Honor Flight veteran has put his life to musicIf you like jazz, you might stop by Club Saratoga some Saturday afternoon to listen to Gordy Everett croon. You’ll also get to see him do some soft-shoe on stage. “I’m the oldest guy that’s ever been on that stage,” said Everett, 89.
By: Patra Savastiades, For the Budgeteer News
If you like jazz, you might stop by Club Saratoga some Saturday afternoon to listen to Gordy Everett croon. You’ll also get to see him do some soft-shoe on stage.
“I’m the oldest guy that’s ever been on that stage,” Everett, 89, said of the venue better known for hosting younger members of the opposite sex when not acting as a jazz club. He sat at a small round table, neatly clad in a jacket, shirt, suspenders, dress pants and leather shoes with rubber soles.
“These soles make it hard to dance up there,” he said. Half a glass of beer sat in front of him.
Onstage, a jazz guitarist, bass player, keyboard player and drummer performed “Who Can I Turn To?” Everett took a sip of beer.
“I was born in 1923,” he said. “I started doing vaudeville when I was 15.”
A woman threaded her way through the tables to where Everett was seated. “Please remember to sing ‘My Baby,’” she purred.
“I’ll sing it for you,” he promised.
In ones, twos and threes, people walked in and took a seat, some of them waving to Everett.
He got his start through Tommy Williams, an uncle who had been a member of a New York vaudeville troupe in the 1920s and 1930s. Williams retired from that circuit and returned to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where he organized a traveling vaudeville troupe. In the summers of 1938, 1939 and 1940, Everett performed with them in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, dancing and singing in barns and other low-budget venues.
“I got paid about $9 a week plus expenses,” he recalled.
Everett was a Denfeld High School junior when Norman Cecil Johnson, director of vocal music for the Duluth Public Schools, told him “You should be singing on radio.” Johnson took Everett to KDAL to audition.
“I was shaking in my boots,” Everett recalled. “I had no chance because I was afraid I wasn’t good enough.” KDAL turned him down.
He helped form a quartet, the Four Sharps, when he was at the Duluth State Teachers College (now the University of Minnesota Duluth). They competed in the Minneapolis competition “Stairway to the Stars.” The organizer, who was friends with Arthur Godfrey, was impressed. Godfrey wanted the quartet to come to New York to sing on his show, Everett said, but no plans were ever made.
There was another chance at stardom. John Stone, Everett’s voice teacher at the Orpheum Theater, told him, “I want you to try out for the ‘Lawrence Welk Show.’” Stone arranged the audition, but Everett didn’t go. He’d convinced himself, “I’m not good enough, so I’m not going to go.”
The truth, he says now, is that he had no confidence and was afraid of crowds.
In 1943, Everett joined the Army. He was assigned to the infantry as a machine gunner and served in the Solomon Islands and the Philippines. Everett participated in three major operations over the course of three years. Of his many service medals, he is most proud of his Bronze Star and Combat Infantryman’s badge.
Everett returned to Duluth and worked in the administrative offices of U.S. Steel.
When he was about 50, something changed. “What the hell,” he thought, “Why am I holding back?” He began to sing in the Duluth Superior Symphony Chorus, the DSSO opera chorus, Gilbert and Sullivan productions, and a barbershop quartet.
“He was also involved in the Northland Male Chorus,” said friend and fellow singer, Robert Ballou.
“Gordy used to sing at the Hotel Duluth, the Flame, and piano bars,” added Urania Zorbas, whose late husband, John, was a jazz musician who sometimes performed with Everett.
Everett retired in 1983, giving him an opportunity to pursue music wholeheartedly. He even tried out for “America’s Got Talent” in 2011.
Last Tuesday, he went on an Honor Flight, which recognizes World War II veterans by flying them free of charge to Washington, D.C., to visit the World War II Veterans Memorial. At the Lincoln Memorial, he was given another honor: Leading the group of nearly 100 veterans and their guardians in singing the national anthem.