Ray Liebau found the perfect key to Ruth McLester's voice, and with it the proverbial key to her heart.
Ruth was a freshman at Florida State University in Tallahassee in 1956 when they met. Ray was a sophomore.
The first time I saw my future spouse:
She says: “Wow. I said, ‘Cary Grant, eat your heart out.’”
He says: “She was standing by a piano. She was as pretty as any girl I had ever seen and so full of life and energy — and man, could she sing, too. She still can.”
On our wedding day:
She says: “I was delighted and couldn’t wait.”
He says: “Ruth’s mother and father let us borrow their beautiful 1960 Cadillac and the best man drove us from the church to the reception. All I had to do was remember to leave the keys to our car so that her mom and dad could get to the reception. Well, guess who forgot? The mother and father of the bride had to bum a ride to the reception. I’m still embarrassed about that.”
My advice for a long happy marriage is:
She says: “Find the right one to start with. He just was. There wasn’t anybody else. He was just it.”
He says: “Love each other, of course. But do more than your share without expecting help, because if you both do that, then it’s got to be cool.”
"We met in a dance band that many of us did not want to be in," Ray says. "It was an unusual circumstance in that the guy wasn't very popular but it turned out he was a wonderful band director."
The fellow who invited them to join the band had no music or gear and they were dubious about his ability to get them, but he came through with all the equipment and started scheduling rehearsals.
Ray missed the first two rehearsals because he was playing ragtag football -- tackle football without pads.
"The first rehearsal was pretty bad because the piano player was just awful and the second rehearsal wasn't much better," Ruth says. "But the third rehearsal, he walked in absolutely filthy, dressed in khakis and a T-shirt, straight from playing ragtag football and I took one look at him and I said, 'Oh my God, if he looks that good dirty he's bound to look gorgeous cleaned up.'"
Ray, who was a reluctant participant in the band up to that point, was suddenly grateful to the guy who put it together.
"I walked in and there was this cute gal vocalist that he had found and suddenly this band looked a whole bunch better to me," he says. "I thanked him for organizing the band."
Ruth was a vocals major and she needed an accompanist.
"I found out what a fantastic pianist he was because we would be playing these arrangements for the band and they would be in the wrong key for me to sing and he would say 'That's OK. I'll just go to your key when it's time for your solo,'" Ruth says of Ray. "He could change keys instantly to any key I wanted."
He started playing piano for her voice lessons, and for the many recitals and performances she took part in throughout the year.
"Therefore, we were together lots," Ray says. "Of course, we had to practice, and I'm not sure either of us practiced so hard outside but we found lots of time to practice her voice music together, I tell you. Practices got longer, and we would say, well, it's almost dinnertime or it's almost lunch time."
The timing was always perfect for them to run over to the Soda Shop or to catch a movie when they were done.
"It was such a natural thing," Ray says. "Neither one of us had to make up excuses because it was almost time for this or that and very soon we were spending lots of time together and having great, great fun getting through our college years together."
The dance band played big band era songs as well as the music popular in their day, in venues around the area. They had bookings just across the Georgia line, too, but as a co-ed, Ruth was not permitted to go to those.
"I wasn't allowed to cross the state line," she explains, adding that curfews for girls were set at 10:30 p.m. on school nights and 11:30 p.m. on weekends and girls were not allowed to wear pants while walking across the campus.
Ruth and Ray dated for four years, until after Ruth graduated with a bachelor's degree and Ray completed a master's. He was at the top of the draft board list then, but he became exempt from the draft after he got a job as minister of music with the Second Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and they decided to marry.
They exchanged their vows on the Friday after Thanksgiving, Nov. 25, 1960, in the Church by the Sea in Fort Lauderdale.
They honeymooned briefly at an oceanfront hotel -- Ray had to be in church to lead music that Sunday morning.
After living for 30 years in Oxford, Miss., where Ray became a professor at the University of Mississippi, teaching piano and composition, they fell in love with the Hot Springs area. Eighteen years ago they moved into a house on Lake Catherine in Malvern.
They have two children -- Karl Liebau of Florida and Katherine Hall of Forney, Texas. They have one grandson.
Ruth stayed home with her children for a few years and then went back to school for a degree in nursing. She worked as a registered nurse in an operating room.
For more than 11 years, the Liebaus have had a weekly engagement at The Caring Place, where they play for dementia and Alzheimer's patients there for daytime care.
"We're not trying to build a career," Ray quips. "But I can't imagine my life -- I can't imagine our life -- without music."
When he accompanies Ruth on the piano, he still matches her vocal key instantly.
"He still can do that," she says. "It's wonderful. I have been so spoiled my whole life."
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Ruth and Ray Liebau celebrated their 57th wedding anniversary this week. Ruth is thankful that he can instantly change piano keys to match her vocal keys when they perform together, just as he has since they met in college. “It’s wonderful,” she says. “I have been so spoiled my whole life.”
High Profile on 11/26/2017
Print Headline: She found an accompanist in the band and in life