Can’t dance without rhythm

Her voice is strong and jazzy. Her hands are steady and sure.

Betty Purvis, the only woman in Bob’s Swing Band, took her place at the drums Thursday and belted out a bluesy favorite, singing “I’m goin’ to Kansas City, Kansas City here I come.”

Song after song — Big Band to country —

she kept the beat, her sticks marking and filling time on bass and snare.

For seniors who crowd the dance floor at Everett’s Normanna Lodge, Mondays and Thursdays are always special. Afternoon dances are a time to see friends, dress up and take a twirl to music infused with decades of memories.

Thursday’s dance was extra-special. It was a celebration of the drummer’s birthday. Purvis will turn 90 on July 22. The party, a potluck meal, was held early because of a friend’s travel plans.

When band leader Bob Carpenter called for a break, it wasn’t only for refreshments or the chance to rest tired feet. Purvis, a small woman wearing tight blond curls and a sparkling blue vest, was joined at the start of the buffet line by one of the dancers, Evangeline “Van” Shuler.

The crowd sang “Happy Birthday to You” to both women after Carpenter announced an astonishing fact: Shuler, of Snohomish, is 105.

Shuler’s daughter, Lynn Chalmer, said her mother was born June 4, 1906.

“This is how she’s been able to survive,” Chalmer said. Shuler, who lives with her daughter, often attends senior dances at Normanna and the Northshore Senior Center in Bothell, where she was out dancing Wednesday.

Purvis was at the drums Wednesday, too. Carpenter’s band plays Mondays and Thursdays at Normanna Lodge, and every other Wednesday at Northshore Senior Center. Thursday’s party was organized by Purvis’ friends Norene Hogle, Margaret Larsen and other dance regulars.

Larsen, 75, of Marysville, believes the outings are a kind of fountain of youth, especially for Purvis. “I think that’s what keeps her going,” she said.

Purvis lives on her own in Bothell’s Canyon Park area. She drives to her gigs, carrying her drums in a van. As a young woman, Purvis said she tap-danced at a Spokane nightclub.

She had a long interest in drumming. Her second husband properly schooled her in the art. The late Keith Purvis was a noted Puget Sound area drummer and percussion teacher. For years he owned Purvis Drum Shop in Burien.

Before Keith Purvis died in 2004, Betty Purvis said he had played drums for Sammy Davis Jr., the Mills Brothers, Count Basie and Pearl Bailey.

“I married nice husbands. I’m sorry they passed away,” said Purvis, a mother of four. Her first husband was Al Crocker. “I used to be Betty Crocker,” she said.

“She’s amazing. And her voice, the volume and control — she has that at 90,” said Mary Kinder, who comes from Stanwood for the dances.

Purvis grew up in Eastern Washington. As a child she and her sister Ethel sang on KUJ radio in Walla Walla. She was 15 when her parents were killed in a car accident near Sprague. Purvis said she went to business college in Spokane, learned to tap-dance, and worked at the nightclub. “I was a good girl,” she said.

In this area, she performed with Harry Lindbeck’s band and remembers the days of Lindbeck’s Seven Cedars Dance Pavilion in Mount Vernon. Lindbeck, a well-known accordion player and cousin of musician Stan Boreson, died in 2007. Purvis was also the drummer for Jack McDougall, who took over Lindbeck’s bandleader role.

McDougall died last December. Jack’s Swing Band has become Bob’s Swing Band. McDougall’s widow attended Purvis’ birthday party. “I’ve known Betty the last 10 years,” Arlene McDougall said Thursday.

“I played the drums for all of them,” Purvis said.

The 76-year-old Carpenter — who plays tenor saxophone, clarinet and guitar — was also joined Thursday by Dick Nelson on trumpet and Dave Davis singing and playing guitar.

“This is a takeoff of Harry Lindbeck’s band. Betty is an original member — oh, my gosh, yes,” said Carpenter, who is retired from Boeing.

“I kind of have a bad back,” Purvis said before Thursday’s dance. She plays on, ignoring her aches. “I just live for it. No matter how bad I feel, I play a little music and I’m right back into it again,” she said.

Purvis was at the drums when Davis sang a country classic — a slow dance. Her brushes kept an easy beat as the singer crooned “For the Good Times.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460;

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