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Concerts a tradition for the kid in all of us

WTVT-Ch. 13 anchor John Wilson has found what Ponce de Leon sought out all his life, but Wilson's fountain of youth doesn't overflow with water.

It gushes with bright faces and big smiles.

For 18 years, Wilson has played host at the annual Steinbrenner Children's Holiday Concerts. Wilson and his wife, Mary K., took the stage at Ruth Eckerd Hall on Tuesday and introduced yet another young audience to the wonders of the Florida Orchestra and the beauty of holiday music.

"Doing this has rejuvenated us and everyone who is involved in the program," Wilson said. "One thing that's been consistent: They were as into it the very first time as they are now. I think the kids energize us, in addition to the music."

John and Mary K. are well-known entertainers in the bay area, and have performed together since they met some 30 years ago at Virginia Commonwealth.

John longed to be in broadcasting after seeing Chet Huntley and David Brinkley cover the controversial 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, but teachers told him he had to do something about his "mountain accent."

So John, who started singing at church where his mother played the piano and his father led the choir, joined the theater. He ended up sharing the stage at Virginia Commonwealth with his future wife in a production of Ahmal and the Night Visitors.

"That was the turning point," John said. "That put us together in the same world. There's nothing like that, seeing her and being able to perform with her on stage. It's incredible to be able to continue doing that."

To do it at the Steinbrenner concert is even more fun for the Wilsons. Before the holiday songs, John takes the kids through a quick crash course on the orchestra, having each section play a piece of music. It's a rarity for the woodwinds or the brass to do solos, but Wilson said Yankees owner George Steinbrenner devised the program so the kids could gain an understanding of the teamwork involved in the orchestra.

"Children make his blood circulate," Wilson said of Steinbrenner. "It's as important to him as his heartbeats. I don't know what he sees in the kids, but I think he sees himself. It's always about the children."

The children fuel Wilson's desire, and you know what else drives him: When young adults come up and say, "I remember seeing you at the Steinbrenner concert."

That's all I'm saying.

Ernest Hooper can be reached at hooper@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3406.

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