By Don McAlavy: Local Columnist
Editor’s note: The following account was told by Chick
It was at Eugene Field I became interested in music because of our Clovis schools active music program. We had music classes and operettas that were fun and exciting. In the first grade our teacher was Miss Pearman at Eugene Field Grade School. Our principal was Rock Staubus.
One of the other boys in my class who was a great singer was Johnny Pickering. We were friends and I liked singing with him. He was much better — he and his family were the gospel singers The Pickering Family, and they had a program on KICA radio introduced by Mac McAlister, the station owner. They were great and I can still hear their theme song:
“Give the world a smile each day, helping someone on their way. . . while serving Jesus with a smile, a . . . bright sunny smile.”
Johnny and I sang in the classes and operettas.
My mother, Pearl Dale Taylor, recognized my music and despite tight finances and the war found a way to allow me to take voice lessons from Bryle “Skoogie” Johnson, wife of the local undertaker.
My dad had bought a small printing shop from Levi Whiteman, and by long hours and hard work had managed to make it grow. World War II was raging and Clovis Army Air Base was actively training B-29 crews for combat. Dad and mom ran the “Chick Taylor Press,” and printed a small newspaper for the base and worked with a Sgt. Bob Bertrum who served as the editor. His duties included the base entertainment. He was a good musician and singer and played the accordion and piano. He often came to our house for dinner on holidays, and he would play and we would sing for the family.
One day he asked my mother if I could come to the base and sing for the troops. Mom was thrilled and I was half scared to death. It was a U.S.O. show with Bob Hope, the Andrews Sisters, Jerry Colona and others. Bob Hope needed some help filling in between acts. So here we went and Mrs. Johnson sat at that big upright piano. I was on stage looking out at all those guys and gals. It was terrifying and I was ready to run, but Bob introduced us and they applauded.
I looked over to my wonderful teacher, she smiled, nodded, struck the cords, and I took a deep breath, and we began. I sang out with my very best: “There’s a star-spangled banner waving somewhere.”
They liked it! When the applause and whistling stopped, somebody shouted, “Sing another one.” Okay, we struck up with “God Bless America.” Into the song I suddenly felt hands on my shoulders and beautiful voices joining with me. It was the Andrews Sisters. Needless to say, it was a hit.
From that time on I still continued to sing but was studying with Mrs. Clyde Newton. … Most of the time it was in churches often accompanied by Mrs. Lynn Martin. I enjoyed music through Clovis Junior High and as a freshman I sang in the operetta “Dawn Boy” with Lyle Walker. Lyle sang “Dawn Boy” and I did “See Al, the Medicine Man.” This was an Indian story and we had lots of fun under the direction of Mrs. Jim Burran.
My first year in high school was at Wentworth Military Academy in Lexington, Mo.
The following years were at New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell, and neither school had a music program except for band. That ended my music ambitions. Something strange happened— my voice changed.
By the way, Sgt. Bob Bertrum went on with his music career after the war, writing music and promoting singers and records. The last I heard about him, he was living with his wife and kids in Hawaii. I was told he discovered and promoted Don Ho and made him famous by writing his music such has “Tiny Bubbles in the Wine.”
There were many who came along in music here, such as Norman and Vi Petty guided by Harry Barton who was director of the Clovis High School music department.