The Other Puerling Tribute Concert

Last night’s Gene Puerling concert from the UNT Jazz Singers was an unbelievable, epic tribute to the man who founded The Hi-Lo’s and The Singers Unlimited and was, as Jennifer Barnes put it,

I live tweeted the entire concert; I have storified it here.

Almost twenty years ago, I was lucky to witness the prototype for this concert – a Gene Puerling tribute performance at the 1997 IAJE Conference in Chicago. It featured WMU Gold Company (Steve Zegree, director) and many of the same guests: Clark Burroughs, Don Shelton, Bonnie Herman. Also featured was Darmon Meader and more.

I was helping with the rapid sound tech setup for this concert, so I stood by the board during the soundcheck and performance. And it was there that I witnessed one of the most remarkable musical moments of my life.

Gene Puerling’s “Lullaby of Birdland” is a lush a cappella chart that originally appeared on “Easy To Love,” the last album recorded by The Singers Unlimited. Hear it here.

It begins with a thirty second wordless introduction, and there was Bonnie Herman, the legendary lead singer – everyone’s favorite. Hers is a voice people literally fall in love with. Bonnie was a career studio singer – I think she must have actively avoided a performing career, considering how compelling her singing is.

Bonnie stood center stage, waiting as Gold Company sang the introduction.

When she sang the opening phrase I watched as the 1,000+ people in the room lost 2 inches of height in their chairs, all at once. They literally sighed together. Her singing was so beautiful, so familiar, and so rare to be heard live. We all knew we were hearing something truly special.

I will never forget that concert and especially that moment. Gene’s music made it possible.


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