Peggy and Ellis Duffey

March 18, 2002|BY ANDREA ROWLAND

The lyrics to an old Eddie Arnold song they often perform together as The Harmonizers might sum up the loving relationship of Ellis and Peggy Duffey.

"We're together right or wrong/Where you go I'll tag along Remember me - I'm the one who loves you."

The Duffeys' mutual affection resonates even as they perform an impromptu rendition of "Remember Me" in the living room of their Hagerstown home. Tapping her tambourine against her leg in time to the music, Peggy Duffey smiles at her husband as he strums his 12-string guitar and sings the words to a song the duo has sung countless times before.

"When the whole world turns you down/Not a true friend to be found/Remember me - I'm the one who loves you."

The Duffeys have shared their lives and their love of music for nearly 50 years.

As The Harmonizers, they perform at more than a dozen area nursing homes, going to three to four a week. The Duffeys also perform at churches, banquets and parties.


"He'd do it every day if he could," said Peggy Duffey, 67.

"I just like getting up there and singing and making people smile," said her husband, 71. "Bringing happiness to people, that makes you feel good."

The Duffeys continue a tradition of song started by Ellis Duffey's father in their hometown of Funkstown more than 60 years ago.

As a child, Ellis Duffey and his four siblings sang country and novelty songs as the Hillbilly Kids from Funkstown while his father played the guitar.

The group won first prize at a radio station contest in the old Franklin Court Auditorium, Ellis Duffey said. Their award? A new dog.

Young "Sonny" Duffey had a reputation for his yodel at the end of "Back in the Saddle Again," he said.

"I still do that one," he said. "They love it in the nursing homes."

Duffey pulled out his father's old music and a ukulele to perform with his eldest son at an elementary school talent show 42 years ago, he said. The experience rekindled his desire to perform in public, so Ellis and Peggy formed their own family group, The Half-a-Dozen Duffeys.

The couple's four children loved to sing at local fairs and festivals, practicing at home with a kitchen spoon as a microphone, Peggy Duffey said.

The group gradually became a duo as the couple's children got older. Their performance schedule increased when Ellis Duffey retired from the M.P. Moller Organ Co. after 44 years and his wife stopped working as a bookkeeper, they said.

"Our suitcases are always packed and ready to go," Peggy Duffey said.

They wheel those cases filled with instruments, amplifiers and microphones into nursing homes from one end of the county to the other. The Harmonizers' lyrical repertoire ranges from Burl Ives classics and comical novelty tunes such as "Hallelujah I'm a Bum" to new music by country singer Alan Jackson.

The Duffeys soon plan to perform Jackson's song, "Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning," at Hagerstown Church of the Brethren, they said. The emotional song explores the effects on Americans of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"It brings tears to your eyes. It was tough for me to sing in the beginning," Ellis Duffey said.

Easier are the oldies the couple has been performing together for years, they said.

"You Are My Sunshine" and "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" often prompts elderly listeners to sing along, the couple said.

"What gets you is when people sing along who never even talk," Ellis Duffey said.

"It's like music therapy," his wife added.

And performing on his feet for an hour at a time has been physical therapy for Ellis Duffey, who underwent hip replacement therapy in January. He's already asking his doctor when he can play softball again, his wife said.

"He still thinks he's 19," she said.

The Duffeys thread such playful banter through the performances that they don't plan to stop giving anytime soon, they said.

"We'll keep going as long as he's able," Peggy Duffey said.

"Yeah, we'll go as long as she's able," said her husband.

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