L to R: Nina Fiscus, Lenore Vinyard, Sally Brown
Remembering the Rhythmettes
When Patricia Ambrose was the music teacher at Winslow High School, she assigned singers to trios according to how well our voices blended with others. She announced that Sally Brown, Nina Fiscus and I had a good blend, and we became the Rhythmettes.
We sang at country fairs, Kiwanis meetings, family reunions, and for whatever group invited us. Before long we had our own Sunday radio show on WITZ out of Jasper, sponsored by businesses and the bank on Winslow Main Street. Tiny Craig was our wonderful accompanist.
My Aunt Isabel, who lived in Chicago, was impressed with our singing, and she managed to book us an appearance on the Morris B. Sachs Amateur show in Chicago. where we competed against eleven other contestants. With Miss Ambrose as our chaperone, we took the train from Terre Haute to the biggest city any of us had ever seen. We sang our whole repertoire for the other passengers, who assured us we were going to win. Our egos swelled.
I remember being outside our hotel , looking up, and being unable to see the sun. These three girls from Winslow had never seen buildings tall enough to block the sun, and we were in awe.
That night at dinner, when Miss Ambrose ordered a filet mignon, we were amazed. We had never seen such an expensive item on a menu, and our orders had to be more in keeping with the small allowances our parents had given us for the trip. I seldom have a filet mignon today without remembering how impressed I was with Miss Ambrose’s order.
That night we went to a nightclub in our hotel and enjoyed dancers performing Slaughter On Tenth Avenue, a ballet with music by Richard Rogers and choreography by George Balachine. We appreciated Miss Ambrose so much for exposing us to new experiences.
The next day at the WENR-TV studios, make-up artists fixed our faces, and cameramen fretted that our sweaters would make our bosoms look overly large on camera. We were about to have an unusual experience: we were appearing on television before any of us had even seen television. It was October 16, 1949-long before Winslow received any television reception.
I don’t remember any of the other contestants on the Morris B. Sachs Amateur Hour, but I do remember the audience loved us. Agents approached us, offering to train us further and get us television jobs. We would have to live in Chicago, and we weren’t even out of high school, so we didn’t even consider the offers. Years later we realized we had passed up an amazing opportunity.
We visited Aunt Isabel, who gave us 200 postcards to get votes from our schoolmates. They had to be postmarked Monday, October 17. We won, and I’ve always wondered if we would have won without those cards. We took a second trip to Chicago to appear on November 6, 1949, with other winners in the finals, but we didn’t win then. Our first appearance we wore skirts, sweaters, and saddle shoes–appropriate for the young teenagers we were. Our second appearance we wore dressier skirts, vests, and heels and I’m sure we looked much older. I think the audience liked us better as bobbysoxers.
Our prize was $75, one Gruen watch, and an orchid each, Sally’s father gave Nina and me money so that Sally could have the watch. I don’t remember for sure, but I suspect the orchids had wilted by the time we made the trip back to Terre Haute, We learned a lot on that trip, especially that there was a big world outside of the Winslow that we all loved so much.