"The Long Islander" February 2001)
By Joanne Kountourakis
Dressed in a white tuxedo, Kerry Prep neared the hospital room.
Inside rested a man awaiting triple-bypass surgery. As Prep knocked
on the door and softly called out his name, he realized he had
made a big mistake. A quick glance into the hallway was enough
to startle the unsuspecting patient. Prep may as well have had
a halo of light circling his body as the man thought he had died
and that Prep was sent from.....well anywhere other than a singing
telegram company. "He thought I was Mr. Jordan coming
to get him for his journey to the pearly gates," Prep recalled.
Prep quickly informed the man that he was not a messenger from
heaven, but the more earthly kind. One sent by loving friends
and family to wish him well before the surgery. And then, as he
had done so many times in the past, Prep broke into song.
The hospital wasn't the strangest place Prep has been to sing.
Nineteen years in the singing telegram business have brought him
to bowling alleys and bakeries, to burned-down tenements, mansions,
restaurants, revival meetings, and auto body shops from
Montauk to Connecticut, Staten Island to the South Bronx, and
Chinatown to Borough Park. "Very often, all in the same day",
It was supposed to be a part-time venture, a way to help make
ends meet while hoping to make a dent in the acting world. What
else are singing telegrams for, right? One couldn't possibly make
a career out of serenading strangers, could they?
"I truly never thought I'd be doing this past 35 and that
was eight years ago," said Prep. He started the business
in April of 1982, the result of a conversation with fellow Adelphi
University theatre major and college sweetheart, Helen
Murdock. Though the two aspiring actors had found occasional work
on major soap operas, they were tired of the traditional bartending
and waiting tables bit that filled in the gaps between acting
So there, at the Stop 20 Diner in Elmont, Prep unleashed the idea.
"What will you call it?" asked
Murdock. "Preppygrams!" replied Kerry. "That's
a terrible name," she said.
Twenty thousand singing telegrams later, and Preppygrams has grossed
nearly $2 million. "One little man singing songs," said
Murdock from the Huntington home she now shares with Prep and
their 6 year old daughter, Molly. Kerry and Helen were married
just six months after Preppygrams' inception. At first they ran
the business out of a room in their Queens apartment. The couple
met with immediate fame, and found themselves featured on television
and in magazines. The market for singing telegrams was big then,
and Preppygrams made a lasting impression.
Helen spent five years as a singing messenger before giving it
up to pursue her passions of calligraphy, writing and illustrating
children's books, and a comic strip she calls "Shrinking
Violet." Despite her experience as an actress, Murdock was
terrified of singing to strangers and was more than relieved to
Prep, on the other hand, used singing telegrams as a means to
hone his auditioning skills, which led to professional acting
work. "I treat every telegram I do as an acting job,"
As the business' reputation grew, so did Prep's repertoire. Upon
customer requests, a wardrobe that consisted of a lone white tuxedo,
became a closet full of costumes ranging from firemen to priests,
bikers, clowns, gorillas, and chickens. "I'm constantly adding,"
Prep said. Prep now employs half a dozen other singing messengers
to keep up with the demand -- an average of 25 telegrams a week,
of which Prep typically does anywhere from seven to 10.
His better known clients include the likes of Susan Lucci, Jason
Alexander, Steve Guttenberg, Barry Manilow, and Judy Collins.
Each telegram -- and this is what makes Preppygrams so unique
-- is personalized and custom-written by Prep. After asking clients
to detail the hobbies, likes and dislikes, nicknames, eccentricities,
pet peeves, occupations, and other relevant information about
the telegram recipient, Prep crafts a song of about eight to 12
verses that, unlike conventional telegrams, cannot be recycled.
"Each song is singularly unique to the individual to whom
we're singing, " Prep explains. Believe it or not, some Preppygram
recipients have even been buried with the lyrics to their telegram.
To a great extent, Prep is a middleman, the bearer of some very
good news at life's most personal moments. He's announced
engagements and pregnancies, been there for birthdays, anniversaries,
get-wells, and apologies, and occasionally assists a nervous man
in his proposal of marriage.
Prep has also been swung at and held at gunpoint by some very
protective husbands who didn't understand why a stranger in a
tuxedo and a gorilla head mask would be ringing their doorbell.
Each time, Prep unmasked himself, explained who he was, and went
on with the song. Both of those men were so touched by the gesture,
and so repentant of their actions, that they broke down sobbing.
"I really feel like I've done my job if I can reduce a grown
man to tears," said Prep.
Prep is currently preparing for the onslaught of calls he'll get
for Valentine's Day, the busiest time of the year for singing
telegrams, It's a lifestyle Prep knows all too well. "Self-employment
consumes your entire life," he said. "I'm not just the
CEO, I'm the janitor, too!"
For more information on Preppygrams Singing Telegrams, call
1-800-936-7464 or visit www.preppygrams.com