Miss Ruth Crews reigned as Rosie O’Grady’s Red Hot Mama, belting out songs and making folks laugh at her quips and quotes for almost 30 years at Church Street Station!
She was featured on many magazine covers and advertisements for Church Street Station. These are a few that Ruth loaned me for a display that toured libraries in the Orange County Library System in 2004 – the 30th year anniversary of the opening of Rosie O’Grady’s Good Time Emporium.
This press release distributed by Church Street Station lets you in on a little of Ruth’s talents.
See and hear Miss Ruth singing in this promotional video about Church Street Station.
Miss Ruth kindly agreed to sit down for a short interview a few years back – take a listen!
Check out the IMAGES, DOCUMENTS and AUDIO below.
Interview with Miss Ruth Crews on 25 April 2011 at the North Orange Library in Apopka.
Today I have the pleasure of speaking with Rosie O'Grady's Red Hot Mama - Miss Ruth Crews!
During the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, Miss Ruth entertained hundreds of thousands of locals and visitors from around the world at Rosie O'Grady's Good Time Emporium at the Church Street Station entertainment complex in downtown Orlando.
Miss Ruth's 25 year run at Rosie O'Gradys ended on August 30th, 2000 but even in retirement, she's still belting out songs in the Central Florida area. Welcome Miss Ruth!
Ruth: Hi Kim, it's nice to see you.
Kim: It's nice to see you, too.
Kim: Miss Ruth can you tell us how you came to be Rosie O'Grady's Red Hot Mama? What paths did you take that led you to Rosie O'Grady's?
Ruth: Well, actually it is really quite interesting. I'm from Monterey, California and worked out there a number of years and I opened a night club in New York City called the Red Garter - banjo band sing along things. And we were on our way to New Orleans for Mardi Gras and we stopped at this little place in Pensacola called Rosie O'Grady's at the Seville Quarter - long before Orlando was even thought about. I sat in with the group - I recognized a couple of the musicians and they hired me there - on the spot.
We never got the vacation in New Orleans but we did there. Actually Bob Snow hired me to open the club in Orlando that he was preparing at the moment. And I had one more year at a contract in New Jersey so he said, "Well that's okay. We'll open in the winter and by that time you can take a little leave of absence, do that contract and come back from the Jersey Shore."
Well, the construction took forever and they kept delaying and delaying and delaying. So actually when Rosie O'Grady's in Orlando opened I was still singing on the Jersey Shore and they hired Terry Lamond and she was wonderful. So, when it was time for me to come, he said, "Ruth, would you mind going back to Pensacola. I've got this Terry Lamond and she's doing a great job for us. And would you go back there?"
So, I went there and later on when Terry was starting to slow down, a little bit, they brought me down to Orlando.
So, actually, I was the first Red Hot Mama, but the second one in Orlando.
Kim: Miss Ruth when I think of Church Street Station when I was going there with the kids in the 80s and 90s, there are so many wonderful memories....the street parties, the special events, all the different performers that performed at Rosie's. Are there any memories from that period that are special to you?
Ruth: Well actually Kim, there are so many! It's hard to zero in on one. And the nice thing about it, the wonderful thing about it, is we had audiences from all over the world enjoying it and having fun. And also getting to know people like your family and watching your children grow up. I mean I can still see them peeking at me through the railings in the balcony. And it was delightful, it was delightful.
World Cup is a wonderful memory. That was very different. It was a different kind of performing. I mean, they were certainly not a captive audience and they were not listening attentively, but they would give you great responses if you went with the flow.
Kim: I think that was true of the bowl games, too.
Ruth: Exactly. And the street parties were always fun. Halloween was always a great time there and you always had special costumes. I remember that, too.
Kim: It was a lot of fun.
Ruth: And I mean we even had a couple of times where the bums off the street would come in and they would let them in because they thought they were in costume. They would.. I had so many try to climb up on the stage and try to sell me some pencils.
Kim: Did you have any special guests when you were working at Church Street?
Ruth: Well we had a number of people would come in, you know, names from the past, but the very special person who came in and that I got to know personally was Bob Hope. And he would always come in and sit up in the balcony and I would always sit with him and we'd have a chat. And he was, in fact the last time that I saw him was probably '95 or '96. He was talking about doing something like a Rosie O'Grady's in Branson. But you know he was elderly at the time, but it was great fun.
Kim: Now for your retirement party... Bob Kittinger...I mean Bob Snow and Joe Kittinger came out..
Ruth: It was a wonderful event.
Ruth: And I had people, bartenders and waiters that I hadn't seen in years came down from the North just for that night. It was very special.
Kim: It was really a great event.
Ruth: It was very special and we kibitzed about all the fun things that had happened during the years. And it was very special.
Kim: And you still do reunions for Church Street?
Ruth: We do, we had a huge reunion last September, and we've decided that we're not going to wait every five years. We going to have them a little more often. We're going to have smaller ones at Holly and Dolly's and then a big one probably every two years or so.
Dick Milano was down; we played golf about a month ago and we've talked about having a golf tournament. You know, all the things that we used to do.
Kim: It was amazing because that one actually got some press in the Orlando Sentinel, I noticed. They were advertising it, so that would be great in the future to let everybody know.
Ruth: Absolutely! Absolutely! In fact there were people...It was very well attended, but there were a lot of people that said, "Why didn't you let me know, so I've started a list and you're on it, by the way.
Kim: Oh, good! Thank you!
Miss Ruth you've been backed by so many great musicians and I've probably seen most of them at Rosie O'Grady's over the years. If you could put together your dream band from all your years at Rosie's who would be in that band?
Ruth: Oh, what a great question! What a great question. And you're right, I have... It's hard to choose, because I've worked with some of the finest musicians. Top of the would have to be my dear, dear, dear Don Lord who unfortunately passed away a couple of years ago. He and I hit it off. We were a little older....no, we were a little more mature than some of the members of the band and I could relate to him and we could do numbers together without it being ludicrous.
You know. It was... when we worked together it was magic. There was just a special spark that when we worked together, and he would, he would doing anything I asked him to do. He would wear antler ears for Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer or he would wear an Army cap for "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy." He would do anything, and he just had great fun. And I got to know he and his wife personally to and we had a great relationship. Okay, enough about Don Lord.
Kim: So he's on coronet?
Ruth: Oh, he's on coronet, yes. Piano would have to be Randy Morris. Drums would have to be Warren Sauer. Tuba, oh gosh there's so many... Gene Paulsen, I guess. He's been gone a number of years... Jay Mueller, too. Banjo - Boydie Bergusen. He was not the best banjo but he was Boydie and he was my special friend and I couldn't imagine being without him. Bill Allred of course, but my favorite trumbone player was George Palmer. And clarinet would be, I guess, Terry Meyers. Kent Abreo was a wonderful clarinet player but I think Terry was a better showman.
Kim: Kent Abreo seemed a little shy or reserved.
Ruth: Yes. I guess that's it. That would be my dream band.
Kim: Well, Miss Ruth, as we said, I went to your retirement celebration in 2000, but I know you're still performing all around Central Florida.
What are you doing and where are you performing?
Ruth: I'm still working, not as often as I would like to, but I haven't promoted myself. I kind of expected it to come to me rather than be getting out there and promoting myself which I should do. Okay, that said, I sing at retirement parks and things like that. You know, instead of the audience coming to visit me, I go to visit them now. That's what I said in one of the brochures I send out, "You've been coming to see me for 30 years, now let me come to see you and bring my band with me."
I work basically now with just a piano player, but I'm available. I've still got all the feathers and the music and all of that.
Kim: I think our family even saw you at one of the VFW Posts..
Ruth: VFW, Moose Lodge. All those kinds of organizations where my audience is. You know, I have to go where the mature folks are.
Kim: That's true, but you know we brought up our kids right and we've got kids under 30 who still love your music.
Ruth: Oh, absolutely. You know it's fun music. It's happy music. Could I just put in a little plug? I'm going to be singing at Carnegie Hall in October. When I was a kid I worked for another banjo sing-along place called Your Father's Mustache. They had branches all over the United States and in Europe, too. They are having their 50th anniversary. Now, I didn't sing [with them] 50 years ago. I was singing 50 years ago, unfortunately, but I wasn't with them. But, I was with them for a while and I'm going to sing...do my show as part of their 50th anniversary at Carnegie Hall.
Kim: In October 2011? That's exciting.
Ruth: It is really exciting. I'm looking forward to that.
Kim: Now, there's one thing...you have a famous slogan and anytime I share it with people it brings great laughter. If you could just say it for me in your voice I think it would be wonderful.
Ruth: I always pick out some fellow and I say, "Honey, you're looking at me like you don't believe it." And then I say, "Honey, if you can't hide it, decorate it!"
Kim: Yes! Thank you, Miss Ruth!
Rosie O'Grady's Good Time Emporium - Patriotic Finale
The patriotic grand finale of the show at Rosie O'Grady's Good Time Emporium brought everyone to their feet! The band leader would pose the question: Are there any folks here from the north? The response would be loud since many of the visitors to Orlando were from the North. The follow up question posed to Southerners would evoke even louder response at which time Ruth Crews and Spatz Donovan would lead the crowd singing Dixie as waiters unfurled the Rebel flag and waved it from the bar.
And then the Rebel flag was put away, Old Glory unfurled and Yankee Doodle sung, followed by
tyu're a Grand Old Flag" and finale "God Bless America" with everyone on their feet, waiters and can can girls in front of the stage, Uncle Sam on stilts and the Statue of Liberty on stage with Ruth and Spatz.
It was a site to behold and an experience to remember.
Sights and Sounds of Church Street Station - Rosie's Red Hot Mama Ruth Crews
Rosie O'Grady's Red Hot Mama Miss Ruth Crews belts out her rendition of "Hostess with the Mostess" on the album "Sights and Sounds of Church Street Station" recorded live at Rosie O'Grady's Good Time Emporium.
CSS Audio File
Press releases from the 1980s for general media use created to promote Church Street Station entertainers and venues from the files at the Orlando Public Library.
The subject and title of this press release is "Ruth Crews - Red Hot Mama," Sophie Tucker, Kate Smith, Bessie Smith and Ethel Merman rolled into one. The press release traces Ruthie's musical career from her early vocal training under Nancy Ness of the Metropolitan Opera to her days in Hollywood on shows like Rawhide, Wagon Train, Maverick and the Lucy Show.
The owner of the Red Garter chain discovered her in 1965 and she appeared in Chicago, New Orleans, St. Louis and San Francisco. It was while on vacation to New Orleans that Ruth stopped by a Pensacola, Florida "dixieland joint" called Rosie O'Grady's - Seville Quarter. One of the musicians recognized her from a gig in New Orleans and she was invited to sit in for a couple of tunes. Needless to say, Ruthie never took t hat vacation.