EXCLUSIVE: Sylvia Raye: ‘Bandstand feels like yesterday!’

The last 50 years have gone by in a flash!
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From 1958 to 1972, there was one show Aussie teens were obsessed with. Even mums and dads couldn’t resist tapping their feet in time!

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Indeed, a Saturday night couldn’t begin without first watching Bandstand.

A bespectacled Brian Henderson would appear, the music would start and suddenly everything was groovy, and everyone was dancing.

Fifty years after the show ended following a 14-year run, it’s memories like these that entertainer and Bandstand regular, Sylvia Raye, holds dear.

After all, Bandstand was the show that made Sylvia and the likes of Col Joye, Normie Rowe, Little Pattie, Billy Thorpe, Judy Stone, Dinah Lee, the Bee Gees, and Helen Reddy (just to name a few) household names.

Sylvia Raye
Bandstand made Sylvia a household name. (Credit: New Idea)

The day New Idea comes calling to Sylvia’s classic 1970s pad, nestled in Sydney’s southern suburbs, we are instantly thrown into a time warp.

The house, with its sunken playpen and bar once used for a salacious Penthouse photo shoot, and the groovy kitchen with its iconic Florence Broadhurst wallpaper, is the ultimate time capsule.

There to greet us is Sylvia, wearing the same costume she wore for her very first Bandstand performance – singing the Dusty Springfield classic, ‘All I See Is You’. Suddenly, it’s 1966 all over again!

“You know, sometimes it feels that Bandstand was a long time ago,” she says with nostalgic tears brimming in her eyes. “Then I see the film clips on YouTube and it seems just like yesterday. I can’t believe I still fit into this costume.

“There was something particularly magical about black and white television,” Sylvia says. “They did a lot of close-ups back then. You could actually see the emotions – the happiness or the sadness of what the singer was conveying. You felt like the singer was in the room with you.”

Hosted by Brian Henderson, the variety show was a Saturday night staple. (Credit: Supplied)

Sylvia, 79, is quick to acknowledge Bandstand was the ultimate springboard for singers and bands wanting to find stardom. 

“Everyone watched Bandstand,” she says. “If you were going out, you watched
it while you were getting ready. People would watch it while eating their dinner. Everybody saw it.

“The moment you made one appearance on Bandstand, every club in Australia wanted to book you to perform. There was big money in club acts back then.”

Sylvia says she loved working with Bandstand’s iconic host, the late Brian Henderson.

“He was wonderful … a true gentleman,” she says, conjuring the man who would go on to become the most respected newsreader in Australia.

“The performers didn’t have a lot to do with Brian. The orchestra would record a backing track on a Tuesday, the singers would go in on a Wednesday and do the vocal over the music, and then on a Thursday we would go into the Channel Nine Studios and mime the songs and share a little light banter with Brian.”

Sylvia Raye
Sylvia still fits into the outfits she wore during her Bandstand days! (Credit: New Idea)

Little did Sylvia know that her future husband, Mark Bowden, was playing percussion in the Bandstand orchestra. They would meet years later and begin their everlasting love while entertaining the troops during the Vietnam War.

Sylvia and Mark had, unknowingly, been orbiting each other at various gigs without ever meeting. When Sylvia saw her favourite singer, Dusty Springfield, at Sydney’s Chequers night club, Mark was the accompanying percussionist!

“I met Dusty that night – a wonderful lady,” she recalls. “She had been a guest star on Bandstand. But I didn’t meet her beautiful percussionist! I didn’t know my future husband was playing percussion for her.”

Being a Bandstand regular often saw Sylvia playing host to international stars. She recalls taking teen idol Johnnie Ray out to dinner six weeks after Judy Garland died in June 1969.

“He didn’t have a car, so I went and picked him up. It’s really quite surreal. He turned to me and said, ‘Gosh, I envy you. You look so happy and you have a wonderful life. You’re in showbiz and yet you’ve got your freedom. In America, if you’re in showbiz, you don’t have your freedom. Just look at Judy.’

“Here I was with Johnnie Ray in my Volkswagen, he’d had a worldwide number- one hit with the song ‘Cry’, and he was crying next to me. The memory of that moment still gives me goosebumps.”

Sylvia Raye
Sylvia’s home is a love letter to a bygone era. (Credit: New Idea)

As Sylvia’s star kept rising, she formed a lifelong friendship with the late Lorrae Desmond. “Just as I was starting out, Lorrae had returned from London, a star,” she recalls.

“I remember pinching myself when I found myself sharing a dressing room with her. I couldn’t believe it. We became friends. I was gutted by her passing. Lorrae was the most beautiful person you could ever meet. How I loved that woman.”

Sylvia disappears into her memories. She recalls Barry Gibb asking her to phone him, wanting her to record some of his newly written ballads.

“The Bee Gees were big here and were about to go to London to hit the big time,” she says. “Barry was lovely. I don’t know why I didn’t phone him.”

She starts singing the Bee Gees classic, ‘I Started a Joke’. “Oh well,” Sylvia sighs. “I have no regrets. I married the man of my dreams, I had a ton of fun on Bandstand.

“The last song I sang on the show was ‘I Started a Joke’. I’ve still got Barry’s phone number. Look at the wonderful songs he’s written. Maybe I could have recorded one of them. I suppose the joke is on me for not ringing him.”

For more, pick up a copy of New Idea. On sale now!

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