Golden oldies can still rock 'n' roll

County's talent shines bright at local contest for annual Maryland Senior Idol competition

September 30, 2007|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Reporter

David Hooper strummed his guitar and stomped his cowboy boots, playing a rousing rendition of "Peggy Sue," in the best Buddy Holly spirit he could muster.

He quickly had the crowd at the McFaul Activities Center in Bel Air clapping, tapping their feet, and singing along with the lyrics to the '50s tune they danced to in their youth.

The 64-year-old postal retiree from Bel Air was one of seven contestants vying in the local round of the Maryland Senior Idol competition last week. The winners move on to compete for the state title in November.

"I got 'em singing along," Hooper said afterward. "I do Denver, Buffett and Elvis, but Buddy is American music."

Hooper hardly needed his bowling league friends, whom he brought along as his personal cheering section. Many listeners gave him a high five in connection with the audience and said he aced the song selection category.

Three judges scored on a 1-to-5 scale, also rating the singers on stage presence, voice quality and lyric recollection.

"I loved every selection," said Denise Lynch, a guitarist and judge. "I found myself swaying and tapping and wondering what song I would pick when I compete."

The event, loosely patterned after the popular Fox TV show American Idol, gave older singers of gospel, pop, Broadway and Big Band tunes a chance in the spotlight.

"This is an opportunity for seniors to come out and showcase their talents and feel vital in doing so," said Karen Winkowski, administrator of the Harford County Office on Aging. "They chose music we don't hear so much anymore and highlighted the sounds we all love."

Richard Scott, 71, sang "Because" a cappella in a rich baritone. The audience marveled as he deftly hit all the high notes. Then again, he has practiced the song for a half-century, he said, and then, blew a kiss to his wife, Alice, in the audience.

"My wife and I are about to celebrate our 50th anniversary, and this has been our special song all these years," said Scott, a retired teacher from Bel Air.

Singing has been a lifelong passion for 68-year-old Juanita Barker. The Havre de Grace school bus driver often teaches her young riders a favorite old tune, "usually something they would never hear," she said.

She first took to the stage at age 5, performing at the Hippodrome Theater in Baltimore.

"Every Saturday for five years, I'd sing on stage," she said. "It was vaudeville, the movies, radio and Candy Corner on TV. I met lots of stars. I went back to the refurbished Hippodrome recently, and it all looked the same."

She favors country tunes, particularly Patsy Cline, but added, "Those are mainly tearjerkers." She opted for the livelier "Rock-a-Bye Your Baby" because, she said, "This one's got a lot of history."

Don Knox, 74, a retired city schools administrator and Bel Air resident, recently remarried after being a widower for 10 years. He performed "I've Got the World on a String."

"It's how I feel at this time in my life," he said. "And it's an era of music I like."

Hazel Wellington, 64, donned pearls and a floral print dress and smiled demurely as she sang "I Enjoy Being a Girl." A bit of trouble with the audio - borrowed for the day after her own equipment wore out - did not ruffle her. She played the sweet, shy ingenue to perfection.

Joe and Sue Ward of Havre de Grace often sing gospel duets, but they opted for solo performances. She led off the contestants with "Born Again," grabbed a quick kiss from her husband and dashed off to her job at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Joe Ward sang last, after telling the audience how faith and music helped him cope with a liver transplant and lengthy hospital stay. He sang a lively few bars until his voice faltered, and he could not finish "He Came Through." His effort won him rousing applause.

"I am blessed just to be standing here today," he said.

Judge Mark Carroll added, "That kind of testimony bowls me over."

The county Department of Aging officials say they hope to send at least its top three singers to the state competition but have yet to name them. Ron Walls of Aberdeen, one of four Harford contestants last year, brought home the 2006 title and will serve as a state judge on Nov. 27 at the Chesapeake Arts Center in Brooklyn Park.

If he makes it to the finals, Hooper will stick with a Buddy Holly tune but switch guitars. Instead of the basic Yamaha he played last week, he would go with his 1962 folk guitar.

"It plays gloriously," he said.

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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