by Nancy Dashwood
LESTER PRAIRIE Lester Prairie’s Phyllis Hummel has been taking care of rambunctious youngsters in her day care for 40 years.
That is only a portion of the busy lady’s life.
On most weekends and some weeknights, Hummel takes care of older, but no less enthusiastic folks.
Hummel and her Swinging Country Band are favorites in a variety locations.
Hummel’s current band members are Bill Jordan, Dale Henry, Chris Vokaty, and Myron Dargus. She also has two loyal roadies, Laurie Boogaard and Patti Graffunder.
Hummel recently celebrated the Swinging Country Band’s 10th anniversary, with a performance back where the group began, at Neisen’s Bar & Grill in Biscay.
Hummel had nearly 100 pieces of cake to share in honor of the occasion, and it was barely enough to feed all the fans who came, she said.
A cool call from South Dakota
Hummel recently discovered that Graffunder had nominated her for inclusion in this year’s class of inductees into the South Dakota Country Music Hall of Fame.
Not only was Hummel nominated, but the board voted her in, too.
She’ll travel to Lennox Sunday, April 8, for the official announcement, and to meet her fellow inductees. The formal induction ceremony takes place in September.
Music is thicker than water, too
From the very beginning of Hummel’s life, she has been surrounded by musicians whom she credits for getting her as far as she is today.
Her parents, Rudy and Leona, both had musical talents. Leona adored Kitty Wells, and Hummel lovingly remembers singing Wells’ songs with her mom often.
Rudy was an accordion player, who, Hummel said, “knew the really old songs,” and once played with Lawrence Welk.
A fair discovery
Years ago, old-time country musician Sherwin Linton hosted a talent show at the Meeker County Fair.
Hummel summoned her courage, and, feeling inspiration from her mom and dad, sang an a capella version of “How Far is Heaven.”
That went so well, Hummel was emboldened to ask a Linton producer, Martin Vigesaa, if he would consider making a karaoke CD for her.
The producer suggested she simply record a CD of her own.
Hummel stepped into the music business by working with the Minnesota Concertina Club, and the Lukes Family Band.
“I just couldn’t quit singing,” she said.
Hummel decided she wanted a band of her own, and got to work making phone calls and talking to musicians’ managers.
She refers to Minneapolis as a “pool of musicians,” and she has consistently hired good ones.
Throughout the past decade, she’s had 15 different people playing with her band, and she said she has enjoyed working with every one of them.
Part of Hummel’s fun lies in the preparation for performances. As the lead singer, she chooses outfits, hats, and boots that suit her tastes, and only then begins to look for coordinating attire for the band.
Hummel also claimed that her musicians become as close as family and they can trash talk each other just as badly as family members do, too.
“If we’re having fun, the audience is having fun,” she said.
Hummel said she will take requests, and typically, if she doesn’t know the song, someone in her band will, and off they go.
Hummel figures she can sing about 150 songs from memory, but doesn’t consider that a big deal compared to her mentor, Sherwin Linton. She said he has more than 5,000 songs memorized.
Hummel has a difficult time coming up with just one favorite piece of music, but lists “How Far Is Heaven,” “Making Believe,” “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” and “Satin Sheets,” as high on the list.
The Swinging Country Band plays the songs of many different artists.
Although they specialize in the old roots of American country music, they are just as good playing selections by Garth Brooks, George Jones, Toby Keith, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton, Kitty Wells, and even the king himself, Elvis Presley.
Hummel selected “Suspicious Minds” as her favorite Presley tune.
One of her proudest moments was appearing on the RFD channel with Linton.
Bringing quiet comfort
One thing Hummel doesn’t make a big deal about is her commitment to singing in area nursing homes.
She is a frequent sight and sound at Winsted and Glencoe facilities, and said she has learned music can make a difference to people afflicted with serious memory issues.
Hummel said she has seen residents in a “daze,” suddenly start tapping their feet to her music.
“You can see a spark there,” she said. “That’s rewarding. The music brings them back you can see it. That’s the part I like.”
Passing the tradition along
Hummel, and her husband John, have lived in Lester Prairie for 42 years, and have been married for nearly 48.
The pair raised three children, Bill, Michelle, and Rob.
The Hummels also have six grandchildren: Colin, Savanah, Michael, Renee, Draven, and Dylan.
Hummel said her entire family is interested in music, and both Colin and Renee are already honing their musical skills.
Even her day care charges get into the act. Hummel teachers the little ones to sing and dance.
Recently, one of her day care kids, Bryce Judice, who is 4 years old, even attended one of Hummel’s shows.
He had only one question for Hummel after the show, “Phyllis, how come you got so many guys with you?”
Apparently, the young man has become accustomed to hearing Hummel sing solo during day care hours.
Hummel loved his question, and fully intends to attend Bryce’s dance recital in May to watch him tap dance.
It is obviously important to Hummel to support growing talent when she finds it.
See you in September
Hummel will find out more about her upcoming induction into the South Dakota Country Music Hall of Fame during this weekend’s official announcement.
She knows two of her band members will be in attendance, and that singing, an official ceremony, and a fancy plaque are all part of the big day.
“I’m very excited and humbled,” she said. “I was sure surprised. I didn’t think that was going to happen!”
Following the band
Hummel said the best way to find out where she and the band will be performing is to use social media. The band’s schedule is always posted there.
The band’s CDs, which sell for $10 each, are also available for purchase online.
Hummel can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by sending regular mail to her attention at PO Box 494, Lester Prairie, MN 55354.