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Harold Ronk, Class of 1938
Ringmaster for the
Greatest Show on Earth

Harold Ronk 1938 Crest
Harold Ronk Ringmaster

Picture from '38 Crest signed by Mr Ronk himself

Harold Ronk was a 1938 graduate of Peoria High School.  From 1951 to 1981 he entertained many crowds who attended the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus.  After High School he attended and  graduated from Bradley University studying music and theater. During World War II, he served as a naval communications officer in the Southwest Pacific.  He got his start in performing after the war in Washington DC.  He was a baratone soloist who performed with the Presbyterian Church, with appearances with the National Symphony Orchestra, the National Gallery of Art and the Shoreham Hotel Supper Club, later known as Sigmund Romberg.

In 1950, his future changed as he first stepped into the Center Ring at Madison Square Garden in New York City. For more than 30 years, he heralded the arrival of the Big Show in the Big Apple. He extended a circus welcome to presidential and military guests, political luminaries, sports celebrities and stars from the movie, stage and music world. He was applauded for his thrilling rendition of the National Anthem before each performance. For this, he received a special citation from the Circus Fans of America.

Harold was one of the most colorful personalities in the entertainment world, known as the original Singing Ringmaster. He had a 30-year association with Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus. With his exciting baritone singing voice, he became the Legendary Voice of the Circus.

Columbia and London Records captured some of his singular magic in their albums, A Day at the Circus with Mr. Singing Ringmaster, and Circus Spectacular.

In 2001, he was inducted into the Circus Ring of Fame in Sarasota, Fla., and in 2004, he was inducted into the Circus Hall of Fame in Peru, Ind. Retiring in 1981 to Canton, he made his home with his aunt, Josephine Mettler.

Excerpts From Peoria Journal Star Obituary Aug 6, 2006

Here's another great article by Debbie Elliot of NPR.  Harold Ronk was the consummate professional.  There is a link at the bottom of the article.  Thanks to NPR for letting us use the article.

Farewell to the Circus: Remembering a Ringmaster

AUGUST 6, 20064:00 PM ET



Debbie Elliott

For three decades, Harold Ronk sang "Welcome to the Circus" in his operatic baritone for the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey show. He died this week at age 85. Former clown Murray Horwitz recalls his colleague and friend.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Debbie Elliott.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. HAROLD RONK (Ringmaster): (Singing) Come to the circus and pack your cares away. Come to the circus...

ELLIOTT: No matter what you're background, no matter what part of the country you're from, if you're between the ages of thirty and sixty, there's a good chance that you came under the spell of Harold Ronk. Mr. Ronk was the singing ringmaster of The Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus from 1951 to 1981. He died this week at the age of 85. Murray Horwitz was a clown in the Ringling Brothers Circus with Harold Ronk and he has this appreciation of his friend and mentor.

Mr. MURRAY HORWITZ (Clown): The American touring show business of the 20th century brought first rate live theater, music, vaudeville, opera, burlesque and circus to just about every big city and small town on the continent. It depended on new speedy forms of transportation and mass communications. But if you were one of the show people, it also depended on a certain kind of professionalism. That was what we called it. Just about the worst thing you could call a colleague on the circus was unprofessional.

Professionalism had to do with discipline and deportment. It meant showing up on time, being prepared, taking care of your props and costumes, and being reliable. If the train pulled out and you weren't on it, it didn't matter how much talent you had.

Harold Ronk was the model of professionalism. He was, after all, the most prominent performer in the show and he set an example for all of us rookies. He took that mentoring role seriously and was a generous and gracious collaborator. For those of us who had grown up in the 1950s with some ordinary but pernicious prejudices, Harold and his partner, Bob Harrison, one of my bosses on the Ringling show, also quietly but openly demonstrated the astonishing truth that two men could live together in a stable, happy, productive domestic relationship.

Harold, in turn, had had his own mentor, the great American baritone, Robert Weedy(ph). Weedy was a Metropolitan Opera singer, but he had also been a regular at the Radio City Music Hall and a star on Broadway. That meant Harold had been classically trained and he applied that high level craft and training and technique to popular art. So when Harold presided over the greatest show on earth, he did it with the same dedication, character and skill that he used when singing in an opera, touring in a Broadway musical, or soloing in church every Sunday. It was his greatest lesson to us. And it's a lesson we need to pass on.

Harold closed every circus performance with a song that went: May all your days be circus days, a many-spangled world of delight. It was after all, the way he lived his life.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. RONK: (Singing) Popcorn and lemonade underneath a Big Top...

ELLIOTT: Murray Horwitz is the director of the American Film Institute's Silver Theater here in the Washington area. He was a clown in the Ringling Brothers Circus. Harold Ronk died this week from complications of a colon infection, according to a friend.

Link to hear the NPR site and audio article

 ©2006 National Public Radio, Inc. News report titled “Farewell to the Circus: Remembering a Ringmaster” was originally broadcast on NPR’s All Things Considered on August 6, 2006, and is used with the permission of NPR. Any unauthorized duplication is strictly prohibited. 

Listen the great voice of Harold Ronk, Class of 1938
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