Friday, December 2, 2011

Sister Act: the G. Oliver version

Just when I think my dad and I have uncovered all the stories we’re likely to learn about my great-grandfather, G. Oliver Riggs, something unexpected bubbles to the surface.  This week’s revelation: G. Oliver was the Whoopi Goldberg of St. Cloud.

OK, that’s an exaggeration, but it will make more sense if you’re familiar with the 1992 movie Sister Act, featuring Whoopi Goldberg as a woman in the witness protection program who hides in a convent and coaches the nuns in the choir  (It’s also been turned into a Broadway musical; we saw the cast members perform a song from the show during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade last week).

I’m fairly certain G. Oliver was never in a witness protection program (unless that’s another surprise waiting to be unearthed).  But according to Dick Egerman, whose family operated the popcorn wagon during band concerts in St. Cloud’s Barden Park, G. Oliver did provide musical assistance to a group of nuns known as the Benevolent Beethoven Benedictines.

“Apparently this group of nuns, hearing of the fame and generosity of G. Oliver, approached him explaining their dedication to teaching, preaching and prayer: they expressed a need for fun and culture. Music was the answer,” Dick revealed in an email to my dad this week.  "It is reported that G. Oliver agreed to teach them the rudiments of music, provided they furnish their own instruments.  The nuns from capable families got instruments, and the others got to sing in the choir.”

Dick has a credible source for this story: his mother, who played tuba in the group but left the order after a short time.

“Family lore reports Mother left for three reasons: female tuba players were not respected on the same high level as trumpets and other horn players; Mother had no rhythm; and she did not look good in black,” he wrote to my dad.

His mother married and had eight children, including Dick, who claims to have inherited his mom's lack of rhythm.

I am grateful to Dick for sharing this fun story, and I’m eager to learn more about the details of this musical collaboration between G. Oliver and the nuns.  Sister Act had a sequel; you can bet that this blog post will, too.


  1. This is wonderfully funny! I love the name of the group - the Benevolent Beethoven Benedictines.

  2. Thanks, Myrna! I agree, the name is great, and tells you something about the personalities of those nuns.