BUSY BEE BAND & HONEYBEES
1977 - 1980
"Busy Bee Band Follies '77"
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 Niagara 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, Va.
"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 questions asked.
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 professionals."
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.
Band Attends Apple Festival - 1976
Traveling to Winchester, Virginia, April 30, the Busy Bee Band and Honeybees were featured in the Division I of the Apple Blossom Festival Parade.
Named the Official Band of the Secretary of State by A. James Manchin, the band appeared in Charleston April 7.
Highlight of the year was the eighth "Follies" show which played to full houses for five nights. Ninety-five members of the band were featured along with the 20 Honeybees in numbers with a Broadway setting. Numbers included "Chorus Line," "African Symphony," "Hey Jude," and "Saturday Night."
Field music for the half-time shows featured "Another Opening, Another Show," "Rhinestone Cowboy," "Magnificent Seven," and "Bionic Band."
Various activities were held to raise travel funds such as a Ho-Down Square Dance, Tag Day, fruit sale and gas-o-rama.
Directing the band was Earl McConnell, Sr., with son Earl McConnell, Jr. assisting along with Mrs. McConnell doing Honeybee choreography.
"Busy Bee Band Follies '78"
The 1978 Follies featured selections from the Broadway Musical "Annie." Portraying street urchins, Curtis Horter listens to Brad Ford while Michelle Hart as Annie looks on.
1979 Field Show
"Busy Bee Band Follies '79"
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".