By Stephanie Fong
Emily Walter has spent a three-decade career traveling the world as a professional vocalist and actor. She’s served as a singer in the U.S. Air Force Band, entertained in shows on cruise ships, and —among many other things — has personified the title of Medora’s “Queen of the West.”
Her first professional job in music materialized after enlisting in the United States Air Force.
“My position as a vocalist with The Strategic Air Command Band was my first full-time singing job. I was just out of college and I never dreamed that I would become a veteran of The Desert Band, performing for the troops in Desert Shield and Desert Storm. It was an incredible honor and my training in the SAC Band critically developed the musical, professional, and disciplinary skills I have to this day. I couldn’t have had better training,” Emily says.
Fast forward to the early 1990s, when Emily wowed fans of the Medora Musical as a Burning Hills Singer best known for crooning Patsy Cline tunes each night under a starry Western sky.
“I sang my first Patsy Cline song on the Burning Hills Amphitheatre stage in 1993. It was ‘Sweet Dreams.’ The response was so overwhelming that the following year, the producer gave me a choice between ‘Crazy’ and ‘She’s Got You.’ I chose the latter,” Emily recalls.
Those successful summers singing Patsy Cline in Medora led to something bigger that holds a major place on Emily’s resume — the Patsy Cline estate named her one of the few entertainers approved to portray Patsy Cline, leading to performance tours across the country and internationally. She continued to perform in a variety of genres and locations, adhering to her personal formula for success: hard work, dedication to her craft, and willingness to travel.
SHE CAME HOME TO NORTH DAKOTA
Emily returned to Medora in 2010 to host the Medora Musical, and the character she portrayed that year soon became a part of her identity for years to come.
“When I returned to Medora nearly two decades after my time as a Burning Hills singer, the producer Curt Wollan and I were talking about me taking the host position in the Medora Musical, and he popped out with, ‘Emily Walter; Queen of the West!’ I loved it from that very moment,” Emily says.
Emily’s “Queen of the West” character combined the elegance of a pageant queen — complete with tiara-clad cowgirl hat and sequined gowns — with the strength of an Air Force veteran and the voice of a Broadway star. Little girls attending the Medora Musical soon started buying and wearing pink cowgirl hats with tiaras, becoming Queens of the West in their own right.
“That was my favorite tie to the show…seeing a child walking downtown in their ‘Queen of the West’ hat! I can’t tell you how many photos were taken in those hats. Sometimes they would show up with one they’d had for five years, and it looked so loved,” Emily says.
HER OWN LOVE STORY
And at the current point in her incredible journey, Emily has found herself planting deeper roots in Medora, explaining: “I fell in love with Medora in 1993. I fell in love in Medora in 2011.”
Of her own Medora love story, Emily puts it simply.
“I enjoyed (the traveling performer) life very much, and it enabled me to see the entire world doing what I loved, but when I met Rolf (Sletten) in 2011, I was ready to slow down. The result was that I truly ‘came home to Medora,’” Emily says.
After hosting the Medora Musical for several seasons, Emily took on new challenges as part of the Medora team — helping launch and grow Medora’s popular Gospel Brunch and the Magical Medora Christmas Tour.
In addition these popular Medora productions, Emily continues to pursue other favorite projects including Patsy Cline and Karen Carpenter Tribute shows and performances with the Bismarck/Mandan and Bemidji (Minnesota) Symphony Orchestras.
Whatever musical project she is dedicated to, and wherever travels with Rolf take her, Emily continues to embody the Queen of West role.
“It’s just me, that Queen of the West persona,” Emily says. “Me, with close ties to the town, the music, the people, the history, and the legacy that Harold and Sheila Schafer built. Rolf wrote two books about Medora and Theodore Roosevelt. This stunning place is deeply embedded in both of us and it’s great to share that passion together.”