Sept. 16 will be a homecoming of sorts for Dave Deutschendorf of Newton. The long-time teacher and counselor in the area, serving at Newton, Peabody, Florence, Maize and Sedgwick. He will perform as part of The New Christy Minstrels during a 7 p.m. concert in Memorial Hall at Bethel College.
"I got to do that a few years back as well, and we got a pretty good crowd. I think between 500 and 600," Deutschendorf said. "They gave me a couple of standing ovations. I was pretty blessed that night."
He joined The New Christy Minstrels (officially known as The New Christy Minstrels, Still Under the Direction of Randy Sparks) in 2009 after meeting Randy Sparks. Sparks was playing in Wichita when he heard the uncle of John Denver lived in Newton. That uncle, Deutschendorf, met Sparks the next day.
The two exchanged recordings, and Sparks wanted to have Deutschendorf join the Minstrels.
"His voice and entertaining skills are the very best," Sparks told The Kansan.. "None of us endures forever, of course, and this may be the last opportunity the good people of Newton, especially Mr. Deutschendorf’s former students and faculty members, have a chance to see and hear him perform with the group that he dearly loves. He is truly a late-blooming, very special flower."
That John Denver connection is an important one. It is what drew Deutschendorf to meet Sparks — who worked with Denver decades ago.
"Randy named John Denver John Denver," Deutschendorf said. "(Denver) wanted to be called Little Johnny Deutschendorf. Randy said 'that is not going to work.' The name came from a song that we still open the show with called Denver."
The minstrels are an American large-ensemble folk music group founded by Randy Sparks in 1961. The group recorded more than 20 albums and had several hits, including "Green, Green," "Saturday Night," "Today," "Denver," and "This Land Is Your Land." Their 1962 debut album, Presenting The New Christy Minstrels won a Grammy Award and sat in the Billboard charts for two years.
Sparks had been a solo musician in the late 1950s, mixing folk music with Broadway. In 1960, he formed the Randy Sparks Trio with his wife, Jackie Miller, and Nick Woods, but soon realized he wanted a larger group. Sparks created a 14-voice ensemble, The New Christy Minstrels, by combining his trio with another trio, The Inn Group (John Forsha, Karol Dugan and Jerry Yester), a quartet, The Fairmount Singers, and banjo player Billy Cudmore, folk-blues singer Terry Cudmore, folk singer Dolan Ellis and singer/guitarist Art Podell.
Over the years the lineup has changed, with more than 300 musicians being part of the group throughout its history.
The group tours the nation.
"When I started in 2010, we did 33 concerts in 54 days, west coast and east coast," Deutschendorf said. "... I have toured the country with these folks."
North Newton is now on the list, and Sparks said the reason for visiting Bethel College is the hometown connection with one of the group's members.
"Dave Deutschendorf is the reason we’re doing a concert in (North) Newton," Sparks said. "I want his hometown to appreciate such a wonderful talent as much as I do. I’m so sorry that we didn’t have a chance to recruit him before he began teaching."