Connie Chase to direct West Point Glee Club on TV
Published 10:18 am Wednesday, January 11, 2017
WEST POINT, N.Y.
A former Franklin resident’s love of music will be demonstrated on television this Thursday, Jan. 12, when she leads a choir to perform “America the Beautiful.”
Constance “Connie” Lankford Chase will be seen directing the West Point Glee Club at the Kennedy Center on the ABC network program “Taking the Stage‚ Changing America.” The show is scheduled to begin at 9 p.m.
Chase, a daughter of the late Mr. and Mrs. J.P. Lankford Jr., said in a phone interview on Tuesday that she and the club were performing for four days in Kansas City when the invitation arrived.
“We received a phone call and they said, ‘We want you there. You will participate to honor the Tuskegee Airmen. Can you it?’
“I said, ‘Yes, we can.’”
The live concert, which was filmed on Sept. 23, was done a week before the opening of the newest museum on the Mall in Washington, D.C., the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture. In addition to the WP Glee Club, look for Tom Hanks to narrate a portion.
There are 80 members in the club, which consists of college students, but only a small number of the upperclassmen went to the program, the majority were freshmen.
“It was pretty exciting to get them up to speed,” said Chase.
Her path to music began early.
“I started piano at 4 from Mrs. Helen Holland. I began singing at Franklin Baptist Church’s Chorister Choir, which was led by Rebie Riddick, mother-in-law to Gaynell Riddick,” said Chase, who grew up with her siblings: Paul, who’s in Virginia Beach; Rodney of Cary, North Carolina; and Melody K. Worrell in Ft. Meyers, Florida. They lived on West Second Avenue near the Pace House.
Franklin High School, Chase played flute in the band; Ed Barton had taught her both piano and flute.
Her memories of growing up in Franklin are strong and favorable.
“I”m absolutely from Franklin,” she said, calling FHS “one of the finest schools anywhere at the time. I think all of us who grew up in ‘60s and ‘70s, we were all so lucky to have lived in Franklin. It was a great place to grow up.”
She recalled Gaynell Riddick, who was a social studies teacher for years. After retirement, Riddick ran a tour company, Royal Tours, and once brought one up to West Point. In 2006, when the club sang in Newport News, Riddick brought an entire busload of people, including an uncle and cousin.
“Franklin people stick together,” said Chase.
“I went to University of North Carolina, Greensboro, majoring in music,” she said. “I started as a public school band director, which I loved doing.
“I spent several years in Fayetteville and met Randy [her future husband], who was captain at time. We spent 20 years moving every one to three years. I was playing, singing, conducting and teaching wherever we were. In the early 1990s, we moved to Heidelberg, Germany, and I began to sing seriously. When we returned to New York City, I took graduate courses in voice performance.”
The career as the Glee Club’s director happened in 1999, she said.
“My husband, who was a career military officer — retired Army Col. Randy D. Chase — was on the faculty at West Point twice in his career. That second time he retired from the Army, I had been doing quite a lot with the West Point Band as a classical singer,” said Chase.
Up until that time, military servicemen only directed the club, but a decision was made to allow a civilian to lead.
“I was asked to apply,” she said. “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed doing it ever since. We have good balance.”