New Christy Minstrels Mix Past And Present

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Randy Sparks and The New Christy Minstrels perform at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 9 at the Payson High School auditorium as part of the 2010-2011 season of the Tonto Community Concert Association.

Welcome to the past — 1961 mixed with the present — when you see the founder of The New Christy Minstrels, Randy Sparks, joined by seven other performers in concert.

Relive the peaceful days, as well as the intense excitement of clapping and singing along with these Grammy Award-winning professionals that make you feel like you are in their living room for a home concert of the songs that your mother played on the family record player, as well as the new songs that Randy Sparks has written in the last couple of years.

The Tonto Community Concert Association presents The New Christy Minstrels in a performance at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 9 at the Payson High School auditorium.

“It doesn’t quite rival the creation of the airplane or the hula-hoop, but I invented the big folk group, and if I’m not allowed to be proud of that, what else do I have?

“I founded The New Christy Minstrels, created the name, hired all the performers, wrote most of the music, and produced most of the recordings through the first nine albums, including all of the hits, but once the stewardship was entrusted to others, my name disappeared almost completely.

“Now I’m back, and although some of those folks who ran the group for so many years deserve much credit for their tending the fires, keeping it alive, I am following their example and leaving their credits off the scroll. No, I didn’t do it all by myself, but all the others are gone, and I can’t seem to remember their names.

“This story begins with Stephen Foster, the songwriter. He’s one of the reasons that I became a songwriter, and he inspired the name of my group.

“One day in the Vancouver, Wash. Public Library, I read that Steve once had a problem similar to mine. He had written a pile of good songs that nobody wanted, and his solution was brilliant. He leaned on the most popular musical group of his era, Christy’s Minstrels, later dubbed The Christy Minstrels, to get his ditties heard by the public, and my light-bulb moment came along as soon as I connected the dots from his winning formula to my troubled career. I would call my group The New Christy Minstrels.

“Christy’s ensemble wasn’t a big group, just six in number, but the formula was admirable: everybody did double-duty, each performer with a solo offering, playing and singing, dancing, doing humorous sketches; then they all joined together for rousing choruses. I wanted more people in my group.

“The original target number was 14. My dream group would have the brash, imperfect excitement of the Kingston Trio, but with enough good singers to rival the Norman Luboff Choir. It worked.

“I’m pleased to point out that there have been two high points in the story of The NCM: The first three years were wonderfully successful, and the pace of the restored group in the past three years has been phenomenal.

“For a while there, we did it with most of the same performers who were onboard in 1962-’64. Even now, we boast three original Minstrels.”

Join Sparks and the others for this great adventure through time with music and meet them in person at the autographs tables right after the concert.

The Tonto Community Concert Association’s remaining five performances for the 2010-2011, will offer a broad medley of audience-pleasing musical programs.

“The association brings world-class performers from around the globe to Payson,” said TCCA president Marilyn Wolfe.

“We also work to bring in artists who are not just exceptional musicians, but those who give the audience a complete musical experience. Many of the performers also enjoy meeting with attendees after the show, answering questions and signing autographs.”

As a special service to the youth of the community, the TCCA works with several of the artists to host special outreach performances just for Payson area students. The Tonto Community Concert Association is a nonprofit organization that brings high-quality concerts to Rim Country at an affordable price.

For subscriptions or other information, call (928) 474-6115 or (928) 478-4363 or go online to www.tccarim.org.

Upcoming concert

Cristiana Pegoraro, pianist — 7 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 26. Hailed by The New York Times as “an artist of the highest caliber,” Italian born pianist Cristiana Pegoraro has performed in some of the greatest concert halls in Europe, the United States, South America, Asia, the Middle East and Australia.

Jim Witter — The Piano Men — 7 p.m., Monday, March 21 — has been entertaining for more than 20 years. Whether it is country music, contemporary Christian, or the music of Billy Joel and Elton John, Jim’s versatility as an artist has allowed him the opportunity to reach out and share his music and his infectious personality with audiences of all ages.

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