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Published: Wednesday, 12/29/2010

Gala salutes Johnny Knorr's rich history and ushers in a new year

When folks gather at the 26th Gala New Year's Eve Ball Friday night at the Stranahan Great Hall there will be the usual dancing to the Johnny Knorr Orchestra, kibitzing with old friends, and, of course, ballroom dancing.

But this year's event will feature a unique twist: during dinner an eight-minute loop from a recently filmed documentary about big band music and the orchestra's role in it will play. The 30-minute film is a tribute to Johnny Knorr, who is now 89 years old, and to the great female band singers of the past.

Titled Satin Dolls, The Johnny Knorr Story, the film was made by local writer/filmmaker/radio personality, Michael Drew Shaw.

He said the inspiration for the film came after a lunch earlier this year with the long-time Toledo band leader. They reminisced about the past and Shaw said he realized, "nobody's stepping forward to [honor] Johnny and the band after 50 years. I thought they deserved it and I'm a bit of a history buff myself."

He started poring over Knorr's photos, of which there weren't many, and interviewed him and his son, Jerry Knorr, who now leads the band. Piecing together current footage with past photos, he set out to tell the story of Knorr along with that of the "Satin Dolls," which were female singers like Rosemary Clooney and Helen O'Connell, a big band singer who was born in Lima, Ohio. Shaw said he has directed other PBS documentaries and his goal was to cast Knorr's career in a broader context.

"I tried to create it in a way that is not only a personal tribute to Johnny and the band members, but toppaint this story as a bigger national picture."

He hopes to have it broadcast on WBGU-TV out of Bowling Green and have it distributed for use on other PBS stations across the country.

For his part, Jerry Knorr said the documentary seemed like a natural extension of his father's work.

"When somebody has had a successful organization for 50 years there ought to be a little documentary about what was behind the Johnny Knorr Orchestra for all these years," he said.

Carrying on the band's tradition, the New Year's Eve show will be filled with music and all sorts of dancing, including the foxtrot, rhumba, cha-cha, mamba, and swing. And, yes, the band will take requests Friday night if someone wants to show off their dancing skills to a particular song.

The show will feature vocalists Gay Hobbs and Joel Zmuda. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and a buffet dinner by Michael's Gourmet Catering Inc., will be from 7 to 8 p.m. Dancing and music begin at 8 p.m. and there will a champagne toast at 11:50. Mini-breakfast pastries will be available at 12:15 a.m. and the event ends at 1 a.m.

Tickets to the 26th Gala New Year's Eve Ball are $55 per person. The Stranahan is at 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd. Information and tickets are available at 419-697-7612 or www.JohnnyKnorr.com.

Contact Rod Lockwood at rlockwood@theblade.com or 419-724-6159.



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