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Mack Williams: Singers reunited

Mack Williams

Again, local singers (me included) were assembled (“Once more unto the breach!”) to provide entertainment, this time at Danville’s Museum of Fine Arts and History, including heavy hors d’ouerves and cash bar on Valentine’s Day evening.

A previous Valentine’s Day concert venue was a local textile museum, now closed, like its theme: long departed Dan River Industries. After sunset, its small auditorium joins the night’s darkness; but in daytime, surely some sunlight weaves around closed blinds and drawn curtains.

Despite torrential rain and a mudslide, we fleshed out a program. I’ll mention a few songs, but concentrate on performers, those universal souls coming together to provide community entertainment.

“Lovebirds” of varying ages sat at decorated tables, roses for the ladies. The program’s “dedicatee” was Mrs. Jean Harper Vernon, organizer of many local musical delights over several decades. I remember two Frederick Delius festivals in which my late wife Diane and I sang (Delius lived in Danville from 1885-86, teaching, and performing his music).

The program’s theme was “Country Love,” one performer seeming truly country, playing guitar, singing, wearing a Stetson “Ranger” hat, and being offended if someone called it a “cowboy hat.” And when I said, “Ah yes, Texas Rangers,” he said, “Arizona had Rangers too.” He was a stickler for detail.

Two “70-80-ish” ladies were standing near a life-size picture of an old-time Southern Belle when the “70-ish” Ranger-hat (Texan or Arizonan) gentleman announced to them, “I’m looking for a woman,” a second later adding, “Really!” As the Victorian “Belle” in that old enlarged Matthew Brady-looking photograph might have reacted (if such were said to her) these ladies just smiled slightly, then giggled lightly.

The Ranger-hat gentleman performed “Dream Lover,” fortunately not announcing he sought the “real thing!”

A Methodist minister performed with song, guitar, and flute (not “shawm, trumpet, and timbrel,” speaking “Old Testamently”). He sang “The Wedding Song” by Peter, Paul and Mary’s Paul Stookey; and I reflected upon singing it at my own wedding. His beautiful, clear “Country Roads” made me recall an almost 180-degree Watauga County curve where one almost meets oneself, traveling to the unincorporated community of Valle Crucis.

One singer was the audial image (“audial image,” like Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Paradox”) of Patsy Cline. This singer directed me in an “Arsenic and Old Lace” production, where I achieved a life-long dream of “becoming” Peter Lorre (as Pastor Johnny Cozart says:”It is what it is!”). When she sang Cline’s “I Fall to Pieces,” the audience was pleasantly “shattered” by her rendition, sounding lip-synced, but it wasn’t.

We also had an “audial image” of Frank Sinatra. This marvelous singer brought back those wonderful 40s and 50s songs, reminding me of my boyhood listening to local radio. After each song, I half expected to hear Salisbury’s Russ McIntyre announce: “That was…”

One Broadway-style-voiced man performed Gershwin and Elvis tunes excellently, also “scating” quite well.

My songs were more “country” than “country love,” but still about hard-working men in “16 Tons” and “Big Bad John,” whose loved ones prayed for their daily safe return from dangerous work. I advised the audience to picture me as six-foot four, instead of my five-foot six, while singing those songs. I told them it helps me to imagine it too.

The “Sinatra singer” had substituted “Yanceyville” for “Chicago” in “Little Old Winemaker Me,” since he had Yanceyville friends present. Before singing, I mentioned his substitution; stating that since I lived in Salisbury from 1951-74, Yanceyville from 1974-2008, and Danville from 2008 till present, most of my life’s drinking had been done in Yanceyville (merely a matter of mathematics).

Jean Vernon sang “My Funny Valentine,” holding a stuffed Scottie with collared Valentine heart (“plush” instead of “stuffed,” since singing to a taxidermied or freeze-dried dog would be somewhat gruesome). Jean performed beautifully; and the moment was quite poignant.

Everyone enjoyed themselves, good times experienced when people use their talents to provide pleasantries for others’ life journeys, as well as their own.

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