THE VOICE OF ANN GODFREY
Annabelle Rose Godfrey Czachorski, born on November 5, 1935, began her singing career as a teenager, using the stage name of Ann Godfrey. At that time, most musicians acquired formal training. By seventeen, she was performing with Eric Weaver’s Civic Light Opera. As a result of her connection with the Civic Light Opera, she was introduced to numerous local musicians. She embraced a style that was popular before rock and roll, while performing ballads and dance songs with Harold ‘Lefty’ Cooper’s Band at the Plantation and Pantlind Hotel Ball Rooms, as well as at the Rowe and Morton House Hotels. Ann states that she “really wasn’t even aware of rock music until the later 50s. Parents back then made us think it was immoral. When I graduated in 1954, the only fast music they would let us dance to at school would be in the swing style.”
Ann: “My mother’s maiden name was Dorthea or Dorothy Koopman. She was born in l905. Mom played piano on the cruise boats on Reeds Lake in East Grand Rapids, probably in the twenties or possibly in the early 30s. This was during the time that Ramona Park was a huge public attraction.”
“Before she was married, she had a job at one of the dime stores at Pearl and Monroe, either Woolworth’s or Kresge’s, in downtown Grand Rapids. Mom played the sheet music on the piano for people to listen to before they purchased it.”
“Mom was about thirty when she married my dad. She played piano during the weekends at the American Legion Post in North Park, where my dad was the bouncer. That’s before me and my siblings were born.”
“She really didn’t play much after she started having children. Only two of us survived. My older sister was actually my half-sister. My dad’s first wife died very young and she was their child. My brother was born on July 14, 1934. So there were just us three kids from then on. I’m the only one that is still living.”
“My mother played often at our home for my parent’s friends, as well as for my friends. During the holiday season we all sang together. She was a very special lady. I remember my dad singing a song called ‘Alice Blue Gown’ with her, with tears in his eyes. He sure loved to hear her play.”
Ann’s Teenage Days and Early Career
“I studied singing with the same teacher that taught my mother piano. Actually, I started with the piano, but the teacher soon realized that I liked singing better, so she became my first singing teacher for about two years. I was about twelve years old at that time. I sang at church weddings and did some impressions of Al Jolson at Casino Clubs when I was about fourteen. My folks were so proud of my singing. When they had friends come over to the house, they used to wake me up to come down stairs and sing for them. My mother accompanied me on the piano.”
“Around age 16, I started doing a few modeling jobs. One of these was at Blythefield Country Club. I was a ‘cigarette girl’ for one of their outings. I wore a cute little costume with black mesh stockings, and carried a tray in front of me with cigarettes to offer to the club members. I really didn’t like that job. The men were too flirty and it made me embarrassed, so I never accepted that kind of modeling job again. Most of them were for boat shows, classic car ads for the Grand Rapids Press, and numerous fashion shows.”
“While I was in high school I worked half days during my senior year at an office on Division Avenue near Catholic Central High School. I was about 17 at that time.”
“ I sang with my high school choir and for special events at high school, and various other shows, like the Frollies. I also sang at our graduation exercise at Valley Field in 1954.”
“From 1952 to 1954, I also took vocal lessons with Eric Weaver, the director of the Civic Light Opera in Grand Rapids. He invited me to join his chorus of singers for his upcoming presentations of Light Operas in Grand Rapids. I thought that would be great, so I joined. He wanted me to record some tunes but I didn’t think I was good enough to do that, so I refused. I was very naive at that time. I looked at my musical talent as just a fun thing, not as a career.”
“Eric did not sing professionally as far as I know. He served as a choir director at Trinity Methodist Church. He also played the piano very well.”
[ EDITOR’S NOTE: Other local singers including Eileen Sarafis, Lin Nowicki, Cheryl Woudstra and Sue Griener all took vocal lessons from Eric Weaver. Eric offered to become Sue Greiner’s agent and to take her to Nashville for a recording session, but Sue declined. He also produced Eileen Sarafis’ and Kenny Gordon’s first recordings.]
“We rehearsed every week when there were upcoming shows for the Civic Light Operas. We had to audition for them with Eric. We practiced upstairs at the Majestic Theater. There were many singers that were involved in our large chorus group. There were about 30 to 40 of us. Typically, the stars of these shows came from New York City to provide the lead roles. I wish I still had some of the programs from those shows.
“During one rehearsal Eric asked Kenny Gordon to sing one of the lead parts, for “The Student Prince.” After he finished, all of us clapped for a long time because we could not believe what a beautiful voice he had! Consequently, he ended up with this lead part, but most of these roles were supplied by professionals that had performed the parts for many years. The operas were presented at the Civic Auditorium in full costume with makeup. They were all performed in English. They were beautiful. None of the members of the chorus were paid, but it was an honor to be part of it. We had all age groups in the chorus, from high schoolers to at least sixty years of age. The age differences made for some very good acting, though.”
Some of the operas we performed were: ‘The Song of Norway, ‘Student Prince, and ‘Indian Love Call,’ if I have those names straight. I’m pretty sure we did another one which I can’t remember.”
“It was through this connection that I began to meet many musicians. I got into all kinds of clubs when I was underage simply because I could sing. While performing at several of these places I met other musicians, many who were much older than me, who needed a singer for special gigs. I sang for a lot of weddings with various piano players. I was always in the church choir and sang with a trio in church, as well.”
Ann Godfrey, c. 1953
“That’s how I met Harold ‘Lefty’ Cooper, too. I was very young, probably 16. With Lefty we played in so many places and for so many different types of occasions. It was fun! We performed for big Jewish Christmas parties every year, and college and school reunions. These were both in and out of Grand Rapids, in towns like Holland, Cadillac, Kalamazoo and Muskegon. We did the Masonic Temple Galas and special parties for big companies at the Pantlind, Rowe and the Morton House Hotels in downtown Grand Rapids.” Members of Lefty’s band included Cooper on drums, Bob Wilworth on clarinet, and Ken Holliday on trumpet.
Ann Godfrey, on the left, with the Harold Cooper Band
“We played at several parties at Blythefield Country Club, too. I’ll never forget one special party that was held during the summer. They were staging activities on their long front porch. The back wall of the porch, perhaps 30 to 40 feet long, was covered with real flowers. There were green ones that looked like grass, with simulated skies and trees composed of flower arrangements, as well. There were flower beds all over this area. You can imagine how beautiful that was. It looked like a painting.”
“Lefty Cooper was also a silk screen artist. He had a studio on Monroe Avenue. He was also a Shriner. He made sure that unfortunate children were able to attend the Shrine Circus.”
“Lefty somewhat took the position of my second dad during those times because I was so young. He was a great person. His wife Dixie was a super lady, as well.”
“Lefty and his wife were friends of Maynard Tucker and his wife. I think they were owners of the Plantation at that time. Maynard played regularly at the Plantation with his Dixieland band. I assume that he never had a regular singer with his band, but he called me up to sing quite often when I was there. The members of his band that I remember were Tucker on piano, Bob Wilworth on clarinet, and Gay Whitney on trumpet. “
Maynard Tucker’s Dixieland Band
“There was a huge benefit that was held for Maynard Tucker at the Plantation before he died. Everyone was crying. He had developed cancer that started in his eyes. He died in November of 1955. This was only my second experience with someone close to me who had passed away. It was so very sad.”
“There were dance places all around Grand Rapids back then. One was the Southern. The first time I was there was when I was still in high school. We had a dinner party there. That’s where Jerry Van played the organ for many years. I recall thinking how good Jerry could play that organ! After his days at the Southern, Jerry was a bar tender at The Shamrock on Bridge Street and that’s where we connected again in 1962. A band couldn’t make its scheduled engagement at the Shamrock, for some reason, so Jerry and I put together our own little band and filled in for a couple weeks. It was really fun working with him. He could transpose faster than anyone I knew. I sing in a lower key than most songs are written for, so Jerry adapted to that quickly.”
“I also recall another dance spot called the Fruitport Pavilion, located on the east end of Spring Lake. They used to have big bands come there when I was in my teens. They brought in a lot of big name entertainers. When I went there, we came to see Tommy Dorsey’s band. It was so packed we could hardly move but we just loved his music. It burned down in 1963. That was a very sad day.”
“I was married at age 19, in 1955, and had four children during the next seven years, so I wasn’t able to visit the nightspots anymore. I missed it a lot. I didn’t get back to singing until the early 60s. My husband skipped and left me and the children with no means of support. At that time we were all living in the basement of a house in Belmont that we were in the process of building. My divorce was final in 1962. I needed to work two jobs to get out of debt. So I started to sing again and worked in an office, as well. I paid off the house then rented a home near St. Alphonsus school for awhile until I could afford another house. My children could walk to school, so that was handy. I hired a woman to live in with us because I needed someone to be there all of the time. I sang six nights a week at a nice dinner club in Muskegon. Fortunately my mother was able to help babysit for me, too.”
Promotional photo of Ann Godfrey c. 1962
“During that time I had a couple offers to work in some Chicago clubs and do some gigs in other states, as well. I almost went for it, but my children came first and I had to make the decision to only sing around here. It was during this time frame, in late 1962, that I worked with Jerry Van at the Shamrock. I also did a six month engagement at The Marymax dinner and dancing club in North Muskegon. ”
“Around 1961, I worked at Fozee Yared’s Cozy Lounge, located near the south-west corner of Division and Wealthy.” Yared also owned dance places in Detroit (in 1949) and Grand Rapids in the 1940s, both called Club 21. Yared died in 1967.
“The Cozy Lounge was a small place. We only had piano and bass in our group and I would play a cocktail drum when I wasn’t singing. We usually did one hour sets. I only worked weekends there. I sang with Charlie Winkler (Bobby Charles) at the same time that I worked at the Cozy Lounge. I was one tired girl in those days, working two jobs to pay the bills. But it was worth it.”
The Cozy Lounge in 1964
“ I sang with so many piano players…at Hattem’s Restaurant with Maxine Hattem, at the south-east corner of Division & Wealthy. I worked many weekend gigs inside and outside of Grand Rapids. One of those jobs was at The Silver Cloud on Leonard N.W., with Marian Bronkema on the piano. Occasionally she hired a drummer. Her piano was the type where she could push buttons to add background music. People danced there. It was a nice place. Marian had big hair and she dressed flamboyantly. She was quite a gal, and a very nice person.”
Jazz and big band music fans hung out at The Oasis at 103 Lyon N.W. “This was a fairly small place. The bar was on the left as you walked in. Across from the bar were several tables for guests. Located at the north end of the club was a small stage.” This spot was known as a place where musicians could ‘sit in’ and jam with other musicians, and Ann was no exception. She would sit in with Benny Carew when he played there. By 19, she was already known as a good singer around Grand Rapids. Ann also performed with Carew at the Parkway Tropics, which at that time was not a strip club.
Ann sang for Bill Farrow, as well, a mainstay of the music scene in Grand Rapids for many years.
“In 1962, my future second husband, Jerry Czachorski, was working for Bob Sullivan at his furniture store. The store and the Shamrock were across the street from each other. Bob Kulchak, who was a partner with Bob Sullivan, was the person who introduced me to Jerry at the Shamrock, and Bob asked me to put a band together with Jerry Van to play at the Shamrock. Bob was in charge of hiring bands there. Jerry and I were married in 1965. At that time, my singing career ended again. I really had to stop singing because it was necessary for me to become a wife and mother, and to enjoy my new family.”
More Family Challenges
Ann has always been deeply committed to her family. She has an autistic son named Tom. In 1964, when he was only three, she attempted to place him in a day program at Lincoln School in Grand Rapids. In exchange for volunteering in the school’s office a couple days per week, she hoped they would eventually accept Tom into their program. They didn’t normally admit students under the age of five at that time, but Ann knew that Tom would thrive by being part of a daily program. So she kept having conversations with the principal at Lincoln School for several months before Ann finally convinced her.
In 1969 Ann and her family moved to Ottawa County, so Tom had to change to the Ottawa Area Center School. “Tom was always blessed with wonderful, dedicated teachers at every place he attended and Ottawa Area Center was no exception. His first teacher was Bruce Vokers. He played the piano and sang in a quartet at his church, and has made several recordings. He was wonderful for Tom’s education, and worked with him for years. Later, at sixteen, Tom was diagnosed as autistic. Carole Gray was the person who suspected that he might be autistic and wanted him to be tested. So we had him tested, and sure enough, she was right. Tom had other teachers, including Dan Shine, who were also very dedicated to helping Tom.”
“Carol remained as Tom’s advocate at Pinewood Elementary School in Jenison during the rest of his years in school. He graduated when he was twenty six from her class. She cried all the way through the graduation ceremony. He was one of her first students. She has since written many books on autism. Susan Geha gave a wonderful speech at the graduation ceremony, as well.”
“After Tom graduated, we were able to get him into a sheltered work shop called Kandu Industries in Holland. He has done very well there. A group of parents from Pinewood got together and talked about the future of our handicapped children. We decided it was time to enable our children to become more independent. We all donated enough money to purchase a home in Holland because they already had a day program intact in that area. The same committee nominated me to be the director of the home, and I stayed on for fifteen years. By 1984, we had hired home parents to manage the facility and we were up and running.”
Coopersville Businesswoman, Summer Festivals and Del Shannon
“After Tom was placed in this home, I was able to start my own business. It was a woman’s clothing business that my husband named ‘Annabelle’s Apparel.’ We bought an old hotel building in Coopersville and remodeled it. I was in business for over ten years until discount clothing stores were being built on Alpine Avenue, and my business began dropping off. I decided to get out of business and close Annabelle’s. We sold the building in 1995.”
From 1987-1989, while Ann still had her clothing store, she was asked by a small group of fellow Coopersville business owners to help organize a summer festival there. As chairman, she contacted Del Shannon while he was on tour in England, and convinced him to perform at the event. Del was initially reluctant because his first experience with coming back to his hometown of Coopersville as an entertainer wasn’t successful. “I convinced him that this time would be very different and we left no stone unturned to make it a great celebration for him. The Lions Club, who had previously done a great job with the Harvest Festival, had to abandon it because they could not get enough volunteer labor. So it was scrapped for a year because of lack of participation and support. However, the retail store owners in Coopersville did not want the festival to end, so the committee and I re-created the festival to make it a success. Now the Festival is known as the Coopersville Del Shannon Classic Car Show.”
Left to right: Mrs. John Buth, Del Shannon’s cousin, Del Shannon, John Buth and Ann at the Coopersville Summer Festival in 1988
Ann is staying busy now with her family, volunteering at church and for Art Prize. She attends the West Michigan Music Hysterical Society monthly meetings, “and just has fun.”
This article was based heavily on interviews with Ann by Kim Rush.
Artist of the Week: 10/28/2012 – 11/18/2012 FS ~ 3/1/2017