The following is an article from the Times West
Virginian: Monday, April 4,
1977. Written By Neil H. Shreve.
East Follies: Big Time Status
(Editor's note: Neil H. Shreve, who has
"reviewed" West Virginia football and
basketball teams for years for The Times-West Virginian,
attended the East Fairmont High Busy Bee "Band
Follies '77" Friday evening. Here is his report.)
The front of the stage if filled with
young girls dressed in blue jeans, faded shorts,
checkered and striped blouses, low-cut tennis shoes;
their hair, for the most part, is in tight curlers. They
snap their fingers, their young bodies swaying
rhythmically to non-existent music as their lips move
without words. their choreographer, Mrs. Millie
McConnell, claps her hands, issues a crisp command and
the routine is magically varied to another tempo, another
scene. Soon, quietly, like football players before a big
game, they file off-stage.
Behind them on a raised platform Earl
McConnell, Jr., is talking to the 95 members of his band.
They listen intently, all eyes on their leader. They too
are dressed as though they had just finished an
intra-mural softball game. "We had a good opening
night," McConnell says. "Why? Because we were a
little scared and uncertain and as a result we tried
harder to pull it off. Now we must fight over-confidence
and a tendency to let down - got it? We must keep our
concentration at all times. Don't let your mind wander.
You must think every minute."
* * * * * *
One hour later the empty auditorium is
packed. The lights are dimmed to a hum of anticipation. A
sonorous voice booms: "Presenting the Busy Bee Band
Follies of 1977!" The stage becomes a panorama of
flashing light, the curtain rolls back. Gone are the blue
jeans, sneakers and hair curlers. Resplendent in
immaculate blue and
gold uniforms is the famous Bee Band, while skipping on-stage are 20 surprisingly "older"
young ladies in magnificent costumes. In an instant, the
air is full of magic. A stunning brunette, Kellie Costa,
leads the Honeybees through the famous
"Welcommen" from Cabaret and the Eighth Follies
is underway with an explosion of sight and sound that
would not be shamed on Broadway.
For the next two hours the appreciative
audience witnessed a great show. Highlights included a
special request number "Hey, Jude", the
introduction of "The Most Beautiful Girls in the
World" (featuring 12 of East High's loveliest girls
who almost convinced one they fitted their description),
a novelty specialty starring the trombone section;
several numbers featuring country and western music; an
elaborate takeoff on the Broadway smash "Chorus
Line"; Big Band sounds of the 40's; and two final
show-stoppers, "African Symphony" featuring the
percussion section; and "Saturday Night" with
the band members filling the aisles of the auditorium
with a niagrara of sound.
Featured performers among a cast of
all-stars were Tracey Boyles, Queen Bee, who would make
many a Miss America hopeful tear up her identity card;
Jamie Constable, "the last of the Constables".
Tallest of all the Honeybees, Jamie follows her sisters
Terry and Tracy, the latter a Queen Bee for two years. A
fourth sister, Tina, devoted her time to cheerleading. It
is safe to say that an area family has seldom produced
four more beautiful girls than the Constable sisters.
The Big Band concept and the Honeybees
are the brainchild of Earl McConnell, Sr., long
recognized as one of the finest bandmen in the state.
Co-director is his son, Earl Jr., and the choreographer
who makes the Honeybees super-special is his wife, Millie. Another son, Pat, does a superb job with the
lighting and sound.
This is the 8th annual performance of
Follies, and the show has reached the big-time status.
Every night it plays to a packed house and could run
another week if the group did not have a commitment to
appear in Charleston on April 7, where the band will be
formally named Official Band of the Secretary of State by
A. James Manchin. On April 30 the band will be in
Division I of the Apple Blossom Festival in Winchester,
"Making" the famed Honeybee
line is a prestige thing at East High. Each June some 100
girls try for the coveted spots, with only 20 to 22
succeeding. Every year they must "make the
team" all over again - there are no automatic
holdovers. They are put through Spartan training all year
by Mrs. McConnell, and if a girl "puts on too much
weight" or becomes lazy or indifferent and does not
meet the rigid discipline, she is given her walking
papers - this is understood from the beginning, with no
The Band and Honeybees have been featured
at the Virginia Beach National Music Festival, the
Charlotte National Music Festival, have performed in
Disneyland to massive audiences in 1974 and 1976, and
took New York by storm in an appearance at Rockefeller
Plaza. They are now nationally known as one of the finest
high school groups in America - all due to the ability and dedication of Earl McConnell and his wife, and in
later years by their sons.
"These kids are fantastic,"
McConnell says. "They have to be supremely
dedicated. They slave all year, hour after hour, become
what they are. It takes find physical condition,
sacrifice and dedication. Nothing good comes easy."
Frank Martin, who will do the lighting
and staging for Doc Severinsen's appearance at the WVU
Coliseum, was a fascinated visitor Friday night. "I
don't know of another high school group in the country
who can surpass these kids," he said. "They are
McConnell stated that his favorite
compliment of all time came from Paul Yoder, noted
bandman from the University of Miami. "The trend
today among high school bands is to be military-marching,
regimentation, and so on, with a leaning toward drum and
bugle corps and little real music. This Fairmont band is
a throwback to the old-time Show Band, a disappearing
thing, and it is one of the best I've ever seen."
Why spend those hoarded bucks to go to
New York - even Pittsburgh? You can catch a big-time show
right in your home town Monday and Tuesday nights - if
you can possibly wangle a ticket. A real diamond is
shining in your own back yard. Run, don't walk - to see
the Busy Bee Band and Honeybees. They are fantastic.
* Pictured (1977 Follies) Close-ups of
Lynne Laswell, Kim Hardway, and Terri Opas display the
detailed period costumes.
"Busy Bee Band Follies
The 1978 Follies featured selections
from the Broadway Musical "Annie". Portraying
urchins, Curtis Horter listens to Brad Ford while
Michelle Hart as Annie looks on.
"Busy Bee Band Follies
||FOLLIES '79 featured Greg
Thompson as the Tin Man from the new musical "THE WIZ", a contemporary
adaptation of the 1939 "WIZARD OF OZ". Dorothy, as played by Gina LeDonne, is shown
"slidin' some oil to him".
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