Places to go and things to see by Gypsy Bev

Archive for April, 2018

Leonard Thomas – Born to Perform

Len Salt Fork Bash 2

When a piano’s not available, a keyboard will do.

When Leonard Thomas enters a room with a piano, you want to pull out the piano bench and have him tickle the ivories as he bursts into song.

While Len was born in Cambridge in 1927 and now lives there, he has traveled extensively using his musical talents not only at the piano or with his vibrant voice, but also in composing and directing. This man overflows with musical talent.

Len Note from Fred Waring

Fred Waring showed his appreciation to Len in this keepsake note.

He credits his success to the wonderful upbringing he received from his parents and siblings. Their support and encouragement make him feel lucky to have such a special family. He learned the importance of hard work from being a paperboy and soda jerk to conductor and performer.

The first time he sang in public happened at the First Christian Church when he was twenty-four months old. He entertained the crowd downstairs by singing “Bow Wow Blues” to the amazement of all. Len still calls this church home.

Len going places

Even as a youngster, Lenny had plans for going places.

When Lenny was only three years old, he went to visit with the family. A niece was just starting to take piano lessons and he asked her to show him what she was learning. She first  played the notes with her right hand, and Lenny played them back by ear. Next she played the left hand. Again Lenny played them back by ear. He asked her how you put them together and she said she had never done that yet. So Lenny said, “Do it like this.” and played them both.

By the time he was four, his parents thought he should have piano lessons, but they couldn’t afford it. Lenny went to see a lady across the street who gave piano lessons and told her he would like to take lessons but didn’t have any money to pay her.

She asked him if he would mow her yard for fifty cents a week. Lenny asked her how much the lessons would be. “Fifty cents a week.” It worked perfectly.

Len Fred, Ann and Len

Fred Waring and Len’s one-room school teacher, Anna Priaulx, visit with Len after a concert.

Lenny attended Rock Hill School, a one-room school near Center.  This provided a great learning atmosphere for him as he learned from all the classes. Everything fascinated him under the guidance of a very special teacher, Anna Priaulx.

By the age of ten, this young boy could play nearly all the classicals from great composers from memory.  He didn’t however forget the songs that were popular during that era.

Len Trio (2)

At Cambridge High School in 1947, Len played for this trio of  Carol, Barbara and Donna, who he said could harmonize as well as the Andrew Sisters.

At Cambridge High School, his musical talent has never been forgotten. His choice of a band instrument became a sousaphone, but he also sang in many groups as well as served as accompanist. No wonder he was voted the boy most likely to succeed as well as the most talented.

Len Muskingum Sr

Len graduated from Muskingum College and after retirement came back to assist with their music program.

Leonard graduated from Muskingum College with a B.S. in Music Education, but he never intended to use it. He wanted a career in performing so headed to Boston University, where he studied with great success.

But when he got home from Boston, his mother told him there was a letter waiting for him. It was his draft call from the Army. Len got lucky again as he was assigned to a base with a band. Now he could use his sousaphone experience from high school to participate in the Army band.

With this band, he headed to Germany, where they spent their time performing, participating in parades and singing at the chapel and in a barbershop quartet. Why he even had his own apartment and gave piano lessons.

Upon his return home, the hand of God guided him to the minister of the Central Presbyterian Church in Zanesville. There he had his first real job as choral director for five choirs among other assignment.

Along came someone from the court system and suggested that Len become a probation officer since he worked so well with young people. Now he had two jobs, so decided to buy his first car – a black ’57 Sunliner convertible.

Len with Steinbach

He still plays the piano he purchased in New York City in 1964, when he lived in a townhouse on the 19th floor.

Three years later, Len again decided to further his education and headed back to Boston to pursue his doctorate. Since all the schools were closed for the summer, he contacted an Army buddy in New York City and moved there for a while to a Central Park Townhouse.

Enjoying city life, Len began looking for a teaching job in the area.  He found one in Brooklyn at McKinley Jr. High School. Here he directed their choirs and led them in performing outstanding concerts. For eleven and a half years, this was his life.

Len Pennsylvanians

An attractive program design highlights Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians.

Well, except for summers!  Those last six summers he attended Fred Waring’s Workshops, where he learned more about performing. One of the students asked Len to play for their audition. It was Len that landed the job to play with the Pennsylvanians with his keyboard talent.

Len Young Pennsylvanians

Teaching young people is something he has always enjoyed. Here he is conductor for the Young Pennsylvanians.

For many years, Leonard performed with Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians. During the 40s and early 50s, Waring produced a string of hits, selling millions of records. Breezin’ Along with the Breeze was his signature tune. Waring’s often called The Man Who Taught America to Sing. Len Thomas was one of those he helped along the way.

Len and Fred at last performance

Pennsylvanians perform for the final time with Len and Fred Waring, only twelve days before Waring’ passed away.

When Fred Waring died in 1984, Len was asked to work as editor and arranger for Shawnee Press, which was founded by Fred Waring. Shawnee Press has been instrumental in providing quality musical arrangements to high schools, colleges, and orchestras.

Len Shawnee Press Business card

Len’s business card with Shawnee Press carried Waring’s logo at the top.

After working for Shawnee Press for seventeen years, it was sold and moved to another state. At the same time, Len had an offer to purchase his beautiful home in Pennsylvania. His heart and mind said it was time to return home.

Len Distinguished Service Award at Muskingum

Len received the Distinguished Service Award at Muskingum University.

When he returned, Muskingum College requested that he direct their concert choir. Frequently, he gave piano lessons, where he explained to students that playing the piano isn’t just done with the fingers, but with the wrists, arms and elbows. Your entire body feels the music.

Len at Salt Fork Festival Chorus

He still loves to perform and assists with many community musical events, such as the Salt Fork Festival Chorus.

The community feels lucky to have him return to the Cambridge area. Now he plays in the Muskingum Jazz Group, for numerous groups including the Cambridge Singers, and provides background music for many banquets, parties, funerals and weddings.  Let’s face it, Len loves to perform.

Preservation Dixieland All Stars

Preservation Dixieland All Stars will be performing at the Salt Fork Festival BASH. Members include: Jerry Weaver, Len Thomas, Don Kason, and Dave Jacobs.

Today at the age of 86, he has no problem remembering all those songs from years gone by. No matter what song is requested, Len’s fingers respond perfect. “The Lord’s been good to me,” smiled Len, as he’s fulfilled all his dreams.

His twilight years have been both enjoyable and fulfilling. Now it the time when he can give back to the community where he grew up. “When you spend time helping others, you find the happiness you seek.”

 

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Blessing the Orthodox Easter Basket

Veselenak family at Easter

The Veselenak family continues the Easter tradition followed by their grandparents and great-grandparents at St. Michael’s Orthodox Church in Robins in the early 1900s.

Traditions often bring families closer together. An old Czech tradition being carried on at the Christ the Saviour Orthodox Church in Byesville involves an Easter Basket. This year, the Orthodox Easter falls on April 8.


When the blessing of Easter Baskets likely began back in the 1700s, people faced stark times without meats or fats in their diets for the 40 days of Lent. Being able to return these items to the table was a big part of the Easter celebration.

Most Orthodox celebrate Lent as a time to do without meat and cheese or something that they especially like. They want to make a sacrifice that is meaningful.

Slovak Inside Church

Christ the Saviour Orthodox Church in Byesville is filled with light during the Easter service.

On Holy Saturday evening before Easter Sunday, they gather at the Byesville church to create a service of resurrection. The darkened church becomes filled with light after circling the church three times to indicate the three days Jesus stayed in the tomb.

Slovak priest

Easter baskets are blessed by Orthodox priest, Father Benjamin Johnson.

After this service, early on Sunday morning, the priest then blesses all the Easter baskets that have been brought to the church hall. Then there is a bountiful feast, as they once again enjoy the taste of meat, cheese, and their favorite food that they haven’t had during the weeks of Lent.

Slovak Basket

These beautifully filled baskets contain everything expected and even more.

Each item in the large Easter basket holds special meaning:

  • Bread symbolizes Jesus, the Bread of Life.

  • Easter eggs represent our new life in Christ.

  • Salt reminds Christians they are to “season” the Earth.

  • Meat stand for Joy and Abundance.

  • Candles signify Christ as the Light of the World.

  • Ribbons symbolize Joy and Celebration.

Other items they might add are chocolates and desserts.

Slovak Bread

Bread has various designs on the top with this using the symbol of the cross.

The Pascha Easter bread is a sweet, rich bread filled with eggs. milk and butter…the foods that were not eaten during Lent. The bread is often braided to represent Christ’s crown of thorns.

Slovak Easter eggs

Every basket is certain to contain intricately decorated Easter eggs.

A red egg plays an important role in the Orthodox Easter. Legend says that when Mary Magdalene told the emperor about the empty tomb, she held an egg as a symbol of it. The emperor said the empty tomb was just about as likely as the egg in her hand turning red. The egg did turn red and has ever since been part of the Easter tradition.

Slovak Basket cover

A traditional embroidered cover is placed over the basket.

Some of the men make smoked kielbasa for this special Easter Basket, while the women might prepare cirak, a special Slovak Easter Cheese. This homemade cheese is very mild and often served sliced with baked ham and beet horseradish. A great sandwich treat!

Traditions like this Easter Basket bring families together as they create and share the contents, while celebrating the meaning of this Holy Easter Season. Their church bulletin states: “May God reward your good deeds and preserve the spirit of devotion to Him every day of the year.”

Photos were provided by Nicole Veselenak Caslow. She is the daughter of Rick and Chris Veselenak. I’m proud to say the pictured, dedicated men – Mike, Rick and Gary – are my cousins. Our grandparents, George and Mary Veselenak (Dede and Baba to us) attended the St. Michael’s Orthodox Church in Robins in the early 1900s.

Wheeling Jamboree Celebrates 85th Anniversary – The Country Music Show with Tradition Like No Other

 

Capitol Theatre

Capitol Theatre in downtown Wheeling, WV will host the 85th Wheeling Jamboree Anniversary.

Wheeling Jamboree lives on! The Historic 85th Anniversary of the Wheeling Jamboree will be held on April 7, 2018 at The Capitol Theatre in downtown Wheeling. Many of the stars will be familiar, and some new, but the country atmosphere will still fill the theater.

The jamboree originated in 1933 on the first Wheeling radio station, a 50,000 watt clear channel station – WWVA. One of its early announcers was Howard Donahoe, who later came to Cambridge to start WILE in 1948.

Mel Tillis

The late Mel Tillis was beloved by country music fans everywhere.

The working people of the Ohio Valley and the Northeast US have their roots in country music so the words in the songs ring true to their lives. That’s why the Jamboree became a popular Saturday evening entertainment.

A unique diversity also appears in Wheeling. The Jamboree and the Wheeling Symphony both take place in Capitol Theatre. So no matter what your musical taste, it can easily be satisfied in Wheeling.

JohnnyCashOnStageatJamboree1968_Enhanced

Johnny Cash made an appearance at the Jamboree early in his career.

William Wallace”Bill” Jones and the Sparkling Four was the first hillbilly act on the radio. They took requests over the telephone. Jones received many requests for yodeling songs and you may have heard him called Silver Yodelin’ Bill Jones.

Due to the popularity of the Jamboree music shows, it was decided to add a live audience to the Jamboree on Saturday nights. The first stage performance of the World’s Original WWVA Jamboree took place at the Capitol Theatre later in 1933 with all local talent, in front of an audience of over 3,000 fans. Then for decades, they broadcast from a different spot each Saturday evening.

Dolly_Parton_Jamboree_3_1976

Dolly Parton performed at Wheeling Jamboree in 1976.

During WWII, the Jamboree returned to the studio due to the war effort, then began stage performances after the war at Wheeling’s Virginia Theater. One of the most popular Jamboree stars at that time was honky-tonk vocalist, Hawkshaw Hawkins. Add to that the Sunshine Boys and “Yodelin’ Ranger” Hank Snow and people began looking forward to another evening of the Jamboree. If you were a top artist, you did the Jamboree.

Men would bring their cow bells with them as each bell had a unique sound. That way their family back home would know they were in attendance. Today, you’ll still hear the sound of cow bells over the radio on Jamboree nights on WBPS in Cambridge and WWOV in Wheeling.

JamboreeVirginiaTheater1946Color

The cast of the 1945 Wheeling Jamboree gathered on stage.

During the late 1940s, my parents took me on perhaps my first gypsy road trip to Virginia Theater to see the Wheeling Jamboree. Two names stick in my mind from that long ago show – Hawkshaw Hawkins with Dog House Boogie, and Grandpa Jones, who later starred in Hee Haw. At the time, this was quite the adventure from the hills of Indian Camp.

When the Virginia Theater was demolished after 16 years of hosting the Jamboree, their new home became the Rex Theater for four years. Then it was moved to Wheeling Island Exhibition Hall in 1966.

Brad young (259x194)

Brad Paisley began playing at the Jamboree when he was ten years old.

Over the years, the Jamboree provided the perfect place for young local talent to get their start. Brad Paisley, from nearby Glen Dale, sang on the Jamboree at the age of 10 and played with their band weekly for eight years before moving on to Nashville.

Ronnie Milsap

Ronnie Milsap will be one of the performers at the 85th Anniversary.

The 85th Anniversary will be celebrated with well known country stars including Country Music Hall of Fame Members Ronnie Milsap and Charley McCoy. Add to that Wheeling native Tim O’Brien along with Darnell Milller, Rachel Whitcomb and more surprises. Emcee for the evening will be long-time country music personality, Keith Bilbrey.

Craig Wayne Boyd Jamboree

Craig Wayne Boyd was a winner on The Voice, but appeared at the Jamboree long before winning.

Today the Wheeling Jamboree broadcasts on WWOV to the air waves of the greater Wheeling area. Dave Heath, president of Wheeling Jamboree, Inc. and WWOV, has been instrumental in keeping this musical program alive.

Capitol Interior Post Renovation

The interior of the Capitol Theatre has recently had a grand renovation.

Whether you know the Jamboree as the Original WWVA Jamboree, Jamboree USA or The Wheeling Jamboree it remains the 2nd oldest Country Music Radio Broadcast Stage Show in history, behind the Grand Old Opry. Celebrate their 85th Anniversary on April 7 at 7:00 at the Capitol Theatre.

Ticket prices range from $20-$65 and can be purchased online at www.capitoltheatrewheeling.com .You’ve got me thinkin’ that a trip to the Jamboree would be the perfect way to spend an evening.

Capitol Theatre in Wheeling, WV can easily be reached off I-70 at Exit 1A. Take Route 40 straight downtown. The Theatre is on the right hand side at 1015 Main Street.

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