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A birthday musical like no other is hoping to reach national audience

Dorothy Johnson, one of The Echoes celebrates her birthday this Sunday
Dorothy Johnson, one of The Echoes celebrates her birthday this Sunday
Carolyn J. Woodruff

Dorothy Johnson will be 88 years young next week. But the celebration comes this Sunday, June 8th at Pine Valley Retirement Community in Tuscaloosa with a special performance from the musical group, The Echoes, of which Dorothy is a member. However, this group of close to 20 ladies is a bit unique in several ways, including the first words they share at every performance - “We are The Echo Entertainers and we don’t sing!” It is on this special day that Johnson’s daughter and owner of North Carolina-based Woodruff Family Law Group and Johnson’s son-in-law, Dwight Ensley hope to share some very unique aspects of The Echoes to family, friends and so many others past the Tuscaloosa area. June 8th, The Echoes will make their first video.

“My mother is very important to me. But as the years have gone by, it has become harder and harder to find something special and unique for her birthday. So, knowing Mom cares about ‘giving back’ to others, including the friends she has made here, Dwight and I thought about making her birthday celebration an event to remember for all the families represented here at Pine Valley. Many of these men and women have children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren who live all across the country. Dwight and I recently co-authored, “The Seven Nights of Santa,” a book that offers kids of divided households a real solution to celebrate the holidays with all the important caregivers in their lives. We believe grandparents and great grandparents should be included in the holiday visits as well as visits on their birthday. Members of The Echoes are no exception. We hope this video gives families more reason than ever to plan accordingly for the 2014 holiday season and every season to follow,” says Woodruff.

What is it that makes The Echoes so unique? The Echoes bring to life various musical styles including Broadway, Jazz, Country, Classical and Religious Hymns and, of course classic songs that represent the state of Alabama, without singing. If you ask the Pine Valley Retirement Community Activity Director, Angie Cooper, she would tell you that it is all in what The Echoes are using as musical instruments. Quite frankly, they really do use everything but the kitchen sink. But keep your eyes out for that sink in an upcoming performance.

“We started in November 2010 as a little singing group of ladies for a choir. Today, we are creating musical numbers using everything from the traditional piano to egg beaters, pizza pans, washboards, and paper towel holders played with tongs. A showstopper for us is our performance of I’ll Fly Away using nothing more than combs and wax paper. The Echoes regularly entertain in Tuscaloosa, playing such venues as churches and nursing homes across four counties in Alabama. A highlight was a “gig” in Mississippi. The Echoes usually get standing ovations. The next big musical challenge these ladies want is to travel far enough so that they all have to spend the night somewhere. Who knows? Maybe David Letterman will invite us before he retires,” says Cooper.

One way to connect with family, friends and even David Letterman, or any talk show host is to use video. Therefore, as a birthday present for Johnson, Woodruff and Ensley will be videotaping The Echoes’ performance this Sunday, June 8 at 2:00 PM and supplying a copy to each member of the group as a gift.

“I think this is the grandest gift you could give them. Many families can’t travel with us and many haven’t seen one performance. This would be a great gift that could be shared with so many,” says Cooper.

Finally, when it comes to adding up what the benefits are of being a member of The Echoes, Cooper says there are almost too many to count. She says the gift to each group member is priceless.

“It gives me such pride and joy to see these women using talents that many didn’t know they had. So many ladies were timid and shy. Now, they are show girls. We’re marketing magic for Pine Valley too because being a part of this group also keeps members’ minds alert and stimulated with so many things to learn. It gives them a reason to live. As far as every audience member, whether they are down and lonely, sick or depressed, we bring humor everywhere we go,” says Cooper.

Now, it's your turn. What method would you use to get The Echoes onto a national TV talk show?