How Dreams Were Made!
By Glenn Arnette, lll
Last night was a special night for television. The PBS presented South Pacific live from Lincoln Center in New York. The production was fantastic and it brought back many wonderful memories in Myrtle Beach.
I remember the days of the Ocean Forest Hotel with the professional Summer Theatre featuring many great stars. There was the Pavilion, local theatre and later Pirateland Adventure Park. It was a beginning and some sort of Renaissance for the Grand Strand. From Pawley’s Island to North Myrtle Beach we shagged and danced in penny loafers wearing Gant shirts and kaki pants. Those were the days. The leaders of the time were Ed Burroughs, Mark Garner, Hop Gandy, John Stanko, Roy Govan, Bill Darby, David Gilbert and many more. This is where the dreams started.
One real dream came a few years later when I was asked to substitute at a little country school located in Socastee South Carolina supported by the Air Force Base families and those of the Burgess community. For some reason the teacher of Music, Speech and Art decided to leave about three months before the end of the year. Jimmy Davis, principal at the time, was told to call me to come out and help with the music. I had finished my college with a Bachelor Degree and that seemed to be enough to let me do the job at that time. On arrival at the school I found 8 girls in the class and they were known as the Octet and during the final days of the year, we traveled all the way to St. James Elementary School for the first concert of the group, later known as the Socastee Singers. We did the best that we could to finish the year.
After stating that, “I would not teach”, the Principal called me back and ask that I take the department for the year. With much to do about nothing, I said I would if I had the chance to see the school become one of the best known in the state. He and the Board of Education in Conway agreed and that is how the rest of the story started.
While developing the few students over the first year and gathering a number of others, including guys to participate, we were off and running. It was decided that we would be known as the Socastee Singers and become a major force in music and theatre production. Our competition at that time was the Myrtle Beach High School under the direction of Martha Washington. That lasted only a year and we stepped into the light never looked back. The first year we performed in the gym of the school and I knew that would end. The Singers wanted “big time!” When they got excited it made me more determined to see them as “stars”.
With the following six years, the Socastee Singers grew from 8 to approximately 200 students involved. GLEE (the current television sensation) has nothing on the Singers. We did that 35 years ago! We developed a program that was talked about and envied by many throughout the Southeast. Educational television ran productions of our show for 10 years. The group raised over $50,000-$60,000 per year, we had four ladies sewing costumes each and every day, and we rehearsed day and night and had “kids” begging to be a part of the group. It became an honor and the young people were proud. We traveled to Florida, Jamaica, Europe and Hawaii. We had national sponsors from Piedmont Airlines, Burger King and Hawaii 5-O television. Our shows played to everything from the Officers Club at the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base to packed houses at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center all the way to the most prominent hotels in Hawaii to packed theatres in Germany, Switzerland and Belgium. Then there was the night we performed for Gerald Ford, the President of the United States. Shows presented were hot tickets and on a grand scale for the times. With permission from the Motion Picture Academy, we did “Oscar”, Actor’s Equity for “A Night on Broadway”, Burger King Corp for the “King of Burgerlot”, Disney for “Snow White” and more. Choreographers Jean Rutherford and Patti Dougherty brought “non dancers” to a professional level and offered the shows that New York personality and professionalism. From “Shaft” to “Hello Dolly”, including the Kit Kat Girls from “Cabaret”, the dancers and singers made thousands proud as they performed with pride.
The Socastee Singers was a real love affair with music by each and every participant. You never had to worry where the “kids” were because they were rehearsing massive productions. From “Follies” and the grand staircase with real candelabras on top of heads to billboard signs on stage and golf carts bringing guests into the theatre, it was always a spectacle to enjoy.
That little country school in Socastee known as the Socastee High School had become famous because of the Socastee Singers. From that day to today, it is still a force to be reckoned with as they continue the tradition by offering major theatre productions and new stars of the future. With school starting I recommend those at the Socastee High School to join the music department and be a real part of history.
Today I hear almost daily from former Singers through FACEBOOK and phone calls. Many have gone on to professional theatre careers and others simply tell their children how it was when they were in school. Regardless, the time of the original Singers was pure love; something rarely found when you gather a group of strangers together. The goal was real and I thank God for each and every one of those young people for believing in themselves. What a dream and it was real!
So “KIDS” remember to wear your sunglasses, you are the stars!
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