Between recovering from the ravages of this summer’s storms and dealing with headline after headline about teens being shot by vigilantes or beaten by cops, some of us sure could stand to see our sense of community spirit get a good lift. Hennepin County Library’s Hosmer Branch and ace comedian/premier pitchman Fancy Ray McCloney have just what the doctor ordered.
The 15th Annual Hosmer Library Talent Show is no place to go to be discovered by a music or movie producer. It is, though, a wonderful event that each year invites local men, women, and especially boys and girls to get up in front of folk and have a nice time showing what they can do. Amateur performers get to shine and those who come sit in the audience can take their minds off everything for the afternoon, bring their cameras (how much would you like to bet half the attendees are family and friends?) and have some good, home-grown fun.
“My heart, my soul,” says host/emcee Fancy Ray McCloney, a.k.a. the best looking man in comedy, “is connecting with [the] kids and these adults who want to participate in a wonderful community event. All coming together in a place of love and joy and connection. Celebrating each other, celebrating talent. We clap, sing, [and] dance.”
The invitation to participate goes out to performers of all sorts: singers, dancers, poets, joke tellers, and rappers (though you should be sure to pull your pants up and leave out foul language and disparaging women as female dogs and gardening implements).
He goes on to point out that it is very much about the ever-increasing cultural diversity of Minnesota. “It’s more than just a show. We get everyone — from Asians, Native Americans, Black, White, [and] Somali. We’ve had Hmong dancers, Mexican dancers come in. The door is open [to] everybody.”
Folk have been flocking through that door since it opened back in 1998. McCloney recalls, “When I ran for governor, that year, I went by Hosmer Library [to visit] their great music collection. Roy Woodstrom was the executive director and he knew about my being on the ballot. And he noticed that, when I was there, all these little kids would come and they would swarm around me. So, he said, ’We’re going to have a talent show and you should MC it.’” Which amused McCloney who, well known though he was for lending his image to various advertisers, has never been considered a children’s entertainer, was not about to turn the job down. “I said, ’I’ll give it a try.’” Needless to say, it worked out very well. “The kids loved me!”
Woodstrom shares a past moment. Some years back, he was in front of the library. An elderly fellow was coming in, boning up to get his GED, and recognized Fancy Ray. They shook hands and exchanged friendly words. “Fancy said, ’We’re having a talent show, you look like a talented guy.”
Turned out he was. “I used to be in the Soul Stirrers.” The very same Soul Stirrers the immortal icon Same Cooke started out with. Invited to join the goings-on, he hesitated. “I don’t have my uppers in. If I sing, they’ll fall out.” So Roy and Fancy Ray waited while the guy went, got his top teeth, put them in and came back. He was, of course, a hit with the crowd.
To be sure, youngsters are hardly by themselves in their unbridled admiration of McCloney. As we meet in a South Minneapolis coffee shop, before he can get in the door good and sit down for the interview, a customer calls him out. After we’re done, before he can leave visitors from next door come in and have their picture taken with him standing between them, brandishing his trademark smile that would go well on a package of Kool-Aid.
Fancy Ray McCloney has a charming, disarming charisma that tends to connect with people regardless of age. Which is how, over the years, he came to attract a broad audience to the Hosmer Library Talent Show.
“Every year,” he says, “has been a huge success.” Asked why he keeps coming back to do this particular gig, he cheerfully responds, “I love it! The commercials and the stand-up comedy in clubs, that’s my day job, if you will. My [personal] purpose and goal, my love in life, is to lift folks up.”
In addition to being the host and master of ceremonies, he will, of course, do some performing himself at the event — some poetry here, a bit of stand-up there. “The day though, belongs to members of the community. In fact, [the day belongs] to the community, itself.”
So, what began as a kiddies’ show has grown over this past decade and a half and evolved into a family event for both the young and the young at heart. Fancy Ray concludes, “[It’s for] all ages and all levels of talent at this wonderful community event — where you can let your star shine!”
Hosmer Library 15th Annual Talent Show is Saturday August 17th 2:00 pm, 347 E. 36th St. in South Minneapolis. Call 612-543-6900 for more information.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.