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SINGERS REMEMBER 45 YEARS OF CAMELOT

SHARE SINGERS REMEMBER 45 YEARS OF CAMELOT

"Don't let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot."

Only in this case it was Delaware Water Gap, Penn., where for more than 45 years Fred Waring annually assembled his cadres of Pennsylvanians. From thence, after polishing his singers and imprinting them with his own individualistic sheen, he led them forth to deliver the inimitable Waring sound and style to every corner of America.More than 115 singers who assembled there for a reunion July 29-31 recalled their time with Waring and his Pennsylvanians as a kind of Camelot.

"That was the favorite part of my career, the most fun and memorable thing I did in my life," said more than one nostalgic singer - a sentiment echoed by Billie Loukas Poulos of Salt Lake City, who sang with Waring in 1964-65 as lead soprano, and again briefly in 1967. "Traveling with him was the most exciting time of my career," she said.

Almost a month after the reunion in East Stroudsburg, Penn. (which marked 10 years almost to the day since Waring died), Poulos and her husband Steve still reflected the glow of those three days spent visiting with many old friends and like-minded musicians.

There old-timers from the '30s mixed with relative youngsters, who had just been taken into the ensemble when Waring died, thus disbanding the whole operation. And each decade had its own special flavor, said Poulos. "But whatever their style, all the people at the reunion were refreshingly clean, healthy and wholesome - qualities that Waring cultivated in his chorus."

Besides good food, receptions and a Friday night songfest, on Saturday there was a rehearsal followed by a memorial concert in the East Stroudsburg high school, conducted in part by Waring's still elegant and vital widow, Virginia, 79.

"All concerts began with `I Hear Music' (I hear melodies), and `Sleep, Sleep Sleep,' " said Poulos. "When I began to sing `Sleep,' I couldn't remember the words! I thought, why don't I remember? Then it came back to me: I had always sung the obligato, which I did on the concert.

"It was inspiring to sing those first two numbers before the curtain. We were overwhelmed, and so excited to be recreating the Waring sound, though it was rough by his standards. That was one of our great thrills, to produce the Waring sound, which I'm sure none of us will ever forget. It was a life experience."

Poulos confessed to a love affair with the Pennsylvanians since she was in the eighth grade, when she dreamed of being a soloist with Waring - a dream she little expected to be fulfilled.

"I was married with two children when Waring came through Salt Lake City, and Eugene Jelesnik insisted that I audition for him. I said, `How can I, I have two kids?' But Gene persisted. So I went in and sang one song, then two, then finally five, and by then they were asking me for my dress and shoe sizes!

"I didn't hear for a long time, but about the end of August they called and offered me a job singing lead soprano. Waring liked my voice, because it was flexible and light enough, yet meaty on the top, the timbre just right to augment the soprano section.

"At first I turned the chance down, but then Steve said, `Why not? See if your mother will take the kids for a year.' She did, and I will always be grateful to her for that wonderful opportunity she gave me. By September I was gone! And after three weeks of intensive practice at Delaware Water Gap, we began our tour."

Among the year's highlights was singing in a "Hollywood Palace" TV special, hosted by Bing Crosby. She also participated in a recording, made in Shreveport, La.

Although Poulos limited herself to one season, her Waring career had a little coda. "Steve and I went to Reno to hear the Waring Christmas show in 1966, and Fred came down to me and said, `Billie, you are heaven-sent.' His lead soprano had left to get married, so I filled in for four months."

Poulos was not the only Utahn at the reunion. Also there was Evann Dahl Weimer, formerly of Midvale, who for several years was accordionist with the Pennsylvanians and a great friend of Waring. She now makes her home in Harrisburg and continues her career while studying to be a therapist.

"Also, many people remembered Gordon Goodman, a fine tenor from Salt Lake, who sang with Waring for a long time. He died quite young," said Poulos.

"It's an amusing sidelight about Waring - he was turned down when he auditioned for the Pennsylvania State glee club, so he said, I'll just start my own chorus. This he did with his brother Tom and a few friends. Of course he and Tom had been in professional music since Fred was 16, with their own small bands and orchestras.

"Waring was a tough taskmaster, but he was never ill-willed, and if he took you on it lasted for life. Like his experience with Jacqueline Mayer, Miss America 1963, who sang with him in 1965. When she was 28 she suffered a massive stroke, and she related to us how he brought her out of it, by spending hours on the phone to her, encouraging and exhorting. He would absorb himself in your problems like that.

"I'm so grateful to him for the excitement of the many one-night stands, checking into a hotel at night, giving our concert, then leaving the next morning. It was a great adventure, which made it possible for me to sing in every major city in this country, every state except Wisconsin, and every small city too."