Forget Broadway, Carol Channing was a star in Concord, too

  • Carol Channing (second from left, smiles after singing with Rep. Susan Emerson, left, and Rep. Fran Wendelboe for Gov. John Lynch, right, at the Governor and Council meeting in Concord, N.H., Wednesday, June 27, 2007. (AP Photo/Jim Cole) AP file

  • Carol Channing smiles while visiting the State House in Concord in 2007. AP file

Monitor columnist
Published: 1/16/2019 6:36:23 PM

Carol Channing once brought her unmistakable voice, perhaps the most identifiable voice in Broadway history, to Concord.

Along with that came her loud, sparkling wardrobe, her red, Mick Jagger-like lips, her eyes big like Frisbees and her platinum hair, all so uniquely flamboyant, all visible from the International Space Station.

And Channing, who died this week at the age of 97, brought something else when she came to town to perform at the Capitol Center for the Arts in 2007: her impeccable timing.

She showed it on the Broadway stage, where she became a household name singing the title track in Hello, Dolly! to standing ovations, night after night, year after year.

And she showed it at the Concord Community Music School. Channing walked into the start of a class for 3-year-old kids at the precise moment they were singing – what else? – a tune known as the “Hello Song,” one by one, moving it around the circle they had formed, introducing themselves to produce a more comfortable setting.

Student: “Hello, I’m Michael.”

Student: “Hello, I’m Cindy.”

Channing, without skipping a beat: “Well, hellooooo, Michael, well, hellooooo, Cindy, it’s so nice to have you back where you belong.”

“She went to each one, recalled each name,” said Peggy Senter, president of the Concord music school. “And she was bending down to be face level with them and they were hypnotized. It was an incredible experience for us as a school, hearing her sing in that voice.”

That voice. That raspy, gravelly voice, with its exaggerated annunciations, coming through those bright lips, becoming as American as Disneyland and Fenway Park, imitated by professionals on stage and amateurs at parties for decades.

Colored cheerleader pompoms were incorporated into the kids’ singing that June day in ’07, and Channing, of course, waved them around while she sang, making each kid feel special, even though they had no idea who this bizarre character was staring into their eyes.

“Parents were there and I said, ‘Wow, I bet a lot of parents have not heard of her,’ ” Senter said. “This was certainly after the heyday of Hello, Dolly! But she commanded the room, and the kids I realized, especially being from a nice, small town in northern New England, couldn’t stop watching and listening.

“She was like an exotic species. They were mesmerized to be with her.”

She first hit the Broadway stage in 1949, starring in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and giving eternal life to the song, “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” The show Hello, Dolly! and that song arrived on Broadway 15 years later, cementing Channing’s voice into the country’s cultural consciousness.

She came to Concord at age 86, as part of her solo tour that included a local, all-male group of backup singers. The show was held on June 27, 2007.

The day before, when she magically timed her entrance into that classroom full of 3-year-olds, Channing toured the entire Concord Community Music School, wearing, as Senter remembered, “rhinestone-studded Birkenstock sandals with jewels.”

“Like everywhere she went, she found the spotlight,” Senter said. “She was so charismatic. When she was in the building everyone just looked at her, and that’s the sign of a star, someone who can find the spotlight where ever she goes. And she was so complimentary, so giving.”

Senter remembered a show that ran between two and three hours long, with no breaks, featuring a tall, sleight, elderly figure on a stool with singers standing behind her. Afterward, Senter went backstage and got a hug, a kiss and 15 minutes of conversation, while a long line of fans waited to meet Channing.

“Amazing,” Senter remembered.

Meanwhile, former state representative Fran Wendelboe had her own memories of Channing’s visit.

First, as Wendelboe walked down the hall at the State House, past the press room and on toward the Hall of Flags, she heard a voice.

That voice.

“I knew immediately that was Carol Channing,” Wendelboe said. “She was talking to Gov. (John) Lynch and he said, ‘Oh, Rep. Wendelboe, come over and meet Carol Channing.’ ”

The two had a lot to talk about, leaving the governor off to the side “like a bump on a log.” It turned out Wendelboe and Channing had met at a Donald Trump party in Atlantic City, where Channing sang “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.”

Before Channing – wearing a red satin tuxedo that day, according to Wendelboe – performed in front of the Executive Council, she polished her act with Wendelboe, singing and kicking like a Rockette in the lobby. Then, she pulled Wendelboe into the council chamber and the kickline and singing continued there.

All of which made for a great memory, except for the fact that it forced Wendelboe to miss the actual show that night.

“I didn’t go,” she said,
“because I was afraid she would ask me to come on stage.”

From what I was told, a strong bond developed between Channing and Lynch and his wife, Susan. I was also told that Jim Webber, in charge of marketing at Concord TV, was part of the backup group of singers on that big night.

I couldn’t reach either of them, though. Too bad, because they were sure to
have had their own special memories about the time
the Broadway star with the unforgettable voice – one that will live on forever – came to Concord to do her thing.

“I remember it like it was yesterday,” Senter said.




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