Maurice’s Big Chance
Rector High School, Rector, Arkansas
by Charles T. Crow, Class of 1958
past Labor Day, members of the Rector High School Class of 1958 gathered
to observe the 45th anniversary of their walk down the center
of the gymnasium to accept their diplomas. Growing up in the sleepy,
post-Korean War era, in a part of the country that was still feeling the
effects of the Great Depression, these children of the 1950’s had but one
goal at the time—to get away to someplace where more opportunity
lay—whether it was to go north to Michigan or Missouri to work in an auto
plant or other factory, or to college, or into the military service, or
just anywhere else besides back to the farm. One such member of that class who
harbored those dreams of escape was Maurice Seay.
Maurice Seay lived on a farm outside Rector. Like every farm boy in high
school, Maurice was enrolled in the vocational agriculture classes (the
girls were enrolled in home economics, of course), which sponsored a club
called “Future Farmers of America.” FFA had a huge membership,
and promoted leadership development, which meant they got to take field
trips in the high school bus to district and state conventions in
Jonesboro and Little Rock.
FFA always chose a “FFA
Sweetheart” each year, and they had elected Janice Horton, whose
gregarious personality and popular singing made her a favorite performer
at numerous school functions.
As it happened, I was her accompanist, and when the FFA boys decided to enter her in the
state FFA sweetheart contest, they drafted me, a town boy, as an honorary
member of FFA, so I would be eligible to play for Janice at the state
contest. They took us to the
state FFA convention for the sweetheart contest (which she won), and that
experience led the FFA boys to accept me even if I hadn’t picked much
Sometime later, a Rector community talent contest was
organized. For some reason I
have a dim recollection that it might have been put together by an
itinerant promoter who came through town to organize a fund raiser using
local amateur acts, of which there was not an abundance, to say the
least. Somehow, I was tagged
to help get the program together, and was inspired to talk a cluster of my
FFA buddies into teaming up to sing.
Since they came from the FFA, we billed them as the “Clodhoppers”
(or was it the “Grasshoppers?”
If memory serves, this impromptu
quartet consisted of Philip Cook, Claude Gore, Dalton Newman and Maurice
Seay. They sang “The Green
Door,” and while they weren’t exactly the “Hilltoppers,” they were the
surprise novelty hit of the talent show. On the strength of that success,
they began to get invitations to sing in school events.
they sounded pretty good, the guys needed to learn more than one number,
which for these untrained musicians was a challenge. They didn’t know parts, and mostly
sang in unison, and not always on pitch. However, it turned out that
Maurice had a pleasantly smooth bass voice, and after some experimenting,
we decided that Maurice
would be the “lead” and the others would be his backup group. This diversification, which was
pretty standard technique in the “doo-wop” era, worked out pretty well,
enabling us to navigate through popular numbers by
Don Cherry and
Tennessee Ernie Ford and even
Dean Martin. The high school crowds
(sophisticates that they were) loved these fellows, who got smoother with
practice, losing their aw-shucks shyness while never taking themselves too
Maurice, however, eventually began to ponder the dream of a
performing career. He had
received several invitations to sing without the group, which he readily
accepted. Recognizing that he needed a big break, he decided that the best
way to gain attention was to appear on the “Ted Mack Amateur Hour,” which
was a highly popular live weekly television show. Ted Mack, who had previously had a
long-running radio program of the same name, had “discovered” numerous
budding performers from around the country in his shows. It was the ticket to stardom. Maurice broke the news to me
that he had spoken to the person in charge of the Ted Mack program in St.
Louis, and that Ted wanted him to audition right away. I was astonished when he told me I
was going with him and that we would be leaving on the train in a few
details of the trip are a blur, but the memory of the audition is
vivid. Two very green high
school juniors arrived in Union Station in
St. Louis, and found our way to a seedy section in the heart of the city
where the audition was to be held.
We had expected a big building on a broad boulevard, with “Ted
Mack” on top in blinking letters.
Instead, the address led us to a narrow side street, lined with
shops windows full of garish cut rate clothing, cheap jewelry stores, pawn
shops, tattoo parlors and bars.
We finally found the address, which turned out to be an alley
entrance, up four flights of rickety stairs, which we barely noticed in
our anticipation of a royal greeting by Ted Mack himself.
the top of the stair, an unmarked door opened into a huge studio
room—easily half the size of a basketball court—in which chaos
reigned. People were milling
about in every direction; some played instruments, or were singing, or
yelling across the room.
Somebody was hammering on a board. Certain we had stumbled into the
wrong place, we stood, speechless, trying to get our bearings, searching
the room for someone who would show us how to find Ted Mack’s office.
Finally, we spotted a slender, balding man
slouching in a chair in corner near a big piano, where he was smoking an
unfiltered cigarette and talking to two other people. Maurice approached him, and asked
him how to find the Ted Mack show auditions. Yelling over all the room noise,
the man replied that this was the place. Maurice asked to speak to Mr.
Mack. The man informed
Maurice in a blunt, matter-of-fact manner that Mr. Mack never wasted his
time on auditions. He then
asked who we were. Maurice
said he was “Maurice Seay from Rector, Arkansas and I’m here to sing for
an audition,” the man casually gestured toward the piano and said, “all
right, so sing.”
down on the piano bench and gave Maurice a couple of introductory bars,
and Maurice launched into “Wild Cherry,” his favorite Don Cherry
number. He had barely sung
half the first verse when the man stopped him cold and said, “thanks,
that’s enough.” We were
stunned. Maurice could barely
speak. I asked the man if we
weren’t supposed to “audition,” explaining that we had expected an
audience in a quiet room. The
man looked at me intently, as if for the first time, and said in a
friendlier tone, “Son, that was it.
If we want to hear more, we’ll contact you.”
trip back is even more a lost memory than the trip up to St. Louis. I don’t remember if we ate, if we
took the next train back, or if we stayed in a hotel room and came back
the next day. The only
memorable part of it was that Maurice would not talk about it, and I don’t
recall that he ever sang again.
A short time later, before he would have graduated, Maurice dropped
out of school and joined the Navy.
I never heard from him again.
late songwriter, Harry Chapin, wrote a poignant song entitled, “Mr.
Tanner,” about an ordinary man from the heartland of America whose secret
ambition in life was to sing in Carnegie Hall. After winning his chance, Mr.
Tanner sings in concert to a small, indifferent audience and to snide
reviews. Mr. Tanner packs his things, goes back to his job and never sings
again. When I heard Harry
Chapin sing this haunting story, the memories of our devastating
experience in St. Louis came flooding back. While I never thought Maurice was
destined to be a star, he did have talent, and I always believed he never
got the chance he deserved.
Charles T. (Charlie) Crow
Charles Crow and Maurice Seay
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