Sisters of Song: Lennon Sisters continue Lawrence Welk's tradition with February concert

2014-01-28T00:00:00Z Sisters of Song: Lennon Sisters continue Lawrence Welk's tradition with February concertBy Philip Potempa philip.potempa@nwi.com, (219) 852-4327 nwitimes.com

Kathy Lennon of the legendary sisters singing group The Lennon Sisters is excited to return to Chicago next month with her sisters for a pair of Valentine's Day week concerts.

"Holidays were one of the favorite themes of 'The Lawrence Welk Show,' and Valentine's Day was always special," said Lennon during a telephone interview while performing a tour date in Florida last week.

"Even though The Lennon Sisters are still known for our Christmas shows in Branson, Missouri, our home-base, we love to bring our concerts to audiences while on tour."

The Lennon Sisters, the iconic American vocal group who grew up before the eyes of faithful viewers of the "The Lawrence Welk Show," are performing two concerts at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill. at 1:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 10 and Tuesday, Feb. 11. Both shows have the option of lunch prior to the performances.

"It's been quite a while since we performed any Chicago dates," said Kathy, who celebrated her 70th birthday last year.

"But one of the biggest concerts was when we performed at Chicago's Soldier Field in the 1960s."

The sweet-voiced harmonizing quartet of sisters Diane (DeeDee), the oldest sister at age 74, Peggy (who is 72), Kathy and Janet (now 67), shot to fame as "America's Sweethearts of Song" after a well-received debut on Lawrence Welk's Christmas TV special in 1955. Their natural vocal talents, wholesome image and strong family values, made them naturals to join Welk's "show family" of featured entertainers on his popular CBS musical variety show where they stayed for 13 years until 1968.

Today, the famed family quartet now consists of an equally talented sibling trio. Sisters Diane and Peggy retired from performing 15 years ago and it's youngest sister Mimi, who is 58, sharing the vocal spotlight and audience applause.

"Even during our many years performing in Branson, any time one of the sisters couldn't make a show, it was Mimi who would fill-in for concerts," Kathy said.

"So she is a natural talent for joining the family tradition."

During their 55-year career, The Lennon Sisters have performed for seven U.S. presidents, and inspired a line of souvenir items throughout the decades, including everything from coloring books and paper dolls to TV trays. They have recorded several studio albums, which featured their interpretations of popular American standards and highlight their hits including "Tonight You Belong to Me" and "Sad Movies (Make Me Cry)." In the 1980s, they worked together to pen a memoir titled "Same Song, Separate Voices," not only detailing their career accomplishments, but also the personal challenges they faced after their father's tragic death after he was shot by an obsessed fan of his famous daughters. In 1987, The Lennon Sisters were awarded with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Their concert performance includes a tribute to Welk, who died in May 1992 at age 89, since one of the most frequent questions the sisters have fielded during their career is why they opted to leave the maestro's television series, despite continued popularity and ratings success.

"As we got older, we started having families and even though we loved being part of the family of Welk performers, Mr. Welk always paid all of his performers a scale pay," Kathy said.

"Doing the television show took a lot of hours every week and it eventually got to be that we could perform on tour and make more with just a few concert dates than what we would earn in an entire year doing his show. We tried to negotiate for more money, but he wasn't interested. So it was very bittersweet."

Union scale wages at the time amounted to $180 per week at that time.

Lennon said their show also includes a tribute to the other two most famous sister acts in performance history.

"We do a wonderful song tribute to both The Andrews Sisters and The McGuire Sisters, both have always been our inspiration and we are so fortunate that over our career, we got to meet them and know both of these legendary sister groups," she said.

In November 2011, Drury Lane also hosted a string of sold-out performances dubbed "The Stars of the Lawrence Welk Show" featuring a roster of the seven other stars from the show, including piano entertainer Jo Ann Castle, who performed from 1959-1969; the sultry Anacani, who performed from 1973-1982; deep-voiced Ken Delo, who performed from 1969-1982; dancers Bobby Burgess, who performed from 1961-1982 and partner Elaine Balden, who performed from 1979-1982 and couple crooners Guy Hovis, who performed from 1970-1982 and partner Ralna English, who performed from 1969-1982.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

In This Issue