ( Detroit Lions playing football in the vacant lot beside Elizabeth School….My Football back up was a world record breaking athlete…My English teacher rode horses standing on his head…..etc.) but there was nothing about growing up in Charlotte North Carolina in the 40’s and 50’s that was “run of the mill.”

So, I told them to have a seat and I would tell them about singing on stage in Madison Square Garden and the time I was on Television…almost BEFORE anyone ever had a TV set….and in fact, Charlotte and most every other city in the country didn’t even have a TV station!

Around 1947 the Charlotte Rotary Club decided that they would create and sponsor a "Boys Choir." (My guess was this was inspired by the Mormon Tabernacle Boys Choir....which was highlighted on WBT every Sunday morning.) Anyway, they asked all the Charlotte public school music teachers to pick several of the "most musical boys" from their schools to be asked to join the choir; which was to be called THE CHARLOTTE BOYS CHOIR.

Ed as Charlotte Boys Choir Member
One of the big incentives offered to us was that we would be paid a quarter to practice every Saturday morning at the Central High School music room. Plus, at the end of the year, they planned to take us to New York City to participate in a concert at Madison Square Garden.

I guess entertainment was pretty hard to come by back then. However, we were passably OK. About the only kids I remember from the choir were Van Faulk who was a year ahead of me and Don Harris. Don was the best of the boy singers and he was given a solo part......where he dressed up as a cowboy and sang "I'm an Old Cowhand." That usually brought the house down.

Well, we took the train up to New York in the Spring of 1948 and, sure enough, we sang in Madison Square Garden. While we were in the big city, we were invited to be on TV!   None of us had ever seen TV before, but I was pretty sure it existed because there was a small input jack at the bottom of our big Philco floor model radio that the salesman had told my dad was where the TV screen was to be plugged in once it became available.

One of the earliest TV shows in the country… was being produced live out of NBC called "Ripley's Believe it of Not." The audience for this show could probably fit in a small room, because there were very few TV sets….even in New York City.

How we fit into the “Believe it or Not” format, I'm not quite sure, but we did sing a couple of tunes while trying to look angelic. The guest before us was a WW2 pilot who had bailed out of his plane......and survived even though his parachute hadn’t opened!

 Although I barely remember seeing him, Robert Ripley himself hosted that show….and in fact, I later read where he had collapsed and died right after the 13th show in that series. I hope the show we were on wasn’t that fateful 13th.

I wish my grandsons had stayed around to hear that story, but as usual, their eyes had glazed over and they had wondered off earlier…..about the time when their granddaddy said he was going to sing in Madison Square Garden.


Footnotes: Robert L. Ripley

Robert Ripley and wife
Robert LeRoy Ripley (December 25, 1890 - May 27, 1949)[1] was an American cartoonist, entrepreneur and amateur anthropologist, who created the world famous Ripley's Believe It or Not! newspaper panel series, radio show, and television show which feature odd 'facts' from around the world.

In 1932, he published the first cartoons of a little boy from his home town of Santa Rosa, California, about a beagle dog. That boy was Charles M. Schulz (1920-2000), best known for his strip, Peanuts.

A collector of all kinds of "junk," including a Chinese junk, it was said by his ex-wife, "either the junk goes or I go." She went.

-Billy Jack Long, Educator and tubist. (A tubist is a Tuba Player-Ed)