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Bill Clark continues to entertain Mississippi audiences with enthusiasm

Bill’s musical career began at the age of three, when he began taking piano lessons in his hometown of Laurel.

Some performers make it to a national stage and their talent is enjoyed by a large audience. Others, while no less talented, never make it to that level. Yet they entertain audiences with the same enthusiasm and commitment. Such is the case with Mississippi musician Bill Clark.

Bill’s musical career began at the age of three, when he began taking piano lessons in his hometown of Laurel.

“My father led the music in our little Baptist church, and he insisted I learn to play piano.”

Bill took lessons from Clyde Howell, who had moved back to Laurel after living for many years on the West coast.

“Mr. Howell played in one of the Dorsey brothers’ bands. I took piano lessons from him until I graduated high school.”

Bill became fascinated with the lush, rich sound of the old standards. “I loved songs like Misty and When Fools Rush In.”

Bill also loved listening to records, especially performers who sang harmony, such as the Ames Brothers and the McGuire Sisters.

In a true case of preparation meeting opportunity, Bill was stopped in the hallway during his junior year in high school.

“My principal, Mr. R.O. Amison, asked me to be in charge of the next week’s assembly program. I took that very seriously.”

Bill’s sister, Martha, and two other girls who were sisters, Patsy and Sandra Jones, gathered in the Clark family’s living room to learn three songs.

“We did There’ll Never Be Anyone Else But You For Me by the Everly Brothers, Scarlett Ribbons, made popular by The Browns, and a Dean Martin tune. We performed the songs at the assembly and our sound struck a chord with our fellow classmates. We had to repeat the songs three times, and I finally figured out that the students just didn’t want to go back to class!”

Word of the act got out, and they were invited to perform for the Myrick High School Miss Hospitality pageant.

“My uncle, M.L. Husbands, invited us to sing at the Lion’s Club at the Pinehurst Hotel. For us kids, that was equivalent to singing at Carnegie Hall! There were a lot of movers and shakers in that group. My uncle called us the CJ’s, for Clark and Jones, but we spelled it CeeJay’s. In time we were invited to perform at various events in the area.”

Patsy and Bill went to college at Jones Community College and although the other girls were still in high school, they continued to sing together for a couple of years.

“We thought we had arrived when we sang at the Sanderson Brothers Farms Christmas party. They paid us $100, which was a big deal for us!”

Soon the group had more offers than they could take. But Belhaven College made them an offer they couldn’t refuse.

“They offered us all a full scholarship if we would come sing and represent the school. That’s how we all got out of the Jones County woods!”

Belhaven afforded the group a lot of opportunities, including singing on a radio show on WJDX.

“It was sponsored by Pepsi, so we would sing the Pepsi jingle, sing our song, then close out with the jingle. The show aired twice a day.”

Another opportunity was to perform for the Miss Mississippi pageant in Vicksburg. A judge there was also with the Miss Tennessee pageant. They were invited to go to that pageant in Nashville, where they stayed for three or four days.

“A lady there told us we needed to enter the Mid-South Fair Talent Competition in Memphis, and we felt we were beyond that kind of thing,” recalls Bill. “But she followed up and had the fair contact us. We decided to do it, and in the end, we won. The prize was a trip to New York to perform on the Ted Mack Original Amateur Hour. We became hometown heroes in Jones County!”

As the girls married off one by one and started having children, the group broke up. Bill married his wife, Jean, and continued performing for various church groups and other events.

“I mainly entertained myself with my music and funnies,” he laughs. But when his wife took a tour group to Branson, Missouri Bill decided to join them on the bus.

“I sat through some of those shows in Branson and thought if they could do that kind of show there, I could do it in Mississippi and use Mississippi-connected talent.”

He met with Jerry Puckett and Andrew Ishee, both talented musicians and they were all in. Bill also met with former Lawrence Welk regular Guy Hovis, who thought it would be a great idea. Bill began to put talent together, and soon he had people coming out of the woodwork, wanting to perform.

“I’m very picky,” he says. “They have to pass my test. I didn’t want to have people pay to see a show where someone sang out of key. The performers may have been local, but I didn’t want to have an amateur hour.”

The show was held at the Mississippi Agriculture Museum for four years before Bill began looking for a new venue.

“My grandson, who is homeschooled, was in a spelling bee at Christ Life of the Highlands Church. I stepped into that auditorium, and I knew that would be our new home. I went to the office and told them I wanted to buy the church, and the fellow in charge told me it wasn’t for sale. I explained I only wanted to buy it for a couple of days and told him about my show. They took a chance on us and loved having the show there.”

Every May and November Bill Clark worked to bring his top-notch variety show to the stage in Ridgeland where hundreds of fans enjoy performances by a host of talented musicians. Bill served as the ringleader, the emcee, the musical director and more, sharing his homespun humor from behind a grand piano he plays with ease. The Bill Clark Live Musical Extravaganza became a tradition for many people in central Mississippi.

The annual Christmas extravaganza, held each November, served to get folks in the spirit of the holidays. Fast-paced and lively, the show has featured a variety of artists and musical styles. Some of the regulars included Jerry Puckett and Andrew Ishee, as well as Daniel Robuck on trumpet, Candy Lee Dobbs on vocals, and David Holmes on drums The show required a tremendous amount of work with all the performers communicating with him for months leading up to the show, and they prepared their own portion. A full day of rehearsal the day before the performance was scheduled to get lighting and sound in place.

The public has loved Bill’s shows – with three shows held throughout the day, hundreds of fans filled the seats at each show.

Today, fans still enjoy Bill’s musical talents in the piano bar at Table 100 in Flowood, where he sings standards, show tunes and other popular favorites. 

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