The crowd still sings along at the Glenmore Tavern

November 04, 1992|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,Staff Writer

Evelyn Butterhoff picks up a bottle of holy water and sprinkles some on her piano. Then she pops open a can of beer. She's ready to make music.

"God help us," jokes Marge Reilly as she watches the white-haired maven of the keyboard summon a man to her side.

After striding up to a large, old-fashioned microphone, Russell C. Loudenslager croons "When You Wore a Tulip" in a soft tenor voice that echoes off the narrow walls of the Glenmore Tavern in the 6000 block of Harford Road in Hamilton.

It's Friday night at the tiny bar. For four hours, golden sounds transport the shot-and-a-beer crowd to an era long ago and not so far away when Baltimoreans gathered in their neighborhood bars for sing-alongs.

The aged crooners, dressed in their finest clothes, told jokes and drank beer through straws.

They chuckled when 68-year-old Jeanne Gibson shed her raincoat to reveal a skimpy majorette Halloween costume that was topped by a feathered headband.

They rolled their eyes when Toni Pizza sang an Italian love song that no one understood.

With the draft beer flowing at 65 cents a glass, the good times rolled.

"This is a dying breed," 79-year-old Neil Reilly said of his buddies who meet weekly at the tavern to take part in the sing-along.

"If it dies, it's going to be a crying shame. I feel sorry for the kids who aren't going to have it. The young kids don't know the old-time songs."

On Friday, Saturday and some Sunday nights, the smoky tavern becomes a stage for patrons -- most of them elderly regulars -- who take the floor and sing to their heart's desire. It's a throwback to the 1940s when many corner taverns held sing-alongs to establish a sense of community and to celebrate life.

"We have a camaraderie. They love the piano and the old songs," said Mrs. Butterhoff, 68, who has been the accompanist at the Glenmore Tavern and other local bars for more than 20 years. "These are old people, this is their life. It's a very relaxed and informal thing."

Mrs. Butterhoff plays at the tavern every other week. She dresses in her finest clothes, puts on heavy makeup and costume jewelry and decorates the piano with lace and a candelabrum. A plastic cup sits close by for tips. Recently, she made $4.

When asked why she does it, Mrs. Butterhoff said, "Hon, it's my livelihood."

"It's a commitment to present this music to somebody and keep it alive," she added. "It's the biggest part of my life. I've been doing this for years."

Forgotten songs like "Come Around Any Old Time," "I Know That Someday You'll Want Me" and "Love Letters in the Sand" are revived during the sing-along. Patrons are encouraged to sing, but may do so only after Mrs. Butterhoff calls on them.

"It brings back memories of days and days ago," said Micky McFarland, 83. "I've been singing since World War I when I was 10 years old. We look forward to going out. We sit there and reminisce about songs or movies."

Mr. McFarland has to help his 88-year-old wife, Eleanor, walk to the microphone when she sings. A former tap dancer, Mrs. McFarland has Parkinson's disease and has lost some of her hearing.

Gil Most, a 79-year-old singer who has been coming to the Glenmore Tavern for 30 years, loves the sense of family in the bar.

Mr. Most sings often during the sing-along, mostly songs that are in his collection of 200 record albums.

Jim Shoul, who at 57 is one of the youngest people in the bar, is considered to have the best voice.

"I come here now and then when my wife goes to bingo on Friday nights," he said.

"I have to have something to do when she's there."

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