Veterans Salute Concert
McKinney Performing Arts Center, McKinney, Texas
June 6th 2009

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Article by: Michael A Tarzis

Sometimes you just have to try something new. Take a concert stage band, a 40's era swing band, and few vocalists for starters. Throw in a thundering Wurlitzer theater pipe organ just to shake the walls, and round things out, and the results can be amazing. Such was the case at the McKinney Performing Arts Center on the evening of Saturday June 6th as an appreciative audience was treated to a musical D-day tribute like no other. For two hours, strains of Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, and John Philip Sousa filled the theater with reactions ranging from loud hand clapping to downright tears during soloist Jeannie Fisher's emotional rendition of America, The Beautiful.

The idea for this first of a kind concert actually came up several months ago when members of the North Texas Chapter of the American Theater Organ Society were searching for new ways to showcase the rare vintage MPAC Wurlitzer, and work with other musical groups in the North Texas area. The suggestion was made to contact the Mc Kinney Community Band and see if a joint concert could be worked out. It turned out to be a match made in musical heaven.

"We liked the idea from the start" said Community Band Director Bill Sleeper, who has been with the organization since its inception three years ago. "Like the organ group, we too were looking for ways to expand our audiences, and this was a perfect fit". Mc Kinney Swing Band Director John Johnson, who at one time actually did a short stint with the traveling Glenn Miller Band, echoed his sentiment. "I was looking forward to the event, and I have to say, it far exceeded my wildest expectations", he noted.

Mating the sounds of a theater organ with other musical groups is quite common in other parts of the country where many organs remain in their original homes, but the event was a first for this area. In the 1920's and 30's, Texas housed over 200 theater organs in its movie palaces and public venues. The McKinney instrument is one of only two remaining theatre organs playable today in a Texas theater. Organist Bob Whiteman, who at one time played the stadium organ for the Cleveland Indians, adeptly put the Wurlitzer through its paces creating every sound from a storming steam locomotive for Chattanooga Choo Choo, to lilting strings for the beautiful ballad The White Cliffs Of Dover.

Credits also go to vocalists Linda Young, Karen Fruzia, and Jenny Wennerberg, performing as the "Sorta Sisters". Their renditions of the Andrews Sisters hits Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree, and Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy certainly had toes tapping from the largely World War II era audience.

Overall, the program was such a success; there are already plans in the works for another band-organ concert, possibly for Christmas. Definitely stay tuned.

Click here to go to Swing Band Director John Johnson's site to see additional pictures and to hear the music that was played.

Click on the picture to see a better quality version

Bill Sleeper (Conductor McKinney Community Band)
(Photo by: Don Peterson)
John Johnson (Conductor McKinney Swing Band) & Bob Whiteman (Organist)
(Photo by: Don Peterson)
The Sorta Sisters (Karen Fruzia, Linda Young & Jenny Wennerberg)
(Photo by: Don Peterson)
Jennie Fisher (Soloist)
(Photo by: Don Peterson)
Bill Sleeper, Don Peterson, Mike Tarzis & Bob Whiteman
(Photo by: Kenneth Brown)
Ian Clark & Bob Whiteman
(Photo by: Kenneth Brown)
The Sorta Sisters
(Photo by: Kenneth Brown)
Bill Sleeper & John Johnson
(Photo by: Kenneth Brown)
Mike Tarzis, Bill Sleeper & John Johnson
(Photo by: Kenneth Brown)
John Johnson & Al Cavitt
(Photo by: Kenneth Brown)
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