The Singing Telegram: Alive & Well in Seattle
In 1933 the singing telegram was invented by Western Union. Telegrams had long been associated with death and bad news and this was an attempt to make them more lighthearted and popular. Singing telegrams went strong until the invention of the telephone and in 1975 Western Union canceled their singing telegram service.
But the old fashioned singing telegrams are still happening in modern times. It’s something I was unaware of until my friend Leeni posted on Facebook about a job she had that day that involved dressing up like a yellow chicken.
“I’ve been a singing gorilla, Britney Spears, I’ve been Cher, Celine Dion, J-Lo, Jessica Simpson, Amy Winehouse a singing chicken. Someone actually asked me to be Angelina Jolie as Tomb Raider. That was very specific. I was a singing television once.”
Leeni works for Live Wires, a Seattle entertainment company founded 32 years ago by Sharon Galloway, who was a divorced, single mother looking to make ends meet.
“Our first thing was singing, dancing turkeys,” Sharon told me from the comfort of her couch. “Of course that was not a big moneymaker. It was people dressed in turkey costumes that did a line dance.”
Turkeys didn’t sell, but skin certainly did.
“Then everybody kept asking for strippers. This was 1982. So I went into clubs and hired a bunch of strippers. We discontinued strippers about three or four years ago. I am now 71 years old and I got tired of it.”
Sharon decided to move on to more wholesome, comedic performances.
“I did an Italian cleaning lady for years, Angelina De Linguina, with the worst Italian accent you ever heard. ‘I’m Angelina De Linguina! I’m here to entertain you for your birthday, you bum!’ She’s got rollers in her hair and black eyeliner for lipstick and a big mole, a feather duster and torn clothes. I would do a comic parody strip down to big granny bloomers and biting off the rubber gloves.”
Sharon no longer busts out the bloomers, so it’s up to performers like Leeni to barge into birthday parties and boardrooms and playfully embarrass the guest of honor while impersonating celebrities. She also plays a bumbling waitress at restaurants.
“You subtly just kind of mess with [the diners]. I would just keep bringing straws over to the table or their water would be full but I’d fill it all the way to the top. I’d ask them if they wanted fresh pepper but there’s no food on the table.”
Apparently her shtick is very convincing.
“I was at Anthony’s Home Port in Edmonds doing this. The guy, actually it was his birthday, was getting so frustrated by me, he ended up talking to the manager about me to get me fired. So then I walked up to the table at the end and said, ‘Well, today was my first day and my last day. Thank you so much. But before I leave…Happy Birthday! And sang to them.”
There’s only been one job she would not take.
“Someone actually asked me if I’d deliver a breakup cake and sing a breakup song to their boyfriend. I was like, no. I don’t care how much money you want to pay me. That is the cruelest thing. I’m not doing it.”
Sharon was surprised that I thought of singing telegrams as old fashioned, since she books so many jobs.
“What will ever replace a real human being coming in, who has apparently been hired by everybody who cares about you there, and committing whatever talent they have to a full fledged performance for you? Nothing can replace that. We will not go out of favor.”