The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

In the Spotlight

October 19, 2013

Church singer finds his niche with oldies tunes

— Larry Berkebile always has been a music lover, but he will be the first to admit that he never had much talent for it.

“I could play the radio and that’s about it,” the 78-year-old said with a laugh from his Salix home.

But he didn’t let that stop him from giving singing a real go.

“I just started singing. I didn’t even know I could sing,” Berkebile said. “I can’t read music, so I just sing.”

His ventures into singing go back many years. He started singing in the choirs at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Johnstown and First Baptist Church in Nanty Glo.

“I was 72 years old when I did my first church solo,” Berkebile said. “I did it to get myself out of my comfort zone.”

From there he began to sing with the former Striker Entertainment and found his niche singing oldies tunes from artists such as Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Dean Martin, Engelbert Humperdinck and Nat King Cole.

“I sang with them (Striker) for a year then went out on my own,” Berkebile said.

He formed Berk’s Entertainment and has sung at county senior citizens centers, luncheons for the Johnstown Christian Women’s Club, Graystone Court Villas, Richland Towers and Quemahoning Towers. He also has performed at numerous weddings, anniversary and birthday parties, reunions and even at a funeral.

Because Berkebile has a hard time memorizing the words to songs, he uses a prompter that scrolls the lyrics.

“I never dreamed in my lifetime I’d be singing like this; it’s been fun and I enjoy it,” he said.

Berkebile continues to sing on a regular basis with the men’s chorus at Emmanuel Baptist Church and in the choir at First Baptist Church for Sunday services.

One of the highlights with his singing was putting our his first CD late last year.

The CD, “Larry Sings Oldies His Way Volume 1,” features covers such as “Mona Lisa,” “Unforgettable,” “Blue Velvet,” “Second Time Around” and “Love Me Tender.”

The CD cover is a photo of Berkebile when he was 17 years old and beside it is a current photo.

“Oldies are my favorite,” he said. “I don’t like these new songs. It’s just noise to me.”

The CD is available for purchase at George’s Song Shop in downtown Johns-town.

His plan is to record a second volume oldies CD and eventually record a gospel album.

“I’m hoping to record before winter,” Berkebile said. “I haven’t made up my mind on what I’ll sing. I have to look at my music and see what I like.”

He said he doesn’t practice much and basically just wings it when he has a performance.

“I don’t get nervous when I sing except at church because I don’t want to mess up,” Berkebile said.

He suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a lung condition that makes breathing difficult. At times, it makes singing a challenge, but nonetheless he plans to keep belting out songs until he can’t do it anymore.

And there’s a Bible verse Berkebile said he recites every morning when he wakes up and it serves as his inspiration to keep singing:

This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.

“He’s given me another day and I’m going to do something with it,” he said.

To book Berkebile for an engagement, call 487-7752.

Kelly Urban is a reporter with The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/KellyUrban25.

 

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