On Sunday, there were simultaneous invasions in the Livingston Parish community of Watson (it’s not officially a town yet but local leaders are working to put a referendum on the ballot).
Forty-four young people, led by a native of nearby Bogalusa, poured into several homes in Watson, recruiting elementary, middle and high school students to their cause, pulling local children into a grueling training regimen for a two-hour standing-room only performance be an audience of appreciative residents.
It was the fourth time in recent years that The Young Americans, a troupe of young people, white, black, brown and yellow, from across the U.S., Europe and Asia performed as a fund-raising project of the South Live Oak Elementary School. Following their performance, they presented the school with a check for more than $1,000. It was the fourth time that I have attended the show and the fourth time that I have been impressed at the abundance of talent possessed by YA members, all of whom range between 18 and 22 years of age.
It was also the fourth performance in which one or more of my grandchildren have participated. This year, there were four of my descendants among the scores of local children recruited to perform alongside the 44 Young Americans in a series of song and dance routines that was nothing short of spectacular.
Founded more than a half-century ago, The Young Americans is a charitable organization dedicated to the promotion of the arts. With schools around the country cutting back on arts funding because of fiscal problems, The Young Americans College of the Performing Arts has turned out some impressive alumni who have moved on to film, television, movie and musical careers.
Among those alumni are Nia Peeples of Fame and Walker, Texas Ranger; Mary Bond Davis of Hairspray; Steve Issacs of The Who’s Tommy, Jim May, orchestra conductor for The Lion King, and Mark Walberg, among scores of others.
Another alumnus was Bruce Sampson, a native of Bogalusa and the associate director of the previous three local performances before moving into the audience this year, giving way to his successor.
Sampson has been involved in entertainment most of his life, accepted at age 15 to the American Musical Theater program and The Young Americans. He signed his first recording contract at 17 and embarked immediately on a summer concert tour, opening for such acts as Maynard Ferguson and Kool and the Gang. All three of his daughters have come through the Young Americans.
But the real story here is how 44 kids from such a wide range of backgrounds come together to take their audience on a high energy tour of music from around the world and, for the old-timers, a dish of The Beach Boys, The Four Seasons, The Supremes, Aretha Franklin, The Temptations, The Contours, and other pioneers of rock ‘n’ roll. Of course they lost the older members of the audience but won the hearts of the kids with the One Direction, New Kids on the Block and a couple of other groups I can’t possibly identify.
The only thing conspicuously absent, at least from my point of view, was Brenda Lee and Roy Orbison.
But for two hours, they, along with all the local school kids who made their show business debuts, made us forget politics, crime, the economy and all the other problems we face on a daily basis.
Over the years, they have created specialty shows for corporate anniversary celebrations, sales awards ceremonies, foundation fundraising events, trade shows and, of course schools where they involve dozens of local kids in their baptism to show business.
The next stop will be in Marksville. If you get the chance to catch them in a performance, don’t pass up the opportunity. You could even approach your children’s principal about bringing them to your school.
For those interesting in either booking or auditioning to join The Young Americans should go to this link: