|Courtesy of the Oklahoma Network
Ralna English performs in the upcoming PBS television special "Lawrence Welk Precious Memories."
March 1, 2005
A UMNS Feature
By Marta W. Aldrich*
Lawrence Welk tapped Ralna English to sing his favorite hymn on his
musical television show, the young performer had no idea “How Great Thou
Art” would become her signature song in a career spanning decades.
song—and her album of the same name—brought her a Dove Award
nomination, and she still includes the sacred classic in many of her
touring shows and performances. Through a life and career of both
abundant blessings and emotional turmoil, she has come to understand
firsthand the song’s declaration of awe and praise for a mighty God who
is faithful in all things.
I sang it, it became the song I always sang,” says English, a regular
on Welk’s weekly show for 12 years beginning in 1969. “It’s stayed with
me ever since Lawrence gave it to me 36 years ago.”
discovered the hymn’s depth and power when, during one of her earliest
touring shows with Welk, she sang it before 22,000 people in New York’s
Madison Square Garden.
I finished, there was no applause. There was only silence,” English
recalls. “Then suddenly, everybody began applauding at once. It was one
of the most chilling, awesome experiences I’ve ever had on stage.”
is one of 15 cast members reunited for the upcoming PBS television
special “Lawrence Welk Precious Memories,” featuring hymns,
inspirational songs and gospel medleys. And, yes, she will sing “How
Great Thou Art” during the two-hour show, which was taped in September
in Branson, Mo., and premieres nationally during March. (Check local
|Courtesy of the Oklahoma Network
English and Guy Hovis, who sang together on "The Lawrence Welk Show" in
the 1970s, reunite as duet partners for a two-hour PBS television
Blessed with a
voice of remarkable pitch, range and power, English has ridden a
roller-coaster career that garnered a devoted audience and critical
praise but never the recording career she had dreamed of as a youngster.
never intended to be a regular on ‘The Lawrence Welk Show,’” she said in
an interview from her home in Scottsdale, Ariz. “I had only intended to
do one of the shows so that my grandmother could watch me sing on TV. …
But God had something else in mind, and he always knows what’s best.
The show has been the joy of my life.”
grew up in Texas attending First Methodist Church of Spur and Asbury
Methodist Church in Lubbock. Her best friend today is still a girl she
met in Sunday school in Lubbock. “My family was at church every Sunday,”
she recalls. “I thank God for my upbringing. … I knew at age 7 that
Jesus loved me and that he was really my friend.”
began singing professionally at age 13 and, while attending Texas Tech
University, was recruited to perform at Six Flags Over Texas in Dallas.
She sang commercial jingles and performed in nightclubs, finding her way
in 1967 to a club in Santa Monica, Calif., where she met her
singer-guitarist husband, Guy Hovis.
club was not far from Welk’s office, where she auditioned for the famed
band leader and got the nod several months later to join his show at
age 27. That was 1969. English managed to convince Welk soon after to
let her husband join the cast as her duet partner.
“Guy and Ralna” sang love songs together, they projected the image of a
happily married couple, and they had a daughter in 1977. But their
marriage struggled off stage and they separated the next year, though
continuing to perform together on Welk’s show. Against this backdrop of
tension in her work and home life, English began to develop a fear of
singing in front of people and became physically and mentally exhausted.
|A UMNS photo courtesy of RalnaEnglish.com
Famed bandleader Lawrence Welk shares the stage with Ralna English, a cast member on his weekly show from 1969 to 1981.
She describes an
emotional breakdown in 1980 as the turning point in her life—when she
had a personal encounter with God after lashing out at him in anger for
abandoning her. “I was hospitalized and dehydrated and felt very alone
and isolated,” she recalls. “… I felt a hand lay on top of my right hand
and felt this reassurance and my soul coming back into my body. I felt a
love that cannot be described in words on the earth. And from that
point on, I knew.”
marriage ended, but her spiritual life was reborn. She threw herself
into study of the Bible and gradually rebuilt her performing confidence.
Today at 62, she performs in a variety of venues from symphony halls to
casino halls and in musical genres from gospel to rock to jazz. While
she enjoys the freedom of choosing her own material, she finds singing
spiritual music and hymns the most rewarding.
gives me greater joy today to sing that music,” she says. “I have this
need to express my love for God. He’s changed my life, and he’s changed
She also is proud of her contribution to Welk’s
show, celebrating its 50th year on national television and holding the
distinction as the highest-rated syndicated series on public television.
have watched ‘The Lawrence Welk Show’ for years as a family. It’s a
safe haven,” she says. “… There’s a great need for wholesome
entertainment today that you can watch with your children and
grandchildren without feeling uncomfortable.”
*Aldrich is a freelance writer in Franklin, Tenn.
News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.