The “h” is silent in the last name of Omaha native and Las Vegas musician George Dahir. He himself is not.
Far from it. The singer-songwriter, who long ago simplified the spelling and goes professionally by George Dare, had a lot to say as he returned to his hometown last weekend for a school reunion.
“I love Omaha and the pride I see in this place,” he said. “I love the changes. It looks like someone took a giant fire hose and washed it down.”
Yes, Omaha has changed a lot since he left for Las Vegas in 1980. Among other things, the once-gritty riverfront turned glittery.
He was 27 when he left, and he has visited family and friends over the years. Last Tuesday he turned 60.
That round-number birthday, for himself and his classmates, was the reason for his recent visit. The Omaha South High class of 1971 decided to celebrate turning the big Six-Oh.
“Everybody loves him, and treated him like a rock star when he came in,” said Judi Koubsky of the South High Alumni Association. “It was a blast.”
That's partly because George had asked everyone to wear red and shout “Oh, Nebraska!” for a music video he is producing. He has remained a big Husker fan and state booster, and a recent song he wrote and sings includes these lyrics:
Oh, I went to town just to have some fun
And to watch Nebraska play.
With a bunch of friends who are just as wild
As a storm in the middle of the day.
Oh, Nebraska! (crowd repeats: Oh, Nebraska!)
How we love to watch you play.
Oh, Nebraska! (Oh, Nebraska!)
As we shout and cheer your name.
While in Omaha, he also visited the family home near 11th and Martha Streets, where his brother, Michael, 56, still lives.
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“My little brother has special needs because he was hit by a car in front of the house as a child,” George said. “He is part of the reason I am so purpose-driven. I see the difference I can make in helping people.”
When he was growing up in the 1950s and '60s, three generations of relatives lived in three houses at close quarters. George not only took to music early, but also to a family of his own. He married at age 16.
As a high school student and a father, he secured paid gigs. Teachers told him he was a good writer, but he didn't excel in the classroom.
“I was a C student,” he said. “I was a dad, and I was preoccupied. I had a family and needed to make a living.”
He and his wife soon had four children. George worked as a mechanic's helper at Union Pacific, and he sang and played six nights a week at the old Golden Apple Lounge. He received encouragement from Omaha musician Chip Davis, who was embarking on his successful Mannheim Steamroller franchise.
In a 1978 World-Herald article headlined “Catch a Rising Star,” George said he had “stars in my eyes and rocks in my head,” but was counting on making it to the top.
“When I tell you I'm going to sing in Las Vegas on the main stage at Caesars Palace and you print it, I'll have to do it,” he told an interviewer. “But I will anyway.”
His confidence was well-placed. He eventually did play the main stage at Caesars.
He had moved to Vegas after winning a national competition to write a commercial jingle for that glittery desert city, and later wrote its official theme song.
He wrote other jingles and theme songs and eventually worked with the likes of Wayne Newton, Cher, Don Rickles, Marie Osmond and Suzanne Somers, “all the big names.”
He sang for national telethons and on commercials for McDonald's and Chevrolet. In front of thousands, he opened for Toby Keith and Lee Greenwood.
“I thought, 'Holy smokes! I'm on a fast track. Wow! This is so awesome. It's all there.' ”
He became an arranger and a producer as well as a writer and performer and found himself conducting.
“I'd have a 120-piece orchestra in front of me and think, 'If they only knew I'm a guy from South Omaha, where you could open the windows and smell the stockyards.' ”
The big meatpackers had left Omaha by the time George did, and in Las Vegas he was makin' his bacon with music.
But besides the main stage, he loved another venue: classrooms. Onstage before thousands, a performer often sees only spotlights and darkness. In schools, he could see the bright eyes and gauge the reactions of students.
By happenstance, George Dare hooked up with the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, known as DARE.
“Not everybody,” he quipped, “has a program named after him.”
He worked with law enforcement officials from across the country.
“I was the perfect candidate to be the DARE guy,” he said. “I don't like the taste of alcohol and never have. When I was in a band growing up and saw guys eight years older sticking needles in their arms, it scared me away.”
George always had respected firefighters for saving his brother's life, and for fighting a fire at the family home.
In 1986 he wrote a theme song, “Proud To Be By Your Side,” for the International Association of Firefighters. After 9/11, he received numerous requests for it, and it is often played today at firefighters' swearing-ins or at their funerals.
When his son-in-law recently became a firefighter, George's daughter called from the ceremony and said, “Dad, you're singing on the loudspeaker.”
George's young marriage lasted 23 years. Last weekend he was showing Omaha to his fiancee, flight attendant Karen McKenna, with plans for an April wedding.
Today he continues to work in music but is most proud of reaching more than a million young people with a message about making positive choices.
The South High classmates met Saturday night at Circo's in Papillion. Larry Brown, an Omaha Public Power District retiree, said he admired George long ago for sticking with school after his teenage marriage.
“He is an unbelievable personality, so likable,” Larry said. “And, boy, can he sing.”
George said his CDs are available at Husker Hounds stores. More information is available at his website, www.georgedaremusic.com.
He has written theme songs for rodeos, police officers, the Los Angeles Lakers, the Tour de France and more. He'd like to write an Omaha theme song, too.
George Dahir of Omaha, known to the music world as George Dare, has stayed active with his music and traveled widely.
“I'm busy,” he said. “I work seven days a week, 14 hours a day by choice. For me, it's not work.”