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Operator, Operator

May 26, 2016

By David Chesnick

The crowd went wild the moment the Sun-N-Fun Transfer stepped onto the stage at the Carefree’s Got Talent competition in Lakeland and lit it up with their version of the Manhattan Transfer’s classic, Operator. Start to finish, the whooping and hollering that greeted the group never let up.

Shirley Bain, Brian Benzanson, Don Dammann, Pat Lindgren, Karen Otto, and Nita Worstine, the half dozen Sun-N-Fun residents that make up the group had all been participating for years in the Resort’s many musical programs. But they hadn’t put their voices together until near the end of the 2015 season when they decided to do something for the Sun-N-Fun talent show this past February.

They picked their tune and took their music home to practice on their own over the summer. The selection, a true gospel rocker, made sense since everyone in the group had fallen in love with music and performing singing in church as children.

Finally, in January of 2016, they put their voices together for the first time. Their plan was to do only the Sun-N-Fun Talent Show in February. But when they won against some terrific competition and were asked to participate in Carefree’s Got Talent, they happily but nervously accepted.

“We didn’t think we had a chance,” Brian, who sang bass with the group, recounts. “There were 26 other fantastic acts – solos and groups – and even a little choreography here and there.”

It was the choreography that worried Don, the group’s tenor. “My music stops at my waist. I can’t dance. I can’t even clap in time.”

He didn’t have to worry. As Pat explained, “When it’s just right, and the blend of voices and the dynamics all fall into place then singing is just a high.”

Of course, it helped, as Don says, that the group had, “worked our panties off preparing.”

Most of the musical arranging fell to Nita, whose been playing piano since she was four. She put down the drums and rhythm tracks on her keyboard but stepped out of the shadows, and her usual role as accompanist, to sing with the group.

“It was thrilling. I’ve performed lots but seldom in the spotlight. But what I loved,” she says, “is how well we all got along and how everyone just worked together and learned from one another.”

That left the role of accompanist to Karen Otto, a piano teacher for 43 years. “I don’t sing,” she explains. But she has been a performer all her life and the winner of several competitions. She’s even been a featured performer with the Tampa Philharmonic on a couple of occasions.

Shirley sang lead. “Pat and I had sung together, but we needed a couple of guys. We’d been in the Sun-N-Fun Chorus with Brian and Don and asked them to join us. Nita played for us then Karen joined so Nita could sing since it was a four-part harmony with a lead, which I took.”

“What I remember most vividly,” Shirley says, “is the crowd. Even before we finished they broke out in wild applause. During the number, there was a break where we got the audience involved clapping. Even the judges were clapping.”

From thinking they didn’t have a chance because last year’s winner was from Sun-N-Fun and the competition was, according to Brian, “fantastic,” they began to wonder. “After all, we were lucky number 13 of the 26 performances.”

It also didn’t hurt the group’s cause that Sun-N-Fun had chartered a bus and sent 55 rabid supporters to cheer on the Transfer.

“The moment we started singing they erupted,” Pat recalls. “It was just electric.”

It’s a sentiment that Karen shares. “The enthusiasm of the crowd was the highlight for me. It made it all so much fun and a great experience.”

Based on the audience’s reaction, they broke out in wild applause even before the group finished; it was a great experience for them as well.

“You close your eyes and cross your fingers and hope, ‘let it be me.’ When they announced we’d won,” Shirley says, “I had tears in my eyes. We screamed and shouted and jumped up and down. Brian was so excited he couldn’t stop jumping.”

Brian swears his excitement had nothing to do with the $5000 the group won.

On the way back, one of their biggest fans, Larry Holman, called Sun-N-Fun with the news and took it upon himself to arrange a reception for them. An open bar, hors’ d' oeuvres and a crowd of more than 300 hundred folks were there to greet and celebrate the Transfer, a particular highlight all promise never to forget.

They promise to come back and entertain us again next year. In fact, Nita is already busy working on some things. We can’t wait to see what this musical wonder will arrange for our stars to perform but we know we don’t want to miss a note. They certainly won’t.

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