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June 25, 2014

HEARTFELT TUNES: Retirees bring songs, laughs to Southern Indiana nursing homes through karaoke

Friendship goes back decades

CLARKSVILLE — Charlie Wyzard, 69, has a bad back. Bill Davis, 67, has legs that give him problems.

They both know it could be worse.

Wyzard and Davis know there are other seniors out there who have bigger problems. Instead of just counting their blessings, the two men donate four or five days each month to local nursing homes, bringing smiles and laughter to the seniors that live there with their karaoke shows.

“We see people a lot younger than us in here, and we know we’re fortunate,” Davis said. “That’s the reason we do this.”

For about two hours every week, Wyzard and Davis become “Fun Karaoke with Bill and the Wiz,” playing songs their audiences remember from their youths.

“They’re just outstanding,” said Robin Strutz, activities director at Clark Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing Center, Clarksville. “They really get involved with the residents when they’re in here. They just make it so much fun for [the residents]. It’s great.”

After his mother went to live in a nursing home 12 years ago, Davis got involved with karaoke at American Legion Post 28 in New Albany. The soft-spoken man found that he had a knack and passion for performing for an audience.

“They [were] having karaoke, and a friend of mine’s wife got me up there to sing,” Davis said, recalling his first time on stage. “That was it. It only took the one time.”

Davis began performing at his mother’s nursing home, which got a great response from the residents, he said.

“Then I thought, ‘If I’m doing it here, maybe someone else might want me,’” he recalled. “I went out and started it all. I was doing all kinds of nursing homes.”

At the same time, Davis was involved in the Retired Seniors Volunteer Program, or RSVP. Davis shelved his karaoke gear for years until Wyzard talked him into getting back on the scene.

Wyzard’s relationship with karaoke goes back a bit farther by a few decades. He didn’t know it at the time, but he first encountered it at the late Buddy Knight’s Jeffersonville bar, Buddy’s Nook. Bar patrons would bring records and sing by memory to them, and between songs Knight would entertain the crowd with garish costumes and jokes. When Wyzard is playing the Wiz, he’s really emulating Knight, he said.

“I always try to recognize Buddy each and every time we do karaoke,” Wyzard said. “He died Jan. 24, 1990, at the very young age of 94. I know he’s up there in karaoke heaven looking down.

“He used to say, ‘Wiz, these people come in here all weekend and laugh at me. But every Monday when I go to the bank with that big bag, he said, I’ve got that big smile on my face.’”

Wyzard’s not laughing all the way to the bank like Knight once did. He and Davis do the shows at nursing homes free of charge. Their reward is knowing that they’re doing right by the residents.

“I call them the forgotten people, because some of them have been in here for years, and all they do is sit in their rooms,” Wyzard said. “Well, if we can bring back some memories to them, get them to think and put that smile on their faces, it puts big smile on our face.”

Wyzard will do anything to get his audience to smile. He has multiple bags full of silly hats, wigs and clothing. He’ll dance. He’ll do impersonations. He’ll tell corny jokes. He’ll sing.

Davis is more reserved. While Wyzard is the emcee, Davis operates the karaoke equipment.

And the residents are into it, Strutz said.

“The residents get involved. They get up and sing, and it was something I was shocked over,” Strutz said. “They get the staff involved. They’ll sing with staff, or they’ll sing by themselves.”

Wyzard and Davis typically do two-hour sets, and it takes about that long for them to set up and tear down, Davis said. But they both think it’s time well spent.

“It costs us money, but it’s to see them and know they appreciate it,” Wyzard said. “I know I wouldn’t want to be in here. I hope I never have to be.”

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Barbara Brewster has been the organ player at Faith Lutheran Church in Jeffersonville for the past 50 years. Brewster began playing organ with the church in August of 1964 at the age of 17.

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