New York Singing Telegrams

New York Singing Telegrams

New York Singing Telegrams

New York Singing Telegrams

New York Singing Telegrams

New York Singing Telegrams

New York Singing Telegrams

New York Singing Telegrams


New York Singing Telegrams




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A tuxedo-clad Kerry Prep floats through the lobby of the Con Edison building in Brooklyn, N.Y., clutching three shiny silver balloons. Once inside the customer service department, he heads straight for Sherlene Blake, who sits unsuspectingly behind a Formica counter. "Are you Sherlene?" he asks.

"Yes," Blake replies sheepishly.

Prep, with wispy brown hair and a diamond stud earring, bursts into song. "Sherlene, it's for you I sing./These balloons for you I bring./Don't worry, there is no chance./I don't strip or belly dance," he croons.

He proceeds to sing from custom-written lyrics -- based on information provided by Blake's two daughters -- to the tune of "Santa Lucia," a traditional Italian holiday song. Blake and her co-workers delight in the performance. This is her first singing telegram, she says. "Can I get a picture?" she asks Prep afterwards. He happily obliges.

Prep is the founder of Preppygrams, a singing telegram service that serves the New York City area. A part-time actor and former theater major, he started the business in 1980 "because I didn't want to be a waiter," he says. Prep runs Preppygrams from his home in Huntington, Long Island. And while he often showcases his own talents, he also hires freelance musicians to perform original songs for clients.

Prep writes the lyrics himself, using over 50 different melodies, and charges $79 and up for each performance. Customers can choose from a wide range of costumes, from a rabbi or gorilla to Winnie the Pooh. The price depends on costume and location, says Prep. Jobs that require extensive driving or specialty costumes -- like Minnie, Marilyn and Elvis, for example -- cost more. Preppygrams brings in $100,000 to $130,000 a year, he says. Prep also works as an actor and appears occasionally in off-Broadway shows.

Prep says that people order singing telegrams to celebrate a variety of occasions, most commonly birthdays, anniversaries and holidays. The busiest day for the singing telegram industry -- by far -- is Valentine's Day.

This morning, the cost of Blake's telegram comes to a grand total of $106, including balloons and taxes. She also receives a copy of her song, mounted on a scroll. Blake's daughter, Asha, will foot the bill. A student in California, Asha ordered the telegram for Mother's Day. She discovered Preppygrams on the Internet and wanted to surprise her mother, says Prep.

The singing telegram originated in the 1930s, according to "The Story of Telecommunications" by George P. Oslin, the creator of the singing telegram. After World War I, when most Americans associated telegrams with news of death or injury, Oslin, a public relations director for Western Union, wanted to show that they could be fun. In 1933, Lucille Lipps, a Western Union operator, delivered the first singing telegram to the singer Rudy Vallee on July 28 for his birthday.

The singing telegram business immediately took off and thrived until the popularity of the telegraph began to wane in the 1960s, with the widespread installation of telephones, according to Oslin's book. In the early 1970s, Western Union was forced to close many of its telegraph offices and the company suspended its singing telegram service in 1974.

But small private services like Preppygrams soon emerged and kept the singing telegram business afloat. Several telegram businesses still exist in many U.S. cities, while rural America has access to online and telephone versions.

Prep says he books several performances each day and delivers an average of 25 to 30 telegrams a week. Owners of other services in the New York area -- like Relvis Singing Telegrams on Long Island and Best Singing Telegram in Hoboken, N.J. -- say requests fluctuate. Jim Roth, the owner of Best Singing Telegram, said he can book anywwhere from five to 30 singing telegrams a week.

Because of the unpredictable nature of the industry, performers usually hold second jobs, mostly as singers and dancers. For freelancers, the business brings in $3,000 to $4,000 a year, says Danny Gulbin, of Queens, N.Y., who works part time delivering singing telegrams. Gulbin supplements his income by working as a magician and entertaining at children's parties. "The magician business is really hot right now," he says. "I only do a few telegrams a week."

Denise Rivera, who prefers her stage name, Delilah, has been delivering singing telegrams for six years. She also dances and works the children's party circuit. The 39-year-old Rivera graduated from George Washington University with a psychology degree. But her passion for song and dance led her to performing singing telegrams.

Delilah works as a freelancer and advertises her own singing telegram service, Delilah's Delightful Song and Dance Grams, in the Yellow Pages. As a freelancer, she takes home $30 of the $85 to $100 fee, so she prefers to work for herself. Delilah usually books one or two telegrams a week, she says. Business has slowed considerably since the late '90s, when the strong economy created a high demand for singing telegrams. "Now the novelty has worn off," she says. "People are more budget conscious."

When they do call, clients mostly request the gorilla suit, says Delilah, who has accumulated so many costumes that she had to build a loft in her bedroom to create space for them. She sleeps in the eaves and her countless outfits fill the room below. "My roommate tells me that if he had known I had all of these costumes, he never would have let me move in," she says.

And while most performers who deliver singing telegrams would prefer to focus on acting or dancing careers, Prep describes the telegram business as a "perfect" gig. "I like doing it. It's always a happy occasion," he says. "But I am an actor," he adds. "I would give it all up to act.

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Office Hours:
Monday - Friday— 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Saturday — 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

1-800-936-SING (7464)
For in-person deliveries outside of the New York Metro area, please call
1-800-886-7464 and ask for extension #304.

Local deliveries for New York call: 212-477-5533
For Long Island: call 631-385-9337
Text your inquiry to: 516-524-3920
When e-mailing for a price quote, please include the location as well as the date of your delivery to expedite your request!

PLEASE NOTE: We ask for a one-hour window delivery time and guarantee to show up within the time slot specified. Customer assumes responsibility that a singing telegram is allowed at the destination, as well as ensuring the recipient is at the delivery site at the time agreed to. 48 hours notice is required for cancellation. Any orders placed within 48 hours of the event, cannot be cancelled.

Preppygrams Singing Telegrams

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