Harold Betters performs last Lions Square concert of the season in Connellsville
The final free Lions Square 2013 Concert will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. Sunday at Lions Square in Connellsville.
As is tradition, Harold Betters will be the grand finale.
“It's always good to play in Connellsville. I enjoy the people,” said Betters, better known as “Mr. Trombone.”
He said he will have the best band with him — Kevin Moore on piano, Bob Insko on bass and Cecil Brooks on drums.
Betters recalls getting his nickname one night years ago at the Encore. He was working every night, and a man in the crowd started calling him “Mr. Trombone.”
It caught on.
“It's nice. I like it, but it doesn't mean I'm the best,” Betters said. “I have been fortunate to hold a crowd for a long time. The jazz world is a tough business to be in. I feel proud that my wife, Bunny, and I were able to build our house and raise our family through my choice to make music my living. I even went crazy buying fancy cars for a while, but my advice for young musicians today is to invest. Not many will be a Michael Jackson, Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra, making millions.
“So much depends on where you are at a point in time,” he said. “I was lucky to play for the Steelers for 16 years. When New Orleans used to come to Pittsburgh, Al Hirt would want to play ‘When the Saints Come Rolling In.' He wanted to do it in E flat, and I said certainly.”
Betters recalls being on “The Merv Griffin Show” with one of the world's great trombonists, Bill Watrous, when Watrous was very young. Years later they laughed about their first meeting when Watrous was playing in Pittsburgh.
“Musicians are great friends. My brother Jerry was one of the finest drummers ever. He had a really good voice, too, and was a well-established musician. Everybody loved him,” Betters recalled.
“I met the great one, JJ Johnson, and comedian Dick Gregory. Someone gave Dick one of my records. He put it in his suitcase, then headed down to Florida. Later I got a call from him. He had listened to it and was excited about my music and told me I had to get to the big cities and get my name out. It made me feel important,” he said.
“I have been very fortunate. I grew up in a wonderful family. My father and mother did a great job.”
Music ran in Betters' family. His father was a violinist who showed his children how to practice, but he was “kind of strict.”
Betters said when his wife passed away, he lost interest in playing. She had been the wind beneath his sails, he said.
“She was the one, so down to earth. She said what she thought,” he said. “I remember one time we went to Fox Glass to get a mirror made. JC Fox and I had played in a band together. We told him what we wanted, and she said to him, ‘Don't you charge us too much,' and JC said, ‘OK, Mrs. Betters.' ”
Betters is proud of his Connellsville roots.
Once, while appearing on “The Mike Douglas Show,” he said he was from Pittsburgh.
Elsie Rothside, a Connellsville neighbor, called the show while it was on the air to give him heck for not saying he was from Connellsville, Betters remembered.
“I could have never picked a better town to grow up in than Connellsville. It was nice, great memories, lots of friends like Jack Crislip who ran cross country with me. We laughed and had a great time,” he said.
Today, at 85, Betters gives his best at every performance, putting his heart into his music. He is thankful for his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
“I am wild about my daughter Cheryl. She looks out after me like her mom did. She's a doll baby. My son Kevin cooks for me, does the laundry and loves to joke around. My son Curtis lives in Pittsburgh and is doing well. I have six grandchildren. Now I have eight great-grandchildren who are so much fun. They call me Pop Pop,” said Betters.
When he plays at Lions Square, his selections will include wife Bunny's favorite “Through The Eyes Of Love.” They both always liked ballads. He will also perform “Night and Day” and “Rambunctious,” which always get a lot of applause.
“I try to play songs that everyone will like, the old standards and the ones like the often requested ‘Night Train.' I look at the crowd. Those who are my age, I know what they like. Then the younger people like songs such as ‘Mustang Sally.' ”
There were 11 Lions Square Sunday night concerts this year, said George Puskar, a Lions Club member and program organizer.
Puskar said every one was well-attended. In fact, attendance has increased.
“Many people who came regularly commented that they are very happy to have a place to go and that they enjoy the concerts very much. If we could only control the weather,” said Puskar.
Sponsors for the concerts include Atkins Music Center, Yough River Trail Council, John Fiesta Insurance, Bud Murphy's, Downtown Connellsville, Greater Connellsville Chamber of Commerce, South Side Grocer, Donna Evans Realty, Domino's Pizza, Duncan Service, Scottdale Bank & Trust, George D. Puskar, State Farm Insurance, Suter Construction, Richard E. Bower Attorney at Law and Paul Mulligan.
Puskar also thanked the Connellsville Police Auxiliary.
Betters will be playing at The Villages in Florida later this year. He will also appear at Storey Square in Uniontown on Sept. 16 and with the Sammy Brooks Band at the Greater Connellsville Chamber of Commerce Great Gatsby Gala at Linden Hall Mansion on Oct. 5.
More information is available at www.haroldbetters.com.
Nancy Henry is a contributing writer.