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Paducah Tilghman class celebrates 50 years, '60s style

BY LAUREL BLACKlblack@paducahsun.com

Members of Paducah Tilghman High School's class of 1964 consider their group a rare breed.

After half a century's worth of reunions, the graduates have developed a stronger bond than one would expect from a collection of former classmates, reunion co-chairman David Brown said.

"We've created the kind of community that you'd think of as being your nuclear family," said Brown, a Lexington resident who has helped plan the reunion for more than 25 years.

Dinners, dances, a memorial service and a Frankie Avalon concert all appear on the itinerary for the class' 50th reunion, which officially kicked off Wednesday afternoon. About 142 members of the class - more than half of whom reside outside Paducah - are expected to hit the town for the weekend's events.

"We have classmates that choose not to participate, and some we can't even find. But the classmates who drink the Kool-Aid chug-a-lug. They don't sip. They get involved," he said.

The idea to host a concert featuring stars from the 1960s was born about 25 years ago, Brown said, and will finally bear fruit this Friday when Avalon, a singer, actor and former teen idol, comes to the Luther F. Carson Four Rivers Center.

John Brewer, another 1964 graduate and chairman of the concert, helped secure Avalon's performance in Paducah. He said that Avalon ranked No. 4 on Billboard charts in 1964, right after the Beatles, Elvis and the Beach Boys.

"He seemed like a good fit for us. He's been married to the same woman for many, many years. He's got eight kids, and he just seems to be an all-around good guy," Brewer said.

Avalon, now 73, was known for his No. 1 singles "Venus" and "Why," released in 1959. He appeared in a number of popular beach party comedies and also played dramatic roles in "The Alamo" and "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea."

Although the headliner was born in Philadelphia, the show will offer no shortage of local music. The concert will open with a performance by The Cruisers, a Paducah-based band. Former disc jockey DeWayne "The Brain" Spees, of Freemont, will serve as emcee, and the evening will include a tribute to rockabilly star "Rockin'" Ray Smith, of Melber. Rockabilly Hall of Fame inductee Stanley Walker, a guitarist from Grand Rivers who played alongside Smith, will also perform with the opening act.

"We're bringing as much Kentucky and as much Paducah in with it as we can," Brown said, "and as much of the real-deal '60s that we grew up in."

As a way to pay it forward, organizers added, a portion of the concert's proceeds will go to support Paducah Tilghman High School.

The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. Friday and is open to the public. The reunion organizers encouraged others of their generation - even those who attended high school in Mayfield, home to Tilghman's longstanding sports rival - to come out, relive their teenage years, and build new memories together.

"The fact that we've gotten to the 50th reunion is a remarkable thing," Brown said. "If nothing else, we're a room full of survivors."

Contact Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8641, or follow @LaurelFBlack on Twitter.

Want to go?

What: Frankie Avalon in concert.

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday.

Where: The Carson Center, 100 Kentucky Ave.

Tickets may be purchased online at thecarsoncenter.org, or by calling the box office at 270-450-4444.

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