Carl Davis was fascinated after hearing the “Lone Ranger” on the radio when he was 8 years old, but not by the program. Davis was captivated by the show’s theme song.
“I did a lot of research, even at a young age like that, to figure out where that theme came from,” Davis said.
He wondered if it was an original piece of music written specifically for the show, and in his search, he learned it was the “William Tell Overture” composed by Gioachino Rossini. That classical masterpiece became the first record Davis ever purchased and it’s what began a life-long love of classical music that continues to this day.
Davis is not a native of Owensboro, but has called it home for several years. He has a lot of pride in the area, particularly in the arts culture that thrives here. He has worn many hats in his life: ice cream shop proprietor, radio engineer, photographer. In all of that time, he has been involved with the Owensboro Symphony Orchestra.
For 47 years, to be exact.
He has held many positions within the organization, with a plethora of responsibilities, from recorder of performances to board member, volunteer and operations manager, to his current position as stage manager. And while many individuals may not recognize Davis in passing, if they have attended a symphony concert since Sept. 23, 1972, there’s a good chance he was somewhere behind the scenes ensuring the performance went on without a hitch.
In his capacity as stage manager, Davis makes sure everything is in place at the beginning of concerts, and that performers and the conductor have everything they need. Then he sits at what he called his manager’s desk, which is stage right, in case he is needed throughout concerts. It’s his voice that can be heard before each concert, welcoming the crowd, reminding them of the exits and to turn down their electronic devices.
“I’m always nervous before a concert,” Davis said. “It’s been that way now all these years. I’m always nervous before the concert starts, wondering if I’ve forgotten something.”
That worry diminishes, he said, when the conductor walks out and the music starts. Once current conductor Troy Quinn takes his stand, Davis says to himself, “It’s not up to me now. Now, Troy’s got the baton, so he’s taking care of everything.”
In the early 1970s, Davis worked as a recording engineer for the WOMI radio station when his manager came in and asked if he would be interested in recording some Owensboro Symphony performances. Davis thought it would be a temporary task at the time, but he stuck with it and eventually became more heavily involved in the organization, serving on the board of directors and on the executive committee.
In the mid-1980s he also worked as a freelance photographer while he owned two Baskin-Robbins ice cream shops — one in Wesleyan Park Plaza and one in the mall. During that time he photographed the symphony when needed.
“So I did just about a little bit of everything during all that time, as a volunteer,” he said.
When the RiverPark Center opened in 1992, then-symphony Executive Director Dan Griffith asked Davis if he would be interested in working part-time as the symphony’s stage manager. So, during the RPC’s big gala concert, Davis was in the wings doing his stage managerial duties.
When Griffith, currently the symphony’s chief executive officer, began working with the symphony in the mid-’80s, he remembers Davis helping “drop wiring” for concerts that were at that time performed in the Daviess County High School auditorium. For every concert — at that time the symphony performed eight a season — Davis would run recording equipment lines up in the attic of the auditorium.
“He did all of that free, just for the love of the symphony,” Griffith said. “He worked so hard.”
That, however, was not his first experience working with Davis.
“My first introduction to Carl was when I was in high school, and I worked with Carl at Baskin-Robbins in Wesleyan Park Plaza,” Griffith said.
Griffith still remembers the pink-striped polyester shirt he wore each day for work.
“I was a super scooper, and I also did cakes at the Baskin-Robbins. He was my boss,” he said.
Davis is a thoughtful and giving individual, Griffith said, and he treats everyone equally.
Gwyn Payne, the symphony’s deputy CEO, has been working with Davis since 2000 when she started at the organization. At that time, Davis was working for the OSO as operations and stage manager. He would do all of the background stuff necessary to make sure concerts went well, from changing light bulbs to ensuring outdoor concerts were set up properly.
One thing that sticks out in Payne’s mind when she thinks of Davis is the little, 4-inch spiral notebook he keeps in his front shirt pocket. Davis, who Payne said has a keen attention to detail, always made notes to himself to ensure he would never forget anything mentioned to him.
“He never forgot anything, because it was right there in his pocket,” Payne said. “I think he’s done that since I knew him. I have sticky notes everywhere, but Carl, it’s right there in that vest pocket.”
Another task of Davis’ has always been to take care of guest artists, from picking them up at the airport to showing them around the city. Payne said those guest artists always remember Davis.
“We have guest artists that would say, ‘Well I know more about this city because of my tour guide,’ ” she said. “They always love him. I’ve had guest artists that would come after the concert and just talk about how much they loved Carl and their interactions with him between the airport and here.”
Even before Davis became involved with the symphony, he had a great love for music. His father was a drummer in a big band in the 1940s. One of Davis’ first memories is banging on his dad’s bass drum at 3 years old. He also remembers hearing his dad play on the radio at a very young age.
“I like big band music, so that came from him, I’m sure,” Davis said.
Davis also attributes his love of Christmas music to his mother, who was a fan. To this day, Davis has not missed a single Christmas Pops concert put on by the symphony in almost 50 years.
He has stayed involved with the symphony all these years because he enjoys the work and he takes pride in the symphony’s mission.
“I love the music, and the people,” he said. “It’s such a great group of people. I really enjoy being here. It’s a family. We have so much fun doing our jobs.”
Davis says if he ever “truly retires” he will continue to attend symphony concerts. He believes the organization has a great future. He has been through a lot of changes through his tenure, from its early performances in the DCHS auditorium and the Owensboro Sportscenter to its operations out of the firehouse on 18th Street to its current home on Second Street.
He began working with the symphony the same year it hired its first conductor, Leon Gregorian, and has worked with conductors Michael Luxner, Nicholas Palmer and now Quinn. He has also seen six symphony CEOs come and go and has spent time in the Owensboro Symphony Academy’s basement archiving old symphony recordings to ensure they continue to live on and serve future generations.
He knows it’s a strong organization with deep roots in this area, and he is proud to have been a part of it.
“I have no doubt the symphony will be here many years.”
Bobbie Hayse, email@example.com, 270-691-7315