Little Ladies are big showstoppers on senior circuit

Staying in tune with fans

March 03, 2006|By JULIE SCHARPER | JULIE SCHARPER,SUN REPORTER

Betty Jordan flashed her blue eyes, flipped her long red hair and belted out the lyrics to "Sing You Sinners." The 70-year-old shook a finger at the other women gathered at the Pasadena Senior Center, then swung her arms open as she hit the final notes. "Hallelujah," she added as an afterthought, waving her hands in the air.

"That might be a little too much," said June Booker, 75.

Jordan and Booker are members of The Little Old Ladies from Pasadena, a barbershop quartet singing group for older women. The Ladies entertain at senior centers and private parties wearing sequined red capes and sparkly earrings. Not only do they enjoy the camaraderie of twice-weekly practices, said the group's founder, Linda Grant DePauw, but they also reap the health benefits of singing such as increased lung capacity and a sharper memory.

Jordan credits the Ladies with helping her discover a new side to her personality. She said she was "shaking in her boots" the first time she sang with the group, but her experiences performing have made her comfortable in front of an audience.

"The ham is really coming out," Jordan said at a recent rehearsal.

She said she sang with her mother as a girl but never performed until she joined the Little Old Ladies. "I wanted to get into the glee club in junior high, and they said I wasn't good enough," Jordan said. "That really tore me up."

"If they could see you now," said Booker, laughing.

Music has always been an important part of Booker's life. She started singing in her church choir at age 7 and sang with various choirs, choruses and opera groups through her adult life. These days, she sings exclusively with the Ladies.

Like Jordan, DePauw, 66, did not sing for many years. Although she studied voice and piano as a young woman, she did not perform between college graduation and retirement. A professor emeritus in the history department of George Washington University, DePauw has studied music therapy in recent years.

Barbershop music - which combines four distinct tones in close harmony - is the only type of Western music that creates harmonic overtones, DePauw said.

"When you listen to the music, you will hear a buzz and it will make the hair on your arms stand up," she said. Jordan sings the lead part for the group, Booker croons the rich bass notes and DePauw warbles the high-pitched tenor part. They are looking for a baritone, the part that most closely harmonizes with the lead. In the past, 11 women sang with the Ladies, but many left to care for ailing parents and spouses full time. Poor health stopped other women from singing, and one member died of cancer.

"There are only three of us now - we pretend we're the Andrews sisters," said DePauw. The group rearranges songs for three performers, but some songs require four voices.

"We are missing someone," said DePauw, adding that the Ladies are eager for new members.

Performers must be women older than 55, but they do not need to have a stellar voice to sing, DePauw said. "All you have to do to sing is be able to breathe and hear, " she said. DePauw prints out large print song lyrics and creates CDs and tapes for performers who do not read music.

"New members can perform as quickly as they can learn songs," DePauw said.

The Ladies will present a program, "Angels and Lovers," at an AARP meeting this month and will sing "Pretty Baby," "You Are My Sunshine" and "Lollipop" at the christening of Booker's second grandchild next month. "They've become very popular over the years," said Cheryl Heinold, assistant director of the Pasadena Senior Center, where the women practice. "After they performed at the annual luncheon for the seniors, we started getting a lot of phone calls [about] them."

The Ladies sing their signature song to the tune of The Beach Boys' "The Little Old Lady from Pasadena." De Pauw said the audience always laughs when the Ladies sing, "We sound real good 'cause we practice real hard while driving down Edwin Raynor Boulevard."

Jordan and DePauw live in Pasadena. Booker is from Glen Burnie. Booker said she does not mind being known as a "Little Old Lady."

"That's what we are," Booker said.

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