LIFELONG LOVE OF SINGING BEGINS! Local shows, Tupelo District Talent Contest

CHURCH | Back in the early 40's in the summer, when churches had their Vacation Bible Schools, we attended all denominations. One summer Miss Winnie Whorton had a Vacation Bible School music class at the First Baptist church, she played piano and also sang. She asked me to perform at parent's night which ended the week of bible school, I was scared, but loved it, this was the beginning of my singing career.

"Oh Holy Night" and "The Lord's Prayer | Two of my favorite songs to sing, that I sang my entire life and many times in church were "Oh Holy Night" and "The Lord's Prayer", I have many people whose most cherished memories of my singing career were hearing these songs in church, I started singing "Oh Holy Night" every Christmas from childhood through adulthood at the Verona Methodist Church in Verona, MS, our family church. 

WALTER & RUBY LONG | When I was 10 or 11 years old, I started singing in public - talent shows, civic club meetings, or anywhere else I got a chance to. At one of the talent shows I had entered and won, two of the judges from Tupelo came up to me afterwards and told me how impressed they were with my performance, their names were Walter and Ruby Long. After meeting Mom, they asked her if they could help me work on my singing voice and stage presence, all at no charge. The couple were well known and liked in Tupelo for working with young people that they felt had talent that could be developed. 

Walter and Ruby organized and produced talent shows, entertainment shows for civic clubs, school fund raisers, and other entertainment related happenings. They were paid a small fee to bring talent to different shows in different areas of town. Ruby also played the piano and organ for dance school recital shows, and Walter was a master of ceremonies, promoter, and great showman. 

 

Through Ruby's work with dance recital shows, I met Bob Simpson, a dance instructor. After trying to teach me to shuffle ball change and realizing my feet just didn't work that way, he gave me a job as a production singer for some of the dance numbers. The dancers danced and I sang out front. I loved it. Walter and Ruby took me to talent shows throughout the Mid-South and TN.

After Walter's death, Ruby continued playing for dance studios and promoting shows and although she continued helping me with my performances, she was unable to play for some of my talent shows and singing engagements. This is when I met Gail McKinney. Gail lived in Tupelo and played piano for her dad's quartet. I knew she had to be good to play for a quartet, and she agreed to start playing backup for my shows. This was the start of a great friendship. I never had to worry about Gail backing me up, she just knew what to do and when to do it, which helped build my confidence in my singing.

TUPELO DISTRICT TALENT CONTEST, 1955 | Although I had been entering local talent contests for a few years, I really got my "big break" when I won first place in the Tupelo District Talent contest held at Lawhon School auditorium in Tupelo. You had to win your way to the top ten and Friday night finales, I sang two songs, "It's a Sin to Tell a Lie" and "If I Loved You". Gail McKinney played piano backup for me, she was great! This talent show featured winners from a three state area that I competed against. Winning qualified me to be a contestant in the Mid-South Fair Youth Talent show.