Backtracking: In Our Times: A career change of heart created Buffalo and Brandy

ContributedMary-Ann Ferree, seen in this undated photo, leads children in a staple of their public performances, with ‘The Locomotion’ song.

Generations have now been able to enjoy the music and performances of a local duo, Buffalo and Brandy.

If it hadn’t been for a leave of absence Mary-Ann Corrao took while a senior at Hartwick College, this story would have never come to be.

Mary-Ann was near graduation in the nursing program at Hartwick in the mid-1970s.

“By my senior year, I realized that I was more of a people person,” Mary-Ann Ferree said recently, “and they were training students to become chief staff nurses, where you’d be the one doing all the paperwork, not the one with the patients, and I thought it wasn’t what I wanted after all.” She consulted her mother, who asked what she wanted to do, but Mary-Ann wasn’t sure.

Mary-Ann’s mother advised her to take a leave of absence. Mary-Ann had six weeks to decide, but she was determined to get the college degree in nursing, having come this far.

“I had this light-bulb moment when I was visiting my brother in California. I loved to sing, and loved traveling so I thought I’d do something with that,” Mary-Ann continued.

She returned to Hartwick, got her degree, and was also able to write in another major in music and dramatic arts, under the advisement of Dr. Thurston Dox. Mary-Ann applied her college credits and became a fifth-year senior.

Mary-Ann had to show the department staff what she had learned in the new major, so she planned a major recital.

“This is where everything fell into place. I hired a band to back me up on the recital, which was totally unheard of at the time.” It was 1977 at the Anderson Center for the Arts, and she recalled when she went on stage, and the band came in, there was a hush in the audience. The recital went well and she got an A for the project.

One of the band members in the recital was a drummer, Ken Ferree. After Mary-Ann graduated, this band was a three-piece male group, in need of a keyboard player, who could sing. She fit the bill perfectly and they asked her to join the band.

“After about three or four months, two of the band members decided to move on, and I already kind of liked the drummer,” she said, and they ended up getting married and working as a duo. Duets were popular in the late 1970s and '80s, especially in the country music genre, such as Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. This is what the young couple was already doing and the nightclubs were hiring. They became known as Buffalo and Brandy.

Buffalo and Brandy became popular and recorded some Billboard Top 100 country hits, played on local and national radio stations, and they toured all over the Atlantic and Midwestern states. The No. 1 hit was elusive, due in part to their being on an independent label, competing with the major record companies.

Mary-Ann said they continued to perform a variety of music at fairs, music festivals and other events and enjoyed it, as they continue to do today.

In 1988, Buffalo and Brandy were performing at a fair in Pennsylvania, and a school guidance counselor they knew was in the audience, noticing how well the duo interacted with children during their performance. The counselor hinted they’d be a natural for doing school programs. They took the comment seriously.

Back in Oneonta, Madolyn Palmer, who then worked in the Oneonta City School District and who Mary-Ann knew from her Hartwick years and earlier, called to ask if they had a program to do in schools with a positive message to share. In October 1988, Buffalo and Brandy did their first school performance at Center Street Elementary School. The program expanded into other city schools, and gradually to schools all over the region.

One song that Mary-Ann remembers best and became a staple in their performances was “The Locomotion,” well known by national performers Little Eva and Grand Funk Railroad. With Brandy as the “engine,” she’d line the students up behind her, and the human “locomotive” was a perfect way to end assemblies and return students to their classrooms.

The school programs ended in 1992, but Buffalo and Brandy went on to do children’s educational television shows and continue to record and perform. They’ll be returning to Oneonta in June. See their website at buffaloandbrandy.org. Mary-Ann Corrao-Ferree was named to the Oneonta High School Alumni Wall of Distinction last October.

This weekend: Don’t throw that paper away! It could help in the War in 1944.

Oneonta City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area before 1950. His Tuesday columns address local history 1950 and later.  If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/opinion/columns/.

Ask Mark... 

Have you ever had a question about a history-making event or a prominent person in our area and didn't know where to find the answer? Well, we've got an expert who might be able to help you. Historian Mark Simonson has spent many years chronicling major local happenings, and he's ready and willing to dive into The Daily Star archives for answers, which will appear in this newspaper and online at www.thedailystar.com.

Write to him at "Ask Mark," The Daily Star, 102 Chestnut St., Oneonta, NY 13820 or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com

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