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A series of POWERFUL PODCASTS by WOMEN, about WOMEN. Women’s strength has shaped the world in which we live in all possible aspects, the likes of government, education, health, science, business, spirituality, arts, culture and MORE. NPR-WGVU Public Media’s POWERFUL WOMEN: LET’S TALK podcast is a series of interviews with diverse women who are trailblazers who have helped shape our community and transform who we are and how we live. Hear them tell their stories in their own words.This podcast will be released in the summer of 2020 which corresponds to the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing and protecting women’s constitutional right to vote in the United States. This release will also parallel PBS national programming celebrating this historic event.POWERFUL WOMEN: LET’S TALK is hosted and produced by NPR-WGVU Public Media’s own team of powerful women, Shelley Irwin and Jennifer Moss.

Powerful Women Let's Talk - 039: Mary Rademacher

Mary Rademacher

We welcome Mary Rademacher, one of West Michigan's most versatile entertainers, to our microphone.  Mary traveled with a showband as a singer and dancer for the USO to the Far East in the 1980s and continues to perform professionally today. A past West Michigan Jazz Society Musician of the Year, Mary Rademacher is our next guest on Powerful Women: Let’s Talk.  

Powerful Women: Let’s Talk is created by WGVU NPR and made possible by WGVU NPR sustaining monthly donors. Become a sustaining monthly donor now at wgvu.org/donate to support WGVU NPR’s local programs, including Powerful Women: Let’s Talk.

Full Transcript:

Produced by women about women. Powerful women, Let's talk Is a series of interviews with women who are trailblazers and have helped shape our world transforming who we are and how we live. Powerful women, Let's talk is made possible in part by Family Fare. Keeping it real.

Shelly Irwin: After our formal conversation is over, I bet she'll sing a song. Welcome, Mary Rademacher Reed, one of West Michigan's most versatile and popular entertainers your West Michigan Jazz society musician of the year badge award, I hope its on the mantle. Her travels with a show band as a singer and dancer for the U.S. to the Far East graduating from MSU when she was a cheerleader, go green, I’ll bet she will say. Mary continues to perform in a variety of venues. She gives back to her community and you should see her biceps. Welcome Mary Rademacher to this powerful women, Let's talk edition. Hi Mary!

Mary Rademacher: Hi

Shelly Irwin: That’s a compliment, you got the biceps.

Mary Rademacher: Yeah, I worked them, I’m proud of them.

Shelly Irwin: Will get to that, stand by. And yes, there is obviously much more to your resume singing as a duo to big band concerts, nationwide festivals, corporate events, with symphonies in nightclubs and more. I should ask do you ever sleep. But singing telegrams I also want to get to that. But has there I guess just kind of a rapid fire, has there been a memory you want to share right away.

Mary Rademacher: Oh, boy, right out of the gate.

Shelly Irwin: Yeah, dropping a name.

Mary Rademacher: You know, I have had so many wonderful memories, you know, everything from meeting or singing with a celebrity musician that really made an impact on my life. And it was just such a joy to share that music, but making people feel good, making people laugh or forget that they were 80 for an hour. That's the best thing. The best memory that I take away with me and continue to when we were overseas. You made me think, oh, I felt like I was home again.

Shelly Irwin: Yeah you get back home with all the memories and everything going on this year. When did you know you can sing?

Mary Rademacher: I don't know if I knew when I could sing, I was always singing and dancing. That was just what her family did. And I think I was the first one, the only one that raised my hand to do the solo in 5th grade, you know. And it was just something that I felt like was in me. I couldn’t not do it

Shelly Irwin: When did you take it seriously?

Mary Rademacher: Well, I continued to be involved in choir and high school musicals, It was Catholic High School. In college. I majored in telecommunications and broadcasting, like you Shelley, but always the theater and music, I minored in music and theater. That was always in my heart. So right after college without much to do and couldn't get a job in the field of TV or radio. I put in my application to be a singing waitress at Tootsie Van Kelly's at the Amway hotel.

Shelly Irwin: Oh, my gosh. And you got it?

Mary Rademacher: Eventually because Tootsie broke her leg. And so I got hired. And 2 weeks later, the group from the overseas band came into the club saw me and asked me to audition.

Shelly Irwin: So that leads me to maybe that question of was there one person that gave you a start, a thumbs up, they say, you know, sometimes  get your break. Was that a break.

Mary Rademacher: It was a break, but it was it was a yes, it was a major break in my life that, you know, entertain for the troops and traveling the states and overseas. I was able to grow as a person grows an entertainer. But I had to keep my ego in check when I came back because, you know, I came back a year later and I didn't have any money. I was paying off school loans, student loans from Michigan State. And I didn't have enough money to live my own. So I was back at Tootsies being a singing server. But then eventually was able to drop the serving part and just become a featured entertainer

Shelly Irwin: Back to your USO experience was that, I don't mean to date you, but was that a war type of thing?

Mary Rademacher: No, it was 1982

Shelly Irwin: Oh okay

Mary Rademacher: So no, there is no threat of any war violence. But we did get to experience the DMZ zone in Korea got a taste of how it felt to be in a danger zone. But no, we never were threatened by that.

Shelly Irwin: So here you go again. Now you're back to your hometown. You're ready to back to Tooties What comes next for you?

Mary Rademacher: You know, I tried a lot of, you know, quote, unquote “normal jobs”. But I  just never seem to be able to be organized or,

Shelly Irwin: Could it be your passion? To do where you needed to be and rise.

Mary Rademacher: Yes, and you know, tell you what, when I was about 35 finally decided that it was going to surrender to my passion and make the arts work. So I you know, all those years. I was doing theater and doing some choreography and working odd jobs. And I thought, well, how can I make this work. So I decided I couldn't do theater anymore because it didn't pay locally, but I could still direct or choreograph and then I started teaching at the Civic Theatre of school for arts. I started hustling gigs and that's when I became, I would say professional freelance musician. So as I would go out and try to get jobs at local clubs, corporate events. And really worked hard. I did not love making those phone calls. But I made myself do so many a day and it paid off.

Shelly Irwin: Want to go back to your home with Kenowa Hills High School theater program, how did this come to be?

Mary Rademacher: Well after choreographing for many colleges and high schools and the theaters over the years. My good friend, Dear Rebreats, who is the choir and drama director at Kenowa was in need of a choreographer. His choreographer had quit and my nephew had been going to Kenowa at the time.  So we've been in touch again and he just called and said hey Mary, how would you like to choreograph our next show. And it became a wonderful melting of our talents together. We make a great team. And so here 11,12 years later, I'm still there.

Shelly Irwin: Does the passion come from growing up in a musical family and those roots deep-set.

Mary Rademacher: I sure think it helped. I think, you know, as you asked who were my mentors or people that made a difference along the way. There are 2 nuns in my life that made a huge difference. Sister Winifred Wheeler. She came in 7th grade and taught us how to play guitar and started a choir at Saint James Catholic school. And then on at West Catholic Sister Marsha was the choir director and they were huge influences on my life.

Shelly Irwin: What is the young Mary say to the naysayer that says go back to school and get a degree in another field where you can get a job.

Mary Rademacher: Oh she’s with my mom trying to help me. I did actually think about going back and getting a teaching certificate because I do like to teach. But just I don’t, just keep trying., just keep going. Don't take no for an answer.

Shelly Irwin: So how did you shape your present career.I know you have several who accompany you  and be part of your team. And again, in this strange time of today. I want to certainly see how your mental health held up over the last year. But how did you build your team and your following.

Mary Rademacher: Tootises had a big part in that because it was mainly jazz, classic jazz standards. When I was there throughout the whole history of Tootises. It was jazz and pop and show tunes in. Those are all my favorite genres that I loved and some of the best musicians worked there. So I developed relationships early there and then through that was able to work. You know, big-bands, trios etcetera. It just really blossomed out of that

Shelly Irwin: Do you write your material at all?

Mary Rademacher: You know, I've written a couple of songs that I'd never sung before. But no, usually I just I figure well, there's so much good music out there I’ll just let the pros do it.

Shelly Irwin: Will hear from that on your on our next edition. Let's have fun with you. I did mention your biceps. Do you do you work out regularly? And I’m going to follow that with you are a former bodybuilder and hold 2 titles.

Mary Rademacher: I've always been athletic always love to swim. I mean, we were in the era that we played outside all the time, right. The jungle gym  but always loved gymnastics and dance. And when I got out of college. Well, actually, I was in college. I got interested in weight training and body building had been kind of a  newer concept. More of a beauty type fitness contests. But then it morphed into more of the, you know, sculpture of your muscles. And I was just fascinated by that. And the physicality of that.  Seeing your body change and feeling strong.

Shelly Irwin: Back to your jazz as you'll have sung at every jazz in the park event since 2000. How about that for consistency?

Mary Rademacher: Yeah, I'm very fortunate. They say I draw the biggest crowd. I'm pretty proud of that. But yeah, it's been a wonderful thing to be part of the Jazz society. And, you know, we've had some changes along the way started John ballpark tried it down at the Gerald Ford at Anab a Wen Park for a few years and now were at Millennium Park. And we're hoping to open this year and have regular jazz concerts outdoors.

Shelly Irwin: And hopefully you'll get back overseas because you have both the Paris and the Key West story where you might take your work with you.

Mary Rademacher: Yeah. Well, you know, singers don't have an instrument to show like hi, I'm a musician. You know, let me sit in. But we happen to see this little trio on the street behind Notre Dame. And I think I requested a song and then the man just looked at me the guitar player just looked at me and he said are you a singer. And I said, yes, I am. So I end up singing a couple of songs with that little trio in Paris. And then in Key West yeah, I started going to places that had an open jazz jam, you know, made friendships with the musicians down there. And I've sung with the Paradise, big band orchestra and some different clubs, it's been a blast.

Shelly Irwin: What's a singing Telegram?

Mary Rademacher: A singing Telegram. *Singing* Well, hello, Shelley. Hello Shelley. It's so nice to be here for this interview.

Shelly Irwin: Oh, my gosh. How fun was that. Yes you deliver the song.

Mary Rademacher: Yeah, whether be a birthday or an anniversary, a going away party. Fred Stella hired me. I had to go audition for him. I sang a little show tune and danced in for him. And that was back in 1984. I never thought I'd still be doing singing telegrams, but they're a blast

Shelly Irwin: Again, back to the passion that never goes away and you are a passionate person for rescue kitties.

Mary Rademacher: Yeah, you know, I was never an animal person never had a pet growing up. And about that time I decided to follow the passion there was a little Kitty outside Circle Theater took her home decided that I really liked cats and liked having a pet. And at one point I had 4 when I married my husband, I had 4 he had 2 cats and a dog. So we had quite a menagerie, but yet they've all been rescues.

Shelly Irwin: How does a pandemic of staying home to stay safe effect and entertainers mind body and soul.

Mary Rademacher: For me it was kind of a nice break. To be honest you know, when you work so you work so hard so much. And I was sick right when the pandemic started. I don't know if I had covid but I was sick for a few months. And so it really was kind of a godsend for me. But after during the summer when I did a couple of those outdoor gigs it really nurtured my soul.  And I haven't really pursued the online thing because I don't know if I love singing with tracks, you know, and now I'm just going to wait it out and and I’m booked for a few things this summer outdoors. But it was you know, I  found another passion. I started taking water color painting online actually with the woman who was the band leader of the USO group that I toured with. She lives in Myrtle Beach, she decided to start teaching online and it's become a peaceful creative past time for me that I so enjoy. And I just always been artistic but I never painted before.

Shelly Irwin: Watercolors by Mary make a purchase

Mary Rademacher: Maybe someday

Shelly Irwin: Your signature Mary in your email is “walk in harmony” is there big picture to this.

Mary Rademacher: I saw it on a woman's e-mail and I asked her about it. It is really a Native American saying kind of wisdom of Native Americans, that we all come from one great spirit and this precious Earth is our mother so let us walk in harmony. And its learning to trust in your faith in humanity and be one no matter what's going on that you trust that things can get a look. Everyone can get along in whether it's the Earth, people, you know, just everyonecan get along in harmony. And I just thought it was such a beautiful saying and model that I decided to grab it

Shelly Irwin: And leading the question. But why support the arts? Why support a young lady who wants to sing for a living?

Mary Rademacher: You know, I believe that music is such a healing force and it nurtures people's souls. It makes them feel makes them feel moved. It can change a life. You know, we're singing and drawing before we're reading. So it's innate. I believe it's just something that can make a difference in the world. That's how I actually I truly feel that music makes a difference in the world. So if that can change a person's life encourage them to do it because they may change other people's lives in the process.

Shelly Irwin: And you do say go green?

Mary Rademacher: Go white, Go green, Go white.

Shelly Irwin: Take us out with the song.

Mary Rademacher: Okay. Well, here's what I thought, that was kind of appropriate for the time and any time really. *Singing* Will meet again. Don't know where don’t know when. but I know we’ll meet again somewhere some sunny day keep smiling through just like you always do. Till the blue skies drive the great clouds far away. So would you please say hello to the folks that I know. Tell them I won't be long. I'll be singing this song and I can't remember what the rest of the words are. *singing stops*But anyway, keep smiling through and tell people we’ll be saying hello in person soon.

Shelly Irwin: Thanks for being here, entertainer artist Mary Rademacher

Mary Rademacher: Thanks, it’s been a joy.

Shelly Irwin: Thanks for joining us on this edition of powerful women. Let's talk I’m Shelly Irwin.


Produced by women about women. These powerful podcasts focus on powerful women and how their strength transforms who we are and how we live. Want to hear more powerful women, Let's talk? Additional interviews at WGVU.org or wherever you get your podcast, please rate and subscribe. Powerful women. Let's talk is made possible in part by Family Fare, Keeping it real. It is produced by WGVU at the Meijer public broadcast Center at Grand Valley State University, the views and opinions expressed in this program do not necessarily reflect those of WGVU its underwriters for Grand Valley State University.


Shelley Irwin is the host and producer for The Shelley Irwin Show, a news magazine talk-show format on the local NPR affiliate Monday through Friday. The show, broadcast at 9 a.m., features a wide variety of local and national news makers, plus special features.
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