Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Flint Portraits: Wilburn LeGree

After numerous requests, I'm re-posting this from April 13, 2008:

All this talk of Homedale Elementary reminded my mom of Wilburn LeGree, "The Singing Cop" who used to visit schools all over Flint. She can still sing LeGree's classic ditties like "The Boys of the Safety Patrol" and "When You Cross the Street."

The State Bar of Michigan presented LeGree its Liberty Bell Award in 1999 and provided this biography:

"LeGree's career as the "Singing Cop" began in 1938 after a rise in rates of children being struck and killed by vehicles. LeGree was assigned to develop a school safety program and incorporate something that would grasp the children's attention -- music. The chief of police overheard LeGree singing and decided to put LeGree's talents to work.
"LeGree and his wife wrote words to popular musical tunes about obeying the law, safety in all situations and seeing police officers as friends. He visited hundreds of schools and sang his songs to children. Before he stopped counting, he estimated that he had performed safety songs to 25,000 students over a four-year period.
"LeGree's songs have been used in 46 states across the country as well as schools in Germany, Australia and New Zealand."


  1. William LeGree was a real trailblazer in the Flint Law Enforcment Music subgenre. Does anybody remember "Vandal and the Felons"? They were a Sha Na Na-esque band of Flint cops from the 70s and 80s that would perform at schools. In the late 80s my non-cop neighbor played in an R&B/Soul/Funk group with a couple of Flint's Finest. Any other cop rockers out there?

  2. These posts are wonderful. Wilburn was a fixture in the Flint area for many years and to people that are still here to remember him, he is sorely missed. His professionalism would be of high value today.

    Professor, may I humbly suggest an article devoted to the longtime Catholic priest that guided many souls at the time you attended St. Mary's Grade School in Flint? I might even be pursuaded to add to that subject; maybe something interesting to the good readers here...

    Thank you.

  3. Anonymous, I think I know who you're talking about. I still have nightmares about confession with him. I'll see what I can do.

  4. If you recall, students were required to go to confession every six weeks whether or not it was needed. Entering that little room through the long red curtain and kneeling down on that kneeler that activated the light outside the confessional while waiting for that wooden partition to slide open slowly between you and your worst fears...whew! That was much to say in one huge sentence, but the question is after having read that do you recall that nightmare again???

  5. "Numerous requests," my Aunt Tillie's elbow ... you just want some money


  6. Nah, I don't care about the donation. Just wanted you to know that I didn't run the songbook image, which I appreciated you sending, because I'd already run it last year.

  7. As Madeline Kahn said to no one in particular in Young Frankenstein, "Whatta nice guy."

    Or was that Lili in Blazing Saddles?

    I only minored in Mel Brooks films, so I'm a little foggy on the details.

    So, if I just send you a nice Koegel pimento loaf in lieu of the quan, you'll be OK with that, geewhy?

  8. "Don't go near the railroad track, for it's no place to play. When trains go past, they go fast and you might be in the way...Toot-toot!" Kids liked that one, because at the end they got to pretend they pulled a whistle. Hundreds of thousands of kids over the many years he performed,got to be the engineer that day. Wilburn LeGree was a personification of what police professionalism truly means,on and off the beat. What a guy. Ed too, was loved by the kids as he played the accompaniment on the accordion for many of those years....unclebuck

  9. Now you're talking. I can resist monetary inducements, but Koegel bribes are a different story!

  10. Doug -- Blazing Saddles. "Gee, what a nice guy."

    "It's trooo! It's trooo!"

  11. I don't believe I've yet to see anyone mention that in the fifties Mr. Legree also had a Flint based radio show targeted mainly at an adult audience. I remember his themesong was "The Old Rugged Cross". I remember his radio voice sounding outstanding when compared to the tunes he and Ed did in the schools; but thats where the memories fade. I can't remember if he was a tenor or a baritone. I wonder if any of your readers still remember that.

  12. I still remember Wilburn Legree in assembly at Homedale School auditorium and my class singing with great gusto, "Let The Ball Roll Boys, Let The Ball Roll"
    It was a time when kids considered policemen their friends and Officer McGree was a pal in our lives.
    I noticed another comment from someone in Homedale School, maybe she was in my class. I remember two teachers well. Miss Palmer and Mrs. Reynolds and of course Miss Oulette for gym. Miss Coats, principal. Oh and a really nice art teacher, Miss Barnes. Miss Peek for auditorium. Unite Homedale alumni.

  13. I'm sitting here with my mother in law in Rancho Santa Margarita, Ca. She started singing " Let the ball" because a neighbor boy ran into the street to get a ball. She began to tell us about Officer Legree and so I looked him up and found your blog. She was stunned. Her name is Dolly Garner and she went to Durant Elementary. She has very fond memories of this kind man.

  14. Glad you found the blog, Dolly and daughter!

  15. My husband and I remember Sgt. LeGree at Zimmerman elementary. It was so much fun to sing along with him. I taught my four children the song when they learned to cross a street alone. I remember them crossing to see their grandma and yelling, "I looked both ways, can I go?"


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