Dawn Sears

Sad to learn of the passing yesterday of Dawn Sears.  Dawn was an established and respected singer in Nashville, a member of the Grammy Award nominated group The Time Jumpers which includes singer/guitarist Vince Gill and her musician husband Kenny Sears.

I met them both some time ago when Dawn was working on a solo career.  More recently, she was also a backup singer with Vince Gill’s touring band.  I last saw Kenny performing with the Grand Ole Opry band in Nashville.  Two very nice people.

Dawn was born in East Grand Forks.  In recent months, she battled lung cancer.  She was 53.

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The Valley’s Talent

Congratulations to 12-year-old Autumn Lord of Grand Forks, the winner of this year’s The Valley’s Got Talent competition.  The 6th grade dancer beat out talented competitors much older than herself yesterday to win first place in the show and five hundred dollars.

Singer Will Beaton took second place, good for two hundred fifty dollars.  Gerald Alton, also known as rapper “Novicain,” takes home a hundred bucks for coming in third.

Yours truly helped judge this year’s competition along with Lisa Almquist, Naomi Dunavan andSteevie Frankl.  Ashley Johnson emceed the benefit show.

For many, many years, the Grand Forks Exchange Club organized a telethon that was broadcast in early December on WDAZ-TV and KNOX-TV (yes, KNOX television) before that.  The telethon morphed into the current talent competition four years ago.

The Exchange Club is responsible for lots of tremendous projects throughout the year.  Children’s programs like Coats for Kids, summer boating adventures and after school programs are among them.  The club is also interested in community violence intervention.  Several good reasons why its work should be supported.

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Elf Not Included

Ring, ring.

“Hi, it’s Bob Zany.  I’ve got an idea.”

It’s a call I get every year, usually a few weeks before Bob brings his legendary standup comedy to Grand Forks. It can mean a lot of things for me. It usually means my life is going to get a little more interesting in coming days.

On this particular year, Bob’s idea was even a little more off the wall than usual.  “It’s Christmas. I dress up as Santa.  You dress up as an elf.”

People will come early to Bob’s first show of the weekend to have their picture taken with us. Profits will go to a local charity of my choice?  Who can say no to Bob Zany and the Altru Cancer Center?

We enlist the services of photographer extraordinaire Rock Tweten.  He too thinks it’s a great idea and volunteers his services.

The big night comes.

We wait.

It turns out not that many people care to have their pictures taken with “Santa & his elf.” We spend the next hour mostly sitting and waiting for folks to show.  I fiddle with my elf ears.  Rock snaps shot after shot. Bob tells me dirty jokes for an hour.

Bob’s response to the less than spectacular crowd turnout.  “You try.”

A modest check is sent to the cancer center.

Time passes.

About six months later–July or so–I get another call from Bob saying he’s going to use one of Rock Tweten’s pictures of the two of us on a billboard to promote his upcoming Christmas shows somewhere in the world.  (It might have been St. Louis.)  The name of the holiday show:  Bob Zany (Elf Not Included).

Never did hear if that one panned out or not.

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Julie

The saddest day of the week for me this week was the day I learned news director Julie Moravchik is leaving WDAZ.

Julie and I only worked together for something like a year.  Long enough, though, to realize she was unlike any other news director I ever worked with in what has been for me a fairly long career in broadcast news.  A news director who tried to instill in her co-workers the highest standards of a complex and demanding business.  A news director who kept the newsroom stocked with peanut butter, jelly and white bread, so that her reporters would at least have “sometime” to eat when they were unable to stop for lunch because of the television’s insane deadlines.  A news director who drove her people as hard as anyone I’ve ever worked with and yet one who cared much, much more about them as people and what was best for them than anything else.

In her very first meeting with her newsroom staff I remember Julie talked about how she envisioned the staff winning an Emmy.  An Emmy!  To be honest, my thought then was this woman is not playing with a full deck.  In more than four decades in television news I’d never been to an Emmy gala, much less been a part of winning one.

But fast forward something like twelves months and there I standing along side a half dozen or so other WDAZers in the Metropolitan Club of Target Field in Minneapolis holding the Emmy we had just won for team coverage, while Julie delivered the perfect “little engine that could” speech.  Now, more than two months later, I am still not over that moment.

I don’t know much, but I know this.  Television is one of the strangest of businesses.  It can eat up people and spit them out in no time flat.

But I also know this.  The best is yet to come for Julie.  I can’t wait to see that happen.

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Is That All There Is?

It’s book report time once again, boys and girls.  The book in question this time is James Gavin’s new biography Is Is That All There Is?: The Strange Life of Peggy Lee.

Full disclosure first.  I have been a Peggy Lee fan since I was fifteen.  In between Beatles and Rolling Stones album purchases, I’d look for the latest from Peggy Lee in record stores.

At first it was hard for me to accept that the glamorous, sexy, middle-aged blond woman with the the blank stare I watched on The Tonight Show and The Andy Williams Show was from North Dakota.  What’s more, that she had lived for a time in my hometown of Hillsboro.  Amazing!  The more I listened, the more I liked Peggy Lee.  She would become my favorite singer.

So, for me, the publication of a new book about Peggy Lee’s life is nothing short of an event.

Also for me it’s a little disappointing that the book does not include more about Miss Lee’s work early on at WDAY radio in Fargo.  Lee grew up in and around the Jamestown-Valley City area.  Her father worked for the long-defunct Midland Continental Railroad.  In her own autobiography, Lee writes fairly extensively about WDAY and program director Ken Kennedy who changed her name for radio from Norma Engstrom to Peggy Lee.

There is a fair amount in the new biography about her early singing career in North Dakota in places like the Powers Hotel in Fargo and the Dakota Hotel in Grand Forks.

Eventually discovered by Benny Goodman in Chicago, Lee would quickly become the featured “girl singer” in his band, marry his guitarist Dave Barbour, “retire” and move to California. But her recording of “Why Don’t You Do Right?” would soon drag her away from motherhood and housekeeping and back into show business in a big way.

Four failed marriages and millions in record sales would follow in a major recording career that spanned decades and spawned hits like “I’m A Woman,” “Manana,” and “Is That All There Is?”  Relationships with Hollywood royalty like Cary Grant, Robert Preston and Frank Sinatra were not always platonic.

Mr. Gavin provides considerable detail  in his book about Lee’s dark side, including her drinking and promiscuity.  But he also focuses at least as much attention on her artistry and her almost insane attempts to achieve perfection, especially in her concerts.

At something like five hundred twenty-five pages, the book is substantial.  It will also be the definitive biography of a truly great artist.  With its publication and especially with a new Peggy Lee film biography to star Reese Witherspoon in development, perhaps a new generation of fifteen-year-olds will also soon discover the allure of Peggy Lee.

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The Woods

Into the Woods is one of my very favorite musicals.  It’s story line is sort of a fairytale mashup featuring the likes of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and Jack of Jack and the Beanstalk fame.  In one of the best lines from the show, reference is made to a character who perished in a “baking accident.”


UND Theatre is doing Stephen Sondheim’s & James Lapine’s famous musical beginning tonight.  I finagled a media night invitation. It’s terrific!

Directors: Emily Cherry & Ali Angelone

Music Director: Kip Taisey

Set Design: Brad Reissig

Costume Design: Jacqueline DeGraff

Choreographer: Ali Angelone

Sound Design: Loren Leipold

Stage Manager: Kathryn Vocke

Assistant Stage Managers: Sarah Lawler & Madison Moen

Cast:

The Baker: Joseph Bussey

The Baker’s Wife: Jacqueline DeGraff

The Witch: Daniella Lima

Cinderella: Rachel Perry

Jack: Alex Barta

Little Red Riding Hood: Michelle Stahlecker

Jack’s Mom: Hannah Diers

Cinderella’s Prince: Zack Lee

Rapunzel’s Prince: Daniel Johnson

Narrator/Mysterious Man: Nick McConnell

The Wolf: Brandon Wetch

Step Mother: Claire Wehry

Lucinda: Julia Amundson

Florinda: Ashley Restemayer

Rapunzel: Jackie O’Neil

Cinderella’s Father: Joe Picardi

Steward: Jack Jeno

Milky White: Caleb Van Ornum

Granny: Brooke Anderson

Birds: Tyler Folkedahl, Sara Wells, Kacey Morgan

Giant’s Wife: Marcia Kelley

Sleeping Beauty: Madison Moen

Snow White: Sara Wells

Ticket information at the UND Box Office:  701-777-2587

Box Office is open 3-6pm

Performance Dates: Thursday, November 13 through Saturday, November 15 and Thursday, November 20 through Saturday, November 22.

Curtain is at 7:30pm in the Burtness Theatre on the UND campus in Grand Forks

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Back to High School

Honored to be asked to speak to the Northwest Minnesota District of Student Councils in East Grand Forks today. More than four hundred students took part.  Thanks to Noah Thompson for the invitation and to all the students for being such a receptive audience.

I enjoyed meeting and hanging out with co-keynote speaker, former long-time Thief River Falls coach Jeff Mumm.  He talked to the students about leadership.  (I call my little talk “What are you doing the rest of your life?”)

Jeff is well-known for building one of the best high school football programs in Minnesota.  But he told me about how he and his winning teams always brought cleaning materials to games along with their football gear.  The reason is that they would clean the locker rooms after games and before they left them.  “Everybody had a job,” he says.

My guess is that if Jeff’s former players don’t  remember everything they learned about football from him, they do remember cleaning the locker rooms.  A very cool guy.

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WDAY ‘Zxtra

Ginny and I had a great time at the WDAY alumni luncheon today in Fargo catching up with old friends and some new ones we didn’t know we had.

It’s fun being around such happy, upbeat and relatively well-adjusted people as Jack Sand, Moby Dick Dunkirk, Rob Kupec, Jim Shaw and others.

A special thanks to Earl Williams for the Queen Elizabeth “pull my finger” story.

Thanks, Larry Gauper, for the invitation.  It won’t be our last luncheon.

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Our Last Newscast Together

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How’s the Station Reception?

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