Official Web Site of Gretchen Christopher, BMI Million Airs Songwriter, Solo Artist, Dancer/Choreographer and The Fleetwoods' Founder
A Loving Tribute to Those Who Contributed to Our Music & Our Memories
born May 26, 1914, died April 27, 2009
born January 16, 1934, died June 14, 2009
30, 1909, died Sept 19, 2008
There is so much to celebrate: That she lived to see the 2003 Salute to the Arts Award for her "numerous and outstanding contributions to the arts in the South Sound area", just a few of which were co-founding both the Olympia Little Theater and Olympia Junior Programs (acting in and directing musicals, dramas and children's theater - The latter now serving 30,000 school children per year); co-founding ASCM ("Ask'em" - Associates of the State Capital Museum); participating in Fine Arts Guild, Orthopedic Guild, Eenati, and in support of Olympia Symphony, in which her husband of 63 years, Ian Christopher (1900-1997) played flute and cello for 33 years. She played piano and sang, and they hosted chamber music, jam sessions and musical soirees in their home on Henderson Inlet, even as he supported her theater, cultural and civic activities. A gracious, relentless arts activist, Helen spearheaded, chaired and served numerous organizations, working with others to create a (Washington) center for the performing arts.
Eldon Marshall, Supervisor of the City of Olympia
over 25 years, wrote in a personal note of congratulations to Helen,
"I just want to express my thanks for your leadership in achieving
the 'Performing Arts Center' for our community. If not for
your efforts and persistence I doubt that we would have it today,"
Chairman of the Auditorium Committee of the Sixties;
she was the only woman appointed to
the Mayor's Committee of the Sixties, and really
"Mother of the Auditorium", wrote Marshall.
Ever an inspiration, at age 88, Helen wrote an autobiographical book, DOUBLE ENTRY, published 1997. Copies reside in libraries, including Whitman College, where she pledged KKG and, in 1931, earned her teaching credentials and Bachelor of Arts degree. DOUBLE ENTRY documents a family life, valuing love and service to community, from the time she was born, in Wilbur, WA. There, her ashes will be laid to rest with her twin brother, William Price Gray, Jr. (Editor of LIFE Magazine International Editions, upon his death in 1962), their mother, Della Wray Green Gray (a certified, fully accredited teacher from the age of fifteen) and father (former Wilbur Mayor and State Senator) W.P. Gray, Sr., who died within seven months of each other, in 1957, after 52 years of marriage.
Helen wished that, in lieu of flowers, memorial contributions be made to the Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia, WA 98501. The family deeply appreciates the loving care by Hospice and caregivers, all of whom are welcome to speak at the Celebration of Helen's Life, 2:00 p.m., Saturday, October 4, 2008, at Panorama City Chapel, with reception following at 3:30 p.m., below, in the Coffee Bar across from the Auditorium, all in the Quinault, Lacey, WA. For printed program, "Celebration of A Life Well-Lived" - designed by Gretchen, performed by all - click here. For Photos & Journal of 2nd Celebration of Life on Helen's Hundredth, click here.
born March 8, 1922, died June 17, 2008
Cyd Charisse, my dance mentor and idol since the 1950s, made her transition, Tuesday, June 17, 2008, at age 86, another Pisces, born March 8, 1922 (or '21). The year doesn't matter, for she was forever both elegant and youthful beyond limitations of years, including the last 60, in marriage with singer Tony Martin. What a role model! When Cyd Charisse was no longer making films, she and handsome husband-singer Tony Martin toured, doing their night club act together, he singing, she dancing. How I wish I could have seen that!
I don't say Cyd Charisse died, because as long as I'm alive and sharing dance with others (as I am now, twice a week), a part of her is expressed. As a teenager, with a ballet barre in my bedroom, and taking dance classes five days a week, I would come home, lie on my back on the bed and extend one leg overhead, toes pointed, the other doing a passé, practicing to imitate those long beautiful legs, that sultry, sophisticated vamp of jazz and ballet. Cyd Charisse. She was IT. The epitome of all I wanted to be, in dance.
Of course, I had other talents, and they took me far beyond the world of Dance, to Singing, Songwriting, Gold Records, Radio and Television (and even Movie Sound Tracks). As The Fleetwoods, our music became known throughout the world, especially our self-penned "Come Softly To Me" - and "Mr. Blue", our #1 Hits in 1959, still the Golden Age of Hollywood musicals. A string of nine Top 40 Hits, kept us in the minds and memories of those who loved our heartfelt arrangements, smooth harmonies and counterpoint, expressing the sincerity of the lyrics. When I performed solo, I would often include a dance.
Last year, I received a letter from businessman Bob Brakeman, documenting that the legendary dancer/choreographer Gene Kelly (one of Ms. Charisse's finest partners, her other being the legendary Fred Astaire) was a personal acquaintance of Mr. Brakeman, who said that Gene Kelly was a fan of The Fleetwoods! He regretted that we had not been introduced, as they had discussed; for I'm told Mr. Kelly and I surely would have been friends, with much to talk about. According to Mr. Brakeman, Gene Kelly loved our music and ordered his assistant to buy every Fleetwoods record he could find. And I certainly loved Gene Kelly's dancing and choreography. Oh, to have been his partner, even for a moment!
But now it's too late to meet Gene Kelly, or Fred Astaire, or the most beautifully talented dancer they ever partnered, Cyd Charisse. May she not just rest in peace, but continue to light up the heavens with her dancing. How blessed we are to have her on film, :in "Silk Stockings", "Singin' in the Rain", on "The Band Wagon", in "Brigadoon". Picture it!. And, yes, one of the most memorable was the Broadway Melody Ballet (pictured above). There is so much more, but you need only Google Cyd Charisse, and you will find many details and videos, to be treasured. These are just my personal memories.
At nearly 99, my mother lies on the bed each morning, doing her daily exercise, one leg pointed toward the ceiling, pulling on her long black stockings in what I call "doing your Cyd Charisse." I am so proud of her.
Ms. Charisse made her belated Broadway debut in 1992, at the age of 70, playing an aging ballerina in "Grand Hotel" and, judging from photos, was still ravishingly beautiful and with the classic poise and elegance of her ballet beginnings. Wow, that gives me just two years to follow in her footsteps and make my Broadway debut! I've got the soundtrack of a musical all written; now to finish the script of "Gretchen's Sweet Sixteen". But which part would I play? Oh, I could play myself, now, but who would play me as a teenager? Hmmm, could I play that, too? Having had only 17 leap year birthdays; perhaps I could! (:o),
Cyd Charisse, you are such an inspiration!
With deepest admiration,
PS: To (above) Zola Taylor's great niece, Cherisse, If you've never seen the dancing of the woman for whom you are named, you must find a way to see her now, drink in the beauty and elegance of your most talented and remarkable namesake.
born October 12, 1935, died September 6, 2007
The death of LUCIANO PAVAROTTI has touched not just a nation (Italy) but the world. He opened the
door for so many to love and appreciate opera, as never before, and paved the way for others to succeed
(including Andrea Bocelli, who sang at his funeral). Pavarotti was the best selling classical artist of all time,
with over 100 million record sales since the 1960s. He had the first classical album to reach #1 on the Pop charts.
In addition, he dared to cross over to pop including a video of "Your The First, The Last, My Everything,"
with hit-making soul artist Barry White, singing the song White co- wrote with Songwriter Sterling Radcliffe,
arranged by Gene Page. Page died in 1998, White died 5 years later, in 2003. Three and a half years after that Radcliffe died, this January 22, 2007 and now Pavarroti (who needed no first name, so great was his fame) is gone, having lived just short of 72 years (October 12, 1935 to September 6, 2007), but fully, reaching millions. With the treasures of recordings, his magnificent voice live on. For a video of "Your The First, The Last, My Everything," with Barry White and Luciano Pavarotti go to:
born March 18, 1934 or 38, died April 30, 2007
born September 5, 1921, died April 26, 2007
2007 has been my most startling year of loss of lives of Special Friends (mentioned above): STERLING RADCLIFFE (Songwriter, "You're the First, the Last, My Everything") died January 18. A month later, JOSIE WILSON (Ventures' producer, mother of Founder Don Wilson) died February 19. Four days after that, DANIEL SCHWARTZ (my favorite touring/dance partner for 8 years of jazz festivals) died February 23.
And now, JACK VALENTI (Former Special Assistant to President Lyndon Johnson, Author of books he gifted to me, and long-time President of the Motion Picture Association of America, in the midst of which we met at The Beverly Hills, where I had been honored at the BMI Million Airs Luncheon. Invitations and phone calls followed. Back in Olympia, WA, I was touched at his Special Delivery remembrance of my 12th Leap Year Birthday, February 29, 1988. Nicknamed "the Czar of Motion Pictures," (MPAA President, 1966-2004), he died April 26, of complications following a stroke in March. He is survived by Mary Margaret Valenti, his wife since 1962, and their three children, John, Alexandra, and Courtenay Valenti.
My daughter, having heard on television the news of Jack Valenti's passing, said, "He's a friend of my mom," and called my cell phone immediately. The cumulative shock of that fourth loss sent me unconsciously driving through a red light, momentarily seeing, through my tears, only the series of friends, so quickly departed this year. I was en route from Seattle and a farewell party for Heart's Founding Guitarist Roger Fisher and his wife. (Rog and Eve, and their six year old son Rogie, are moving to the Czech Republic to be near her family.) But at least that loss to us is only temporary: we're invited to visit them in Prague, and we feel certain they'll come back.
I suppose it's human nature to wish my other friends could come back. Sterling, Josie, Daniel and Jack; I think of you every day. For the interweaving of your lives with mine added so much to the richness of the tapestry. Now, for as long as I live, a part of you will be alive, too; for, In some miniscule way, you're a part of all I do.
born February 27, 1922, died February 23, 2007
DANIEL SCHWARTZ (Feb 27, 1922 - Feb 23, 2007), Gretchen's favorite dance partner and fellow-Pisces Daniel, suffered a stroke on the weekend of 2/17/07, in his apartment in North Seattle, was discovered on 2/20 by his older daughter and rushed to hospital. Paralyzed and unable to speak, Dan had previously requested no heroic lifesaving measures. Dan died peacefully in Northwest Hospital, at 1:25AM, 2/23/07, with family at his side, just four days before his 85th birthday. A Dixieland Jazz celebration of his life will be held at a later date.
An avid trad jazz listener for decades, it was not until Daniel Schwartz was age 60 that he learned to dance. To his amazement, he discovered and declared, "For a man, being a good dancer is the greatest way to attract beautiful women; more important than wealth or good looks."
Gretchen Christopher's response, "Dear, dear Dan; how we will miss you."
As Dixieland Jazz Festival regulars, Daniel Schwartz and Gretchen Christopher were known up and down the West Coast, and further, for their constant dancing and her occasional singing at Jazz Festivals from California to Canada, and even overseas. At Dan's introduction, Gretchen sat in with several bands in 1997 and 1998; then, in 1999, the Chilliwack International Dixieland Festival booked Gretchen Christopher as Special Guest Artist, and she performed with 7 bands in 4 days, to the delight of jazz lovers, self-professed "Gretchen Groupies", and Dan, with whom she danced in between sets, delighting their own fans.
Their travels and performances included Jazz Cruises to the Caribbean and Baltic Sea (Russia, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Germany, etc.), as well as The 500 Club in London, The Slow Club in Paris, The Follies Bergere in Paris, The Mayor ________ in Brussels, and cruising the River Rhine, from Strasbourg to Cologne, plus memorable weekends in New York for the American Swing Dance Championships, and the grand surprise of Las Vegas for Celine Dion's opening week.
Born 17 years and two days after Daniel Schwartz, Gretchen Christopher had a true birthday anniversary only once every four years, on February 29th. To celebrate her 15th leap year birthday, Dan surprised Gretchen with a pre-paid two week trip to St. Petersburg, Russia, to extend her studies of ballet, at Vaganova, arguably the most famous ballet academy, counting among its graduates such legendary names as Anna Pavlova, Vaslav Nijinsky, George Balanchine, Galina Ulanova, Michel Fokine, Rudolf Nureyev, Natalia Makarova, and Mikhail Baryshnikov. But the grand opening of the Experience Music Project (EMP), where Gretchen's Gold Records and first Fleetwoods tour costume were to be exhibited, took priority, and Gretchen stayed in Seattle to perform "Come Softly To Me" a cappella, for the EMP Grand Opening concert. Daniel insisted the birthday girl deserved a consolation prize, and later sent her to Montreal, Canada, to study Argentine Tango, in a nine day intensive.
Though Dan did not care to dance tango, himself, he and Gretchen were swing dancing spontaneously, outside a sidewalk cafe in Brussels, Belgium, to the music of an accordion player serenading the diners. At the musician's request, Dan led Gretchen in an American Tango that had the audience cheering and the musician passing the hat!
Upon breaking the news of his death to Gretchen, Dan's daughters said, "We want to thank you for all you did for Dad. You gave him a new lease on life."
Gretchen replied, "And he gave me a new lease on life. I was married 14 years to a man who didn't dance. When we divorced and I discovered the joy of dancing to Dixieland jazz with Dan , I was in heaven! Couldn't stop smiling. Thanks to Dan, the most wonderful age of my social life began in my fifties!"
Gretchen later observed. "I need no reminders. He's with me all the time. We did so much, made so many good memories. Thoughts of Dan just pass through my mind every day."
Gretchen Christopher has committed to sing Dan's favorites, including "St. Louis Blues", which he taught her from a Bessie Smith recording, and Gretchen's special renditions of "Bye Bye Blackbird" and "Hard Hearted Hannah", at a Dixieland Jazz memorial celebration of Daniel Schwartz's life, to be arranged by his daughters, (TBA). Please check back here for further details.
A celebration of the life of Dan Schwartz will be hosted by
his daughters, at 4PM, Friday, September 21, at the Ballard
From the Guestbook for Josie L. Wilson
Services for JOSIE WILSON, Founder of Blue Horizon Records and The Ventures,10AM, February 26, 2007, at the Aspen Chapel, Mountain View Funeral Home at 4100 Steilacoom Blvd., Tacoma, WA 98499.
Entering the foyer of the chapel, I was greeted by the happy sound of The Ventures music. I slipped into the sanctuary and saw that the music was recorded and accompanying a video collection of still pictures of Josie Wilson and her family through her lifetime. The last showed a very frail but still smiling Josie Wilson, holding what's probably the latest model of The Ventures guitar. Then, Josie's granddaughters read appropriate poems, effectively, including one Josie had written, "Grandmother's Favorite", whose surprise ending brought a chuckle from the otherwise somber congregation.
After the minister spoke and invited us to view the briefly-opened casket, I was not sure I wanted to. I like my memories of the vibrant Josie Wilson I described in her Guest Book, online. They opened the casket and, sitting in the second row, I could see her face in profile, waxen and unfamiliarly gaunt. l let row after row of others pass before me, unsure if I wanted to view, but wondering if the starkness of looking on her lifeless form would somehow jolt and spur me to finish that which was so difficult for me, before I lost other friends or even my own life.
All others but the family had gone before me, and the usher gently urged me. I was fine until I viewed the open casket. "Josie," I said to her in my mind, "You're so much more than that lifeless form!" Now the tears came, silently, as I exited. I was surprised; had thought, as I drove up from Olympia, how unmoved I seemed, in the face of losing three friends in a little more than a month (two in the last few days).
Now, in the foyer as I dried my tears, someone spoke to me. She was a large, friendly woman I didn't know, but we shared our feelings, and it comforted me, and I was eventually able to move on into the large room of the Reception.
At the entrance, I visited with Josie's daughter Sally and thanked her for her email keeping me in the loop. "Josie loved and appreciated you so much," she said.
I told Sally I hoped it had brought Josie piece of mind when I answered her plea for me to get her the information about Virginia Boles' service (upon the recent passing of the widow of Engineer Joe Boles, who had recorded the first hits of The Fleetwoods and The Ventures; now even that link was gone). Josie had wanted to send flowers from herself and the Ventures. Sally said it did bring her peace of mind, and we hugged.
I had no appetite for the lavish buffet but visited with Josie's son Don Wilson and wife Dory, Venture Bob Bogle, Secretary of State Brad Owen and wife Linda (Washington), Venture's Manager Fiona Taylor, widow of former Ventures' drummer, Mel Taylor (California), Josie's granddaughter Jill and grandson Tim Wilson (his significant other and her daughter and mother, 3 lovely generations) and their mom Karen Wilson (another Pisces). I was happy to see friends to whom I'd extended the invitation, KK. Ryder and Sky Benson. I missed visiting with you Wailers, Buck Ormsby and Kent Morrill; so my greetings to you, now, "Hi, Guys." May we all share more good music, before it's our time to rest in peace. Gretchen Christopher
The family would like to thank the Franciscan Hospice team and all the family and friends who have helped and shown so much love during these difficult times. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to
Franciscan Hospice P.O. Box 1502, Tacoma, WA 98401.
Please sign the online guest book at www.mountainviewtacoma.com
Robert "Bob" Reisdorff, 6/24/1922 - 6/15/2002, Founder/President
of Dolphin/Dolton Records, first Northwest label to produce
national #1 Hits and Gold Records -- with millions of sales of
The Fleetwoods' self-penned "Come Softly To Me" plus "Mr. Blue"
(both now exhibited at Seattle Center's Experience Music Project
with a video narrated by Reisdorff), following a series of
strokes, died of aspiration pneumonia, in a hospital in Modesto,
CA, near his niece Charlene, just nine days before his 80th
Songwriter Sharon Sheeley, born April 4, 1940,
died May 17, 2002, of a cerebral hemorrhage that occurred on
Mother's Day. Her death on May 17 was 42 years and one month
after the tragic car crash in England that killed the love of
her life, Eddie Cochran ("Summertime Blues"), and massively
Treble clef image courtesy of Lisabeth's Music Images at http://www.gymell.com/doc/musicimages.shtml