Musical talent landed boy in USO show

By Don McAlavy: County historian

Before Chick Taylor Jr. died he sent me an email. It read:

“Dear Don, yes I remember Tommy Thompson and very much enjoyed your column about him and his kids. Thank you Don for all the great work you have done in your columns and all the other historical documentation.

“In regards to my boyhood singing stint, here goes. In the first grade our teacher was Miss Pearman at Eugene Field Grade School. Our principal was Mr. Staubus. He and Bob Marshall were married to twin sisters. Mr. Marshall later became Clovis High School principal and for whom Marshall Jr. High is named. It was at Eugene School I became interested in music because of our Clovis school’s active music program. We had music classes and operattas that were fun and exciting.

“One of the other boys in my class who was a great singer was Johnny Pickering. We were friends and I like singing with him. He was much better because his family were the gospel singers ‘The Pickering Family’ and they had a program on K.I.C.A. 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 operattas.

“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 Burrell Johnson, wife of the local undertaker.

“My Dad had bought a small printing shop from Levi Whiteman and by lone hours and hard work had managed to make it grow. The second world war was raging and Clovis Army Air Bases were active training B-29 crews for combat. Dad and mom, ‘Chick Taylor Press’ were printing a small newspaper for the base and worked with 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.

“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 Andrew Sisters, Jerry Colona and others. Bob needed some help filling in between acts. So here we went and Mrs. Johnson sat at that gig upright piano. I was on state looking out at all those guys and gals, it was terrifying and I was ready to run, but Bob introduced us and the applauded. I look over to my wonderful teacher, she smiled, nodded, stuck the cords, and I took a deep breath and we began. I sang out with my very best ‘There’s A Star Spangle Banner Waving Somewhere.’ They liked it! When the applause and whistling stopped, somebody shouted ‘Sing another one!’ O.K. we struck up with ‘God Bless America,’ into the song I suddenly felt hands on my sholders and beautiful voices joining with me. It was the Andrew Sisters, needless to say, it was a big hit!”

Don McAlavy is Curry County’s historian. He can be contacted at: