Cabaret Performer Thanks His Elementary School Music Teacher For Giving Him A Voice Russell King, a cabaret performer who has a drag character, tells a former music teacher she helped him feel comfortable being himself. "[H]ow fortunate I was to have influences like you," he says.
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Cabaret Performer Thanks His Elementary School Music Teacher For Giving Him A Voice

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Cabaret Performer Thanks His Elementary School Music Teacher For Giving Him A Voice

Cabaret Performer Thanks His Elementary School Music Teacher For Giving Him A Voice

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(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's Friday - yes, Friday - and time again for StoryCorps. Russ King is a cabaret performer who goes by the stage name Miss Richfield. He grew up outside of Minneapolis in the '70s. Fifty years later, he sat down with his music teacher, Paige Macklin, to tell her about an opportunity she gave him.

RUSSELL KING: I was a little boy with very different tendencies than other little boys. I didn't really like sports, and I liked to play with the girls. I remember a time when I was playing with dolls as a little boy, about 6 years old, and my mother saw me. And she talked to my father about it when my father got home, and then he, in no uncertain terms, said boys don't play with dolls.

PAIGE MACKLIN: So what was elementary school like for you?

KING: Well I remember you coming along with your music cart and leading us in music. You had long hair that went all the way down your back...

MACKLIN: (Laughter).

KING: ...And, oftentimes, a flowing dress and just so young and carefree. And what I remember the most is that one concert we sang the music, "Free To Be... You And Me."

MACKLIN: Right.

KING: I sang the little boy part in "William's Doll."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WILLIAM'S DOLL")

MARLO THOMAS: (Singing) A doll...

ALAN ALDA: (Singing) Said William.

THOMAS: (Singing) ...Is what I need to wash and clean and...

KING: "William's Doll" dealt with him wanting to play with a doll and everybody saying no.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WILLIAM'S DOLL")

MARLO THOMAS AND ALAN ALDA: (Singing) Don't be a jerk, said his older brother.

ALDA: (Singing) I know what to do, said his father to his mother.

KING: And suddenly, I realized, wow, somebody else has these feelings. This isn't just me. As that little 6-year-old boy, I couldn't be the little kid I wanted to be. I wasn't supposed to play with girls. I wasn't supposed to like dresses and fabric and color and all these things I liked, you know. And I knew I did, but I knew I couldn't be myself. I couldn't really have a voice, and singing that song gave me a voice. And you probably had no idea the impact you were making.

MACKLIN: I mean, as a teacher, you don't know how you might have influenced and, in this case, not in any way that I would have expected.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: You didn't expect the soloist in 1974 to turn out to be a big drag character? (Laughter).

MACKLIN: No, I can't say that I did. But I must have recognized a voice in you. It's been so amazing to hear about the feelings of this little boy.

KING: I look back on my life, and I think how fortunate I was to have influences like you. And it's just so rare you get a chance to say thank you, so thank you.

MACKLIN: You're very welcome.

KING: Would you like to sing the song?

MACKLIN: OK. I'll probably be a little flat, actually.

KING: Well, you go ahead.

RUSSELL KING AND PAIGE MACKLIN: (Singing) When my friend William was 5 years old, he wanted a doll to hug and hold.

INSKEEP: Oh, gosh. Russ King with his former music teacher Paige Macklin. She went on to teach music to generations of schoolchildren in the Minneapolis area.

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