By Eric Dundon
On a warm July night in 1994, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra hosted a handful of household names in the entertainment industry for a unique collaboration that spanned genres.
Led by Richard Hayman, the SLSO’s longtime pops concert conductor, the orchestra welcomed regular members of The Lawrence Welk Show, the popular variety show that aired nationally from 1955 to 1982. Hosted by its namesake, the show featured a cast of regular musicians and entertainers, as well as introduced new artists to homes throughout the country.
Among the performers in the SLSO concert was a revolutionary figure both in television and dance: Arthur Duncan. Beginning his career in the 1950s first on The Betty White Show before joining The Lawrence Welk Show, Duncan was a pioneer in tap dance and became one of the first Black regulars on a variety television program. With the SLSO, Duncan danced to a number called “Running Wild,” which, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “would take the breath out of a high school hurdler.” Duncan was approaching age 70 when he joined the SLSO. He passed away in January 2023 at age 97.
Particularly popular amongst viewers, Irish American tenor Joe Feeney joined the orchestra for renditions of “Danny Boy” and a medley of popular songs. Feeney’s son Christopher accompanied on piano.
One of the most prominent members of the show, soprano and pianist Gail Farrell joined the SLSO for several numbers at the Queeny Park program, including “Flat Baroque,” “The Sunny Side of the Street,” and “Root Beer Rag.” As Farrell performed, Hayman turned over the baton to her husband, Ron Anderson.
Myron Floren was the regular accordionist for The Lawrence Welk Show for 30 years. With the SLSO, he performed six numbers, including a medley from Fiddler on the Roof and an arrangement of Battle Hymn of the Republic.
The Post-Dispatch noted the program was “a real winner” and appealed to many in the crowd, who joined in singing several of the more well-known songs.
The SLSO’s collaboration with popular artists continues today. Over the years, the orchestra has created memorable concerts with entertainment names from Broadway and pop music to folk, country, and rap artists. Among some of the biggest names to collaborate with the SLSO are Broadway veterans Idina Menzel, Sutton Foster, and Leslie Odom, Jr., rap and hip hop stars Nelly and Wyclef Jean, and recording artists Amos Lee, Indigo Girls, and Ben Folds.
Eric Dundon is the SLSO’s Public Relations Director.