BY MARTA HEPLER-DRAHOS
When Emmy Friend and Doris Knoche perform together, they don't move all over the stage like some entertainers do.
But they make a lot of sound.
That's what those who tune in to UpNorth TV's "Robert Abate's World of Blues" can expect to see. The Bear Lake sisters recently came to Traverse City to tape an in-studio segment for the show after they were discovered by the host, an accomplished musician and performer in his own right. It seems Abate had met Friend's son, Jimmy, who kept telling him about his mother and how they should get together and play sometime.
"I've been playing for a long time and I've had a lot of training and I've been in a lot of musical situations," Abate said. "As soon as I saw how she was handling the instrument, I knew that she was a real guitar player."
Abate and UpNorth TV producer Michael Toms returned to Bear Lake to tape Friend, now 87, and her sister, 85. Friend plays guitar and they both sing. Now they've recorded a show in the studio.
The sisters started performing together when they were very young children.
"She and her sister played their first gig when they were 6 and 8," Abate said. "They played at the grave of a baby who died."
As Friend tells it, they grew up as part of a family of seven daughters and one son in Bear Lake. Times were hard, so "music was our fun."
"Our mother sang," Friend said. "We all sang and danced and had a big Victrola. As we grew, we sang for programs."
Friend taught herself to play on her brother's old Sears Roebuck guitar.
"I never took lessons," she said. "I still don't read music."
She moved to Detroit to work after graduating from high school. Her sister followed two years later. Even after they each were married with young children, they sang together all over the Detroit area in the 1950s and '60s, Friend said.
"We met Tex Ritter," she said. "He had heard about us through the grapevine and called my house one day. I couldn't believe it. I thought someone was pulling my leg.
"He was at the State Fair in Detroit and wanted us to sing."
But with family responsibilities, it was hard to get serious about expanding their joint career beyond Michigan.
"Everybody wanted us to travel with them," Knoche said. "Everywhere, we passed the auditions, but there was always travel involved.
"Because we couldn't travel, we sang at local places."
Eventually, the two stopped performing together except for at parties, church and weddings. Both returned to live in Bear Lake in retirement, but hadn't sung together in a while until Abate offered the opportunity.
"It is something that we hadn't done in a long time, so believe you me, we had to get together for a time or two," Friend said. "I would say, 'You're flat,' and she'd say, 'No, I'm not.'"
Most of the songs they did for the show are the same as the ones they used to do: "Blues Stay Away From Me," "Foggy River," "No One Will Ever Know," "Alabama Jubilee," "Anytime" and "Mountain Dew."
"It was the first time in a recording studio such as that," said Knoche. "To have microphones pinned on you like you see in TV, microphones in front of us, and in front of Emmy's guitar, the camera up above — it's an experience that was a little scary to us at first.
"It was just fun."
Her sister had the same reaction.
"It's just a nice thing that happened at this stage in life," Friend said. "We've had our day in the sun in the past and now Robert came on the scene and it's really an honor."
The show featuring Friend and Knoche is scheduled to run Wednesday, Oct. 17, at 8 p.m. on cable channels 97 and 992. It can also be streamed by visiting upnorthmedia.org beginning Oct. 17.
City editor Kathy Gibbons contributed to this article.