Little Georgie (Sh) RAY (ke)
SHOW BUSINESS is historically a Shrake specialty.
My grandpa, George Shrake, was a multi-instrumentalist, singer, and bandleader in Detroit in the late 1920s and ’30s. He took the stage name Little Georgie Ray or sometimes, to be more serious, just George Ray. You might recognize Ray as the middle sound in Shrake, our last name. Which happens to be my own stage name: just Shrake. Fun word to say for kids of all ages.
I played guitar when I was a kid.
I wasn’t very good, even for a kid. I used to ask my grandpa if he had any song requests. "Can you play 'Far, Far Away'?" he’d ask. I never got the joke until I was an adult, and he was in the spirit world. "No, but I know 'Long, Long Ago'!" Here I am attempting to play “Down in the Valley” at the 1980 Michigan State Fair. You can tell by the look on my face how well it is going.
By the time I knew Grandpa Shrake, the records had been broken, literally.
Grandson Scott (Shrake, me) has a bit of the leader gene too. While living for almost a decade in our nation’s capital, D.C., I started a show business outfit called Story League. At right is a lineup from one of our first little shows in a basement bar in Dupont Circle. Over the course of 5 years we kept trading up, up, up, eventually hosting shows for overflow crowds in large auditoriums at the Kennedy Center.
At right, George (on the right) stands on the gracious lawn of Blossom Heath, a legendary club on Detroit's Lake St. Clair, and which was a speakeasy during Prohibition, which was when the band was together. Grandma Shrake reported matter-of-factly that many of Grandpa’s shows ended early because of… raids. Then he’d get another gig somewhere else until… it was raided. It’s a hard life we’ve signed up for, but we Shrakes can handle it.
Once upon a time a famous bandleader who was on the radio NATIONALLY was passing through Detroit and caught George Ray’s act. This big deal of a musician with an unfortunate name told my grandpa he was terrific, and predicted he could be a big star… if he moved to NEW YORK CITY. It wasn’t fated for Georgie Ray to come to the Big Apple...
But his grandson is another story.
There had existed acetate disks of Georgie and his orchestra that my cousins broke while playing with them. And the big scrapbook with newspaper clippings and mementos was loaned to a female admirer of his who never returned it. But he instilled a showman’s instinct and a proclivity for singing and strumming in my dad, who in turn got me private lessons.
Shrake has been on some podcasts, but GRANDPA SHRAKE had his own radio show on WXYZ (the coolest call letters in U.S. history) in Detroit.
You can see in the photo at left that like all famous people, he wasn’t tall. Yet we compact-sized entertainers get centrifugally pulled into the vortex of attention every time. As long as we can find suits/tuxedos small enough, we will always be in business.
Looking good, George!