Cape Gazette
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Saltwater Portrait

Glenda Diem and Mark Luckenbill: Unlikely duo finds friendship through music

Opera singer meets guitarist to rock out on Friday nights
By Taggart Houck | Aug 19, 2014
Photo by: Taggart Houck Mark Luckenbill, left, and Glenda Diem rock out for an audience at Ambrosia Restaurant and Wine Bar in Rehoboth Beach. There is a 40-year age difference between the two performers, who were introduced by a mutual friend.

Millsboro — Musicians Glenda Diem and Mark Luckenbill say people often tell them it must be great to perform as mother and son.

The only catch: they are not related.

Luckenbill, 25, is a trained opera singer who graduated from the University of Maryland; Diem, 66, is a lifelong guitarist and former teacher of 34 years. They met early this year and now spend Friday nights playing music in restaurants and bars in Rehoboth Beach.

“When you have a mutual respect for another musician, it doesn’t matter how old they are,” said Luckenbill.

The two musicians were introduced by a mutual friend, a neighbor of Mark’s in Reading, Pa. The pair said the mutual friend brought Mark to Glenda’s house one winter day in hopes of sparking a musical friendship. The Cape Region was nothing new to Luckenbill, who has vacationed with his parents at their house in Rehoboth Beach since he was a kid.

The friend knew both Mark and Glenda were musicians – Glenda performing across Europe during her college years, and Mark singing in front of tens of thousands of fans at a Philadelphia Phillies game. He also has six thousand followers on Instagram, for whom he routinely posts music.

That day, Mark and Glenda got to know each other and soon started practicing. Then one day Glenda surprised Mark by informing him they would perform at an open mic at Delaware Distilling Company later that night.

They played three songs and received an overwhelming reaction from the crowd.

The open mic led to more practices; finally, the duo was booked to play at a private party at Independence, an adult community in Millsboro. That performance paved the way for other performances at bars such as Port in Dewey Beach and Rehoboth Ale House in Rehoboth.

After those performances, Diem was approached by the owner of Ambrosia Restaurant and Wine Bar, on Wilmington Avenue in Rehoboth Beach, who asked her to play guitar for the restaurant.

After little hesitation, she accepted.

But she kept pushing for Luckenbill to join her. “I said, look, I'm bringing Mark in,” she said one day to the owner, and eventually, she did.

The night Luckenbill got a shot to accompany Diem at Ambrosia Restaurant and Wine Bar, the duo didn't fail to impress, leading to an offer to perform on Fridays.

The pair sings anything from country to smooth jazz so they attract a broad range of fans.

“We don't want to be stale,” Diem said. “There's nothing worse than being stale.”

The pair has been busy this summer, and that's just how Diem likes it. This summer is more enjoyable than last: that's when she received the diagnosis of stage three aggressive breast cancer, something she continues to battle today.

Every third Friday, Diem travels to Tunnell Cancer Center for chemotherapy and radiation. It's exhausting, she said, but the treatments don't stop her from jamming out.

“The chemo doesn't affect the part of the brain for music,” she said.

Despite challenges like being drowsy, Diem credits the chemotherapy with one benefit during her performances.

“It gave me an I-don't-care attitude. I'm just gonna play this song,” she said. “I don't have to worry about making a mistake.”

While Diem has a background in jazz and rock, Luckenbill has experience singing classical, theater and pop music. Together, they play anything from Jimmy Buffet to Dean Martin to Luke Bryan, always preferring a challenge.

“There really isn't anything we haven't done.” I think that's why people like when we're out, we're not just playing one genre,” said Lucknebill.

Because Mark lives in Reading, and Diem lives in Millsboro, they spend only about an hour once per week practicing together. Other times, they send MP3 files to each other by email and practice on their own time.

“It keeps my focus on him and us,” Diem said. “If you've got that much to do, you don't have time to throw a pity party for yourself.”

Luckenbill and Diem started playing together at Ambrosia July 18. While Diem continues her Thursday solos, she also performs every Friday with Mark, except every third Friday of the month, when she rests after chemotherapy treatments. The pair performs at Ambrosia Restaurant and Wine Bar Friday, Aug. 29 and Friday, September 5, 19 and 26 from 6 to 9 p.m.

“Our goal is to try to keep people in the restaurant,” said Diem. “There's a lot of crowd activity. We try to make it personal.”

Diem said she loves keeping busy with music and spending time with Mark.

For Diem, the music the pair plays roots deeper than for most of their audience.

“It gives me purpose. I had purpose when I taught. My purpose has not changed, but now I focus on Mark,” she said, glancing over at Luckenbill.

Adding a phrase she tells Mark before performing, one that she now lives by.

“We're closer to the credits than the beginning of the show.”

Fans can find out more about the duo at www.markluckenbill.com.

 

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