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WGRX seeks a song of Baltimore's heart


Baltimore has it all, right? The Orioles, Fort McHenry, the BSO, Hopkins, Billie Holliday, Center Stage, Fort McHenry, Thurgood Marshall, Harborplace, duckpin bowling.

Well, not everything. It doesn't have a song.

You know, an anthem, a tune anyone can play anywhere and instantly conjure up visions of Baltimore, the crown jewel of the Patapsco Drainage Basin. Something like "New York, New York," "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," "Kansas City" or even "The Night Chicago Died."

Hang on, Charm City. Help is on the way.

Classic Rock WGRX is sponsoring a "Song of Baltimore" contest, for the express purpose of finding a song that can comfortably find its way into every Baltimorean's heart. Since the competition was announced last month, the station has received about 25 entries, running the musical gamut from country to rock to show tunes to dance hall.

Alfie Creamer's "Baltimore Keeps Calling Me," for instance, as recorded live at The Fish Market by the Peter Duchin Band, is the sort of up-tempo swing number that Frank Sinatra or Tony Bennett would be singing if they lived on Charles Street.

"Baltimore, You Sure Look Good To Me," by Lee Harris, would sound at home at a bluegrass festival, while Modern Ruins' "Mt. Royal St." would sound right coming out of the 8x10 Club (where, in fact, the band has performed).

Entries are being accepted through Thursday. Judging is scheduled forJune 24 at the Holiday Inn Timonium, before a panel of judges the station hopes will include a member of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra; Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md.; a representative from Music Monthly magazine; and Kelly Ripken, wife of Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken Jr.

The entries vary in quality -- how much so will be for the judges to decide. First the gang at WGRX will whittle the entries down to 10 finalists; then the celebrity tastemeisters will make the final call on June 24.

The songs reflect some common themes -- several talk about how hot it gets in the summer, and the Orioles and Preakness and Fort McHenry pop up with regularity. But all share an affection for the city they seek to immortalize.

Bob McLaughlin, the marketing and promotion director for WGRX, says he and a friend came up with the idea while doing a promotion at the Wharf Rat, a club on Pratt Street. His friend, a big fan of show tunes, was bemoaning the lack of a swingin' Baltimore number she could tap her feet to.

"We kind of let it drop there, but then a lot of people started talking about it here at work," he says. Quick as that, a contest was born.

"Song of Baltimore" was announced on the air on a Thursday. By Monday, tapes started rolling in -- although the first entries were from listeners submitting the work of such established artists as Ruth Copeland, Frank Zappa (a Baltimore native) and Randy Newman. The latter's "Baltimore" would seem to fit the bill, at least judging by the title, but such lyrics as "Beat-up little sea gull/On a marble stair" hardly qualify it for anthem status.

Once the pros were shoved out of the way, the amateur efforts started rolling in. Mr. McLaughlin says the station is pleased with the variety of music being entered, particularly given the haste with which the contest was announced.

"It was kind of short notice," he admits, "so we really didn't expect anybody to go into a recording studio and come out with a really well-polished piece."

Fortunately, some local artists already had their songs in the can. As did Helmut Licht, a former Westinghouse employee who teaches German at Essex Community College. He's already released 12 cassettes and one CD of music for ballroom dancing and plays regularly at Casa Mia's in Towson. He recorded "Baltimore" five years ago at his home studio, playing all the instruments himself with the help of a computer.

I called my 'Hon' in Boston/Told her to come down

I promised that I'd marry her/The day she got in town

When she saw the city/What else can I say?

She fell in love with Baltimore/On our wedding day

"The songs that I write, I write from my heart," says Mr. Licht, 55, who has written about 300 songs and features a new one each week on a phone line he operates, each sung in his clipped German accent. "I've seen other cities, and there's nothing like Baltimore."

Others had written their songs previously, but only recorded them once word of the contest got out. Warren Cherry wrote "Kid Gloves," a song "dedicated to the musicians of Baltimore past and present," about a year ago, but put together a band to record it just a few weeks ago.

I remember free concerts in Wyman Park

Headin' down to Clark Street Garage at dark

Momma Max, Aux and Queens Chapel

Giggin' all day at the Read Street Festival

Dressed to kill in crushed velvet pants

Bought at the Bead Experience.

"It's all the bands that I grew up with, the bands even from when I was in high school," says Mr. Cherry, 41. "I think it fits the bill for GRX like a glove."

Others, such as Andy Abramowitz, wrote specifically for the contest. He describes his "The City That Reads" as an acoustic rock number that traces its lineage through Bob Dylan and Paul Simon.

Well, I've been out on Highway 95

And my wheels have seen every single mile

I've seen New York nights and Miami days

But in Baltimore I was born and raised

Welcome to The City That Reads

"I didn't want it to sound preachy or cheesy," says Mr. Abramowitz, 23, a law student at the University of Maryland who recorded the song with Andy Goldenberg. "I tried to incorporate a lot of the elements of the city." So did plenty of other performers, who believe their songs are best suited to singing the praises of Charm City. Fortunately, no one has yet submitted a song titled "Baltimore, Baltimore," "I Left My Heart in Baltimore" or (shudder) "The Night Baltimore Died."

At least they're getting points for originality.

To submit a song for the "Song of Baltimore" contest, send a cassette c/o WGRX-FM, 11350 McCormick Road, Executive Plaza Three, Suite 701, Hunt Valley, Md. 21031.


To hear excerpts from some of the entries already sent to WGRX in the "Song of Baltimore" contest, call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County, call 268-7736; in Harford County, 836-5028; in Carroll County, 848-0338. Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6176 after you hear the greeting.

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