Their concert banner proclaims 'The New Christy Minstrels®--STILL Under the Direction of Randy Sparks.'
And so they are.
Sparks is the active, witty, and talented leader of the Minstrels and the 84-year-old shows no sign of slowing down. Members of the group have changed over the years but Sparks has been a consistent presence. As they prepared to perform in Cedaredge on Sunday, Oct. 15, one member of the troupe quipped, "There have been 300 New Christy Minstrels -- I'm number 299."
Sparks opened the two-hour performance alone, walking slowly toward the stage carrying his guitar. After adjusting the microphone, Sparks explained that early in his music career he served as an opening act for such diverse artists as Phyllis Diller, Lenny Bruce, Jonathan Winters and Burl Ives. He began writing songs at age 14 and he still writes every day. He declared he can write a song about anything, and to prove it, he sang about 'microbiology,' reminding the audience they are hosts to lots of micro-critters and therefore no one should ever feel lonely.
When he designed the concept of a large ensemble folk singing group in 1961, Sparks was following the lead of the 19th century composer Stephen Foster who sought to popularize his songs by having them performed by the original Christy Minstrels. Sparks updated the concept and added 'The New' and the rest is American music history.
After entertaining the audience alone for a few more minutes, Sparks admitted that, though he had begun his career as a solo performer, "...it sounded so much better when I had company on stage." Then he was joined by the rest of the Minstrels and the entire group launched into a rollicking rendition of 'Denver,' one of their most popular songs.
In addition to Sparks, the Minstrels performing at the True Life Church in Cedaredge were: Greg O'Haver, David Deutschendorf, Becky Jo Benson, Sue Harris, Dave Rainwater, Ed Stockton and Tholow Chan. Chan is a Cedaredge resident. Ms. Benson is a veteran Minstrel having been with the group for twenty years. Deutschendorf is the uncle of the late John Denver and it was Sparks who gave David's talented nephew his start in the music business. Not only that but -- against the future superstar's will -- Sparks was the one who shortened the billing of the young performer from 'Little Johnny Deutschendorf' to 'John Denver.' The group honored John Denver's memory by playing at a memorial celebration in Aspen just prior to its Cedaredge appearance.
The Minstrels are continuing their active performance calendar. A day following their Sunday performance the Minstrels did a special show for the children of the Cedaredge Elementary School. After leaving the area, the Minstrels will next perform in Wauseon, Ohio (just west of Toledo where Sparks is the city's 'The Official Musical Ambassador, Not-In-Residence'). Then the group heads for Wisconsin Rapids, Wis.
During a break between songs, Sparks summed up his career: "I invented the group, hired all the people, wrote most of the songs, and accepted the Grammy." The Minstrels won the coveted music award in 1963.
For more information including their current schedule, visit their website www.thenewchristyminstrels.com.