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A high note ends Spotlight on Entertainment Series // Harmonicats play to full house

When the Harmonicats finally broke into Peg O' My Heart at their afternoon concert at the Largo Community Center on Thursday, the crowd's cheers and applause faded into oohs and ahs.

The crowd had been waiting since the trio stepped on stage to hear the hit, which has sold more that 27-million recordings.

"Do you think for one minute we would come out here and not play Peg O' My Heart?" said Jerry Murad, the group's leader, as people in the crowd shouted out requests for the song.

"We have to play Peg at every performance and sometimes twice when the audience demands it," Murad said.

The 1 p.m. concert, which was the last in the Largo Community Center's Spotlight on Entertainment Series, sold out to more than 500 people. Doni Donlon, a Phyllis Diller impersonator, performed the opening comedy act.

"As you can see, these faces are all happy senior citizens," said Mike Vercelloni, who has been to every concert in the series. He said the performances were especially appealing to seniors because of the music and the time of day.

Patricia Wolfarth, who lives in Largo five months of the year, went to the performance because she has been a fan of the Harmonicats since she was a child.

"I saw them once in Peoria, Ill., 25 or 30 years ago," said Wolfarth, "and I have always wanted to see them again."

The trio of harmonica players is best known for its hit Peg O' My Heart, which was released in 1947. The group also recorded the hit Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White.

At the performance, the crowd swayed and sang along to Spanish Eyes, Strangers in the Night, Granada and Orange Blossom Special, among others.

Although the Harmonicats formed 50 years ago, the trio's leader, 76-year-old Murad, is the only original member still with the group. He has been playing the harmonica since he was 9 years old.

"I've had a love affair with the harmonica all my life," Murad said. Murad plays the solo-chromatic harmonica, the small, most familiar harmonica that provides the melody.

Bud Boblinka has played off and on with the group for the past 20 years. He plays a chord rhythm harmonica, which is 2 feet long and weighs about 20 pounds.

The newest member of the trio, George Miklas, plays bass harmonica, which weighs about 9 pounds and provides the bottom range of musical notes.

The Harmonicats tour about 25 weeks of the year. They have played on television shows, including the Ed Sullivan Show, and in major hotels in Las Vegas. The group also has performed in New York, Los Angeles, Sidney, Tokyo, Hong Kong and London.

Thursday's performance was one of 20 shows in a 16-day Florida tour. The Harmonicats also did two shows in Clearwater at On Top of the World on Thursday evening.

The trio will perform in Fort Myers and Venice next week, and then travel to Holiday and Palmetto.

The Largo Community Center's Spotlight on Entertainment Series will begin its third season in November.