As Dorothy Bouchard sat down to the piano on Tuesday, Feb. 4, bright melodies rolled out, starting with her favorite, “It Had to Be You.”
The longtime Twin Ports entertainer will turn 100 years old on Tuesday, Feb. 11, but she will celebrate the milestone on Saturday, Feb. 8, with friends and family in Duluth.
Bouchard spent decades performing at piano bars and working in musical theater. She now lives in Solon Springs with her daughter and son-in-law, Deb and Roy Bulloch.
“I’m doing what I’ve been doing for 100 years,” she said.
Bouchard grew up in Proctor and graduated from Proctor High School. Early piano lessons set the stage for her career, and Bouchard credits her band teacher for his encouragement. She played piano and string bass in high school. Standing 5-feet tall, Bouchard said, she always had to have somebody carry her bass.
One of her first performance gigs was playing accompaniment for a silent movie at the Proctor theater.
“Boy, that’s hard. That’s really hard,” she said. “That wasn’t my thing.”
Her musical career gained steam when a friend encouraged her to play piano and organ at the Radisson Hotel.
“She got me down there and it was just from there on, I was all over the place,” Bouchard said.
From funerals and church services to piano bars and musical theater, Bouchard put her talent to work.
She said she spent about 40 years playing in piano bars throughout the area, from Duluth’s London House and Cronstrom’s Supper Club in Superior to The Loft in Lake Nebagamon and The Depot in Solon Springs. Bouchard, who lived in Duluth most of her life, had to have thousands of songs at her fingertips.
“People ask for all these different songs. You have to know them some way or another,” she said.
When she met Telegram reporter and local theater director Finley Stalvig, a musical partnership was formed.
“Finley was my best friend,” Bouchard said.
Together they brought shows to the Shack in Superior and on the road to Lake Nebagamon and even Michigan. Bouchard worked with the Playhouse on shows such as “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown”’ and “Nunsense,” in which she played Sister Dorothy.
“Finley got me to do an awful lot of stuff,” she said.
Bouchard’s musical legacy also includes working with smaller performance groups like “The Diamonds” and “The Eighties,” a trio of 80-year-olds.
In 2018, the Bullochs sold their home in Superior’s Billings Park neighborhood and moved to Solon Springs. The area was lovely, they said, and they appreciated the neighborly, small-town community. A few months later, Bouchard moved in.
“It’s ironic how mom played here, and we end up here with her in retirement years,” Deb Bulloch said.
There have been low notes in Bouchard’s life. Months after marrying her husband Eugene in 1941, he went into military service. He was gone for five years while serving in the Pacific Theater of World War II. He died in 1975, and their daughter Judy passed away in 2005. Bouchard has survived cancer, surgeries and a bad fall.
“I call her the Energizer bunny,” said Roy Bulloch.
She is still making music for her family and their 15-year-old Italian greyhound, Rhys. Neighbor Ryan Frane, director of jazz studies at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, has invited her to jam with him.
“We think we’re good,” Bouchard said.
But what’s her secret to a long life?
“I don’t eat vegetables, and I don’t exercise,” Bouchard said. “By the grace of God, I’m here."