The New Kings of Swing and their big band music are a favorite at the Plano Senior Center.
The tantalizing strains of “Kiss of Fire” fill the room as the twenty-plus couples find their places on the small dance floor. The more experienced of the dancers precisely perform each step of the complicated tango as they glide across the wooden floor, completely immersed in the music. Others dance with joyful abandonment, adding creative steps while keeping beat to the music. Spectators along the sides of the room tap their toes, watching the refined grace and free spirits melding together in a whirl of energy.
For many of the participants, Thursday afternoon at the Plano Senior Center is the highlight of their week. They come together to hear and dance to the big band sounds of the New Kings of Swing, a band composed of gifted musicians ranging in age from 72 to 94. What began with four musicians has now grown to 15 members, with more waiting to join as space allows. Most have played professionally with entertainment giants such as Bob Hope, Roy Rogers, Elvis Presley, Johnny Mathis, and Frank Sinatra, as well as big bands like Glenn Miller, Louis Armstrong, and Les Brown. Five have also directed their own bands over the years. Each brings a top-quality instrument, including saxophones, trumpets, guitars, drums, and keyboard, to their weekly volunteer gig.
Accompanying the vintage band are the two “girl” singers, Carol Cohen and Suzi Checki, who sing in completely different styles. Carol’s rendition of “Blue Skies” lilts across the room in soft, melodic tones. Suzi’s deeper voice performing “At Last” reminds one of a night club torch singer.
The New Kings of Swing and the Plano Senior Center have a long history together. Originally the 18-year-old band was looking simply for a place to rehearse. But as their music evolved, their audience grew. Today the band plays the tunes their audience wants to hear. That includes not only big band favorites, but also swing music, rock and roll from the 50’s, music for line dancing, and Latin tunes for those who come to tango, rumba, and cha-cha-cha. They will even play an occasional polka. They also pride themselves on involving their listeners at every opportunity. Staples in their repertoire include the monthly “Happy Birthday” greetings and special holiday music. Every concert ends with their trademark hymn of “God Bless America.”
Their Plano Audience
This amazing band has developed a loyal following over the years. On any given Thursday the audience ranges in age from their 50’s to their 90s. While some come simply to listen, most come to dance. That includes 97-year-old George who, though bowed with age, scours the room for any female willing to join him on the dance floor. Many have been dancing together for decades, and one couple even met at a high school dance.
Although most are retired from 40-hour work weeks, those who come to dance are actively engaged in life. Ed, a licensed electrician, and his wife Sandy, write and administer an online electrician course to help others pass state testing requirements. Suzi, one of the female singers with the band, is also a gifted yoga instructor. Carl, almost 90, is the maintenance man for a 123-unit townhouse development. His friend, Texie, is an active gardener and coordinates the dance programs at the Garland Senior Center on Thursday nights. Another dancing couple, Richard and Lynn, attend dances in Plano and Garland, along with two to three more every week.
When asked why they come each Thursday, the listeners are quick to praise the band for its “fabulous variety of music” and their dedication to playing each week. Many choose to use the weekly dance as a form of elegant exercise, and all come for the socialization. Numerous couples have shared their Thursday afternoons for years and look forward to seeing familiar faces week after week.
As for the band, they play simply because “they can’t stop” according to band director John Thompson. Plus, it keeps each of them young, active, and involved in music. It is also their way of bringing joy into the lives of those whose step may be a bit unsteady but who are forever young-at-heart. Guessing from the enthusiastic applause following each musical number, the New Kings of Swing are hitting the high notes on every score.
Update: While the Plano Senior Center is closed for renovations, the New Kings of Swing will be performing at the Richardson Senior Center from 2 to 4 p.m. on Thursdays.