Raquel “Roque” Herring: 30 Years as Mouseketeers

When I was in junior high, my TV time of choice after school was not even a question. The Mickey Mouse Club premiered on the Disney Channel in April 1989 and, like millions of other kids across the country, I instantly became a superfan. The Mickey Mouse Club (or MMC as it is affectionately known) was a fast-paced variety show with singing, dancing, and funny sketches that had tweens and teens glued to their TV sets every weekday at 5:30pm. My extra-curriculars could not conflict with this special half hour of my night. And if my mother ever scheduled an orthodontist checkup during the show, I was sure to set the VCR.

The Mouseketeers Disney selected for The Mickey Mouse Club were a group of ordinary kids with extraordinary talent. Auditions were held all across the U.S. and Canada, and tens of thousands of aspiring stars showed up in hopes of securing the show’s trademark Mickey Mouse varsity jacket. Among them was a young girl named Raquel.

Raquel Herring — known to her fans as Roque — was cast in the very first season of The Mickey Mouse Club. At just 14, she was a petite powerhouse whose impressive vocals channeled a young Whitney Houston. And she quickly became one of my personal favorite Mouseketeers.

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the MMC premiere, Roque and the rest of the Mouseketeers got together again in Orlando for a special reunion for fans. After years of admiring her talent, it was like a childhood dream come true to be able to chat with Roque about the reunion, the iconic show, and her career.

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Raquel Herring (bottom right) getting excited with her fellow Mouseketeers at the MMC 30 Reunion in Walt Disney World in May

Raquel Herring was born and raised in Miami, Florida, and told me that her earliest singing memories were years before the MMC. “I was singing ‘Our Love’ by Natalie Cole when I was about three or four,” she shared. Her older cousin, who performed in pageants, heard Roque belting out her favorite song and ran to Roque’s mother. “She said to my mom, ‘She can really SING‘!” Roque recalled. “My Mom often tells me that when I was born the doctor said, ‘Wow, she has some pair of lungs’!” Roque joked. “So I guess it started from the womb.”

Roque’s cousin began coaching her, having her sing songs like “New York, New York,” “Blue Moon,” show tunes, and classic Patti Labelle songs. By the time Roque was six or seven, she was regularly performing in pageants, garden parties, and conventions. And a few years later, she earned national recognition for her incredible vocals.

When Roque was 12 she traveled to California to compete on Star Search.  “It was my first time going across the country,” Roque recalled. “I was 12 but I was placed in the teen category because it was going to air when I would be 13.”  Roque didn’t just win — she won big. She earned 14 wins including two major titles: Best Teen Vocalist and Best Teen Performer. The exciting experience furthered Roque’s interest in entertainment. “I was already interested, but Star Search was the first door that opened for me,” she shared.

Soon after, Roque’s mother heard that Disney was holding auditions in Orlando for a new version of The Mickey Mouse Club. They drove to Orlando for the audition and encountered thousands of other Mouseketeer hopefuls.

Roque was among the lucky handful of teens who landed a role on the MMC and she was soon rollerskating across the screen in the iconic MV5BNDIxMTg2OTc1OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzI4MDQwOA@@._V1_opening credits. Though it was a reboot of the 1950s Mickey Mouse Club, the all new MMC was proving to be a hip, modernized version of its predecessor with a diverse group of relatable teens as its stars. And Roque’s role was one of distinction: she was the very first female African-American Mouseketeer in Disney history.

The newly-cast Mouseketeers all relocated to Orlando with their parents, and were housed in the same apartment complex. “My earliest memory of meeting everyone was when they put together an event at the pool at the complex, and that’s the first time we all met each other,” Roque shared.

After an intensive casting process, rigorous training, and even grooming the kids for the media, the highly anticipated new show premiered on April 24, 1989.  “The Disney Channel was a new network, and they used our show to introduce it to the world,” Roque proudly explained.

MMC taped in front of a live studio audience at what was then called Disney MGM Studios, the same park which today is called Disney Hollywood Studios. Five days a week, the Mouseketeers were like classmates starting each day together on the school bus.

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The MMC set was in Disney MGM Studios, Florida. Photo: DisneyParks.com

“Every morning a bus — or this van really — picked us up and drove us to MGM, ” Roque explained. The daily routine was jam-packed; the kids worked hard and there were trailers set up so they could go to school throughout the day. “We’d start our morning together and from there it depended on what sketches we were in,” Roque explained. “We’d have rehearsal, then perhaps go back to school, then recordings, then we’d put on the show.”

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Roque Herring, third from left, enjoying some snacks at the “MMC diner” on set with fellow Mouseketeer castmates from season 1.

The amount of work that goes into a 5-day-a-week variety show is unparalleled, and there are few television shows — starring adults let alone kids — which can claim that honor. “We taped every day, for most of the year. . . our hiatus was not nearly as long as most shows get,” Roque confirmed. And the early-season Mouseketeers saw the longest hours. “I don’t think the schedule was as heavy in the later seasons as it was for us in the first couple of seasons because some stricter child labor laws had been introduced,” Roque shared. With a cast of child stars who grew up to be grounded, successful role models, perhaps the rigorous routine helped keep them out of trouble. “I was a bit of a late bloomer,” Roque joked. “I don’t think my ‘teen days’ really started until after I was 18!”

All the work was worth it and the chemistry and camaraderie fans saw between the Mouseketeers was genuine. “We really did work well together,” Roque recalls fondly. “We were kids, and we were all just excited to be there doing what we loved.” While being a Mousekeeter  was hard work, Roque and her castmates were living their dreams as artists. “We worked so much all the time, that was all we had to do, so you really had to love it,” Roque explained about performing. “And I still love it today!”

Roque mesmerized MMC audiences with her incredible voice. I vividly remember watching her dedicate her moving solo “Miss You Like Crazy” to the memory of her father. I sat in my living room captivated by Roque’s performance and got goosebumps from her sincerity, the enormous vocal range she effortlessly reached, and my naive disbelief that someone my age had lost a parent. The touching scene faded to black and has remained with me for thirty years.

After performing her heart out for 95 episodes, Roque left The Mickey Mouse Club. “After the second season, my mom wanted me to have my high school years,” she explained. Roque returned to Miami to continue school and shortly thereafter landed the lead role as the titular character in the broadway play “Betsey Brown.”

Roque captured the attention of several record executives and soon signed a record deal with Warner Brothers. She later signed with Universal, then Interscope, but then decided she wanted out of it. “I thought I wanted a break [from entertainment] but I got called back into it because it was not leaving me spiritually, ” Roque shared. “I can’t stop, it’s in me, it’s who I am.”

Today, Roque is making Christian gospel music with an independent record label and it’s where her heart is. “I feel so much more passionate about it,” she shares. “I feel happier, like I can transcend this place for a moment and really feel this peace, this love, this excitement that are experiencing.” Sharing her faith with others through her gift of music is rewarding to Roque. “We go beyond everything  spiritually together as a community, worshipping and singing our praises to Jesus,” she explains. “It takes off the pressure of having to perform when you’re giving it all to Him.”

Roque stays in touch with her fans through social media, which she Roque1-1admits wasn’t something she dove right into. “I’ve really been doing it for about a year and a half, so I still consider myself a newbie.” Sharing everything — from what she eats to where she shops — didn’t come naturally to Roque, who remembers a time when people in the public eye didn’t even have to think about Instagram. “I used to think, ‘I’m out there to perform, I’m not bringing everyone home with me’!” she joked. She recognizes it’s a new time, though, and is now “trying to invite people in” via social media. She even regularly shares a spiritual segment called “1 Minute Word With Roque” on Instagram.  “I do it because it helps me and helps other people,” she said.

As the 30th anniversary of The Mickey Mouse Club approached, Roque and her fellow Mouseketeers took to social media to spread the word about an exciting reunion. Mouseketeers Chasen Hampton and Dale Godboldo spearheaded the celebration and had a huge surprise in store for fans. The two friends (along with the folks with “Always in the Club,” the foundation Godboldo founded) began planning the festivities well over a year in advance.

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The MMC 30th Reunion as an updated version of the round Mickey logo on patterned background from the opening credits. Photo: MMC30.com

It didn’t take long for the Mouseketeers to jump on board, and Roque was game as soon as she heard about reuniting with her childhood friends. “We were really young to have worked together for such a long period of time everyday,” she shared. “I was excited when I heard about the reunion!”

Roque explained that the anniversary plans started out simple. “I think it started that we were going to perhaps, in L.A., put a reunion together,” Roque recalled. “That’s how they initially presented it to me.”  But the production team worked tirelessly to put together an event that surprised even the Mouseketeers. According to Roque, even the cast members didn’t know how big the plans had become until about a month or two before the reunion.

Pretty soon, the organizers announced that the Mouseketeers were headed home to Orlando, Florida for a weekend-long reunion starting May 18. They reserved the Hyatt Regency Orlando, secured panel spots at the infamous Orlando MegaCon, and — wait for it — partnered with Walt Disney World to host the Mouseketeers for a special parade and gala. “It was bigger than I anticipated! ” Roque admitted. Fans jumped at the chance to buy tickets to the festivities, and the proceeds went to two charities: Give Kids the World Village and onePulse Foundation.

When Roque and her fellow Mouseketeers began arriving at the Hyatt Recency Orlando, it was like the high school reunion many of them never had. And seeing each other for the first time made for the best memories.

“We were in the lobby, and I see this lady and a family, and I just say hi to them because that’s my way, I just say hi to people,” Roque recalled. “And I’m walking past and she said to me, ‘You don’t remember me do you? It’s me, Brandy!’ and I said, ‘No way’! Brandy! And her kids are bigger than her!”

Besides not recognizing Brandy Brown, did anything surprise Roque about her castmates? “Yes, we’ve grown up!” she laughed. “Looking at all these ladies and men . . . and Lindsey, who I was close with . . . I can’t believe she’s this grown woman married with a child!”  The reunion even made Roque ponder her own acceptance of adulthood. “If I can’t see Lindsey this way how am I looking at myself” she joked. “It all made me consider going to my high school reunion, because if it feels anything like this it would be incredible!”

The epic reunion weekend kicked off on Friday afternoon with a special Mouseketeer parade in The Magic Kingdom. Twenty members of the cast representing all seven seasons of the show — including the grown-up-kid co-host Fred Newman — rode down Main Street in classic cars, just as they did thirty years ago to introduce their brand new show. You could feel the Mouseketeers’ excitement as they cruised down the happiest street on Earth like superbowl champs.

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Roque rides in the MMC 30th anniversary parade with Dale Godboldo and Minnie and Mickey in the Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World, on May 17

The next day was MegaCon, where Roque was amazed at the turnout. “The line was out the door,” Roque said. “That’s when it started to hit us, ‘Wow, this many people came!’ and I was . . . wow . . . mind blown!”

I was fascinated to learn how humble the Mouseketeers truly are about their popularity, which Roque saw first-hand at the reunion’s impressive turnout. “We didn’t know that many people saw it!” she divulged about The Mickey Mouse Club. “We never had the opportunity to interact with our fan base, and so we really never knew the impact we were having.” Of course, there was no social media in 1989 to connect stars with fans, and the young cast was also apparently sheltered from fame. “In our first group at MegaCon, someone asked if we ever received the letters or gifts,” Roque shared. “And we were like, we never knew about letters and gifts!”  It’s remarkable to learn that a performer who I, and millions of other kids, looked up to in our youth was unaware of their fan base. “We never knew the impact we had,”  Roque shared. “We were just taken aback.”

The MMC 30 Gala and After Party were held in the World showcase at Epcot, and was much like if the Mouseketeers crashed your prom. Roque and the Mouseketeers walked the red carpet, dined on poshly plated Mickey-themed food, and mingled with cast families and fans. Roque also brought her proud mom who got to reconnect with other parents from the MMC apartment complex days. “We were busy the entire time, moving around the whole night,” Roque shared. “I don’t recall eating much all weekend, just nibbling once or twice,” she joked. “The only meal I sat down to eat was at the gala, because I made myself have this plate . . . and then I was up again!

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Mouseketeer Raquel “Roque” Herring looking beautiful as she walks the red carpet at the MMC 30 gala in Walt Disney World on May 18

The Mouseketeers performed classic 90’s hits as well as fan-favorite numbers from the MMC and quickly put together an amazing show. “We got to put our two cents in about what songs we were interested in singing,” Roque explained. “Chase asked me to sing ‘Miss You Like Crazy’.”  I was clearly not the only fan who remembers Roque’s beautiful rendition of this song. After three decades, I was finally able to share with her how moved I was by that tribute to her father. “Oh wow, I heard that from a lot of people, that it really spoke to them,” Roque responded gratefully. The castmates only rehearsed their performances the night before and then ten minutes before the gala, but their years of professional training and camaraderie made it seamless. “We worked really well together,” Roque said. “We just picked up where we left off.”  And that, as it’s often said, is the sign of true friendship.

The MMC 30 reunion weekend ended with “Soul Sunday,” a gathering  Raquel Herring Running to You Cover (2)_1at the Hyatt which Roque describes as the Mouseketeers’ opportunity to “share inspiration” through music and speaking. They shared personal stories, struggles, and messages of hope for each other. Roque discussed her Christian faith and performed her new single “Running to You,” which is available on her website and on iTunes and through other retailers June 14.

It was an epic reunion weekend, and clearly a memorable experience for all the Mouseketeers and fans who attended. “It became something that was truly amazing, and most of us did not imagine it at this level,” Roque shared. “I thought it would be at a little venue, you know, with some cocktails, maybe some fans will show up,” Roque laughed. “But then it kept progressing, and next thing you know we are at Disney World . . . what?!”

Like all the Mouseketeers, Roque commended Dale, Chase, and the team who put so much work into producing this hugely successful anniversary celebration. “They did an amazing, fantastic . . . I don’t know what to say, it was just awesome!” And the fans? “The fans were the icing on the cake,” Roque gushed. “As much as we were excited to see each other and have a good time, we never knew how loved we were,” Roque humbly shared. “Just to realize that was an awesome feeling to know 30 years later.”

Although MMC 30 may be hard to top, fans are already asking for more from the reunited Mouseketeers, and Roque hinted that something might be cooking. “I believe we will do something, something is going to be planned for sure,” she promised, then adding jokingky, “They just don’t tell me yet because they know I can’t keep it a secret!”

As for Roque, her career continues to grow, as she adds more experiences to her repertoire. She has even started stand-up comedy, which she describes as “scary in a good way,” and has performed at The Ice House and Flappers comedy clubs in California. She is also working on a one woman show. “Lindsey inspired me with her one woman show,” Roque shared of her castmate Lindsey Alley’s hit “Blood, Sweat, and Mouseketeers,” which she performed at the MMC 30 gala. And if you’re hoping for more information on Roque’s career from Disney through today, she has a book in progress with a working title of Running to You, to match her new single.

As the 30th anniversary of The Mickey Mouse Club brought people my age back to our youth, the happy memories of this iconic show made us recall just why we were fans of the Mouseketeers in the first place. This group of talented, down-to-earth kids grew up with us, and have given us many reasons to be proud of their success. (I joked with Roque that my inner 12 year old was squealing with delight that I got to interview her.)

As a writer, there is nothing better than covering someone I’ve always admired and finding out that person is as special as I hoped. Roque is a gifted singer whose incredible talent is overshadowed only by her kindness. She is warm, friendly, and welcoming, and everything the MMC theme song made us feel as kids. It’s astonishing that it took 30 years for her to learn the impact she and The Mickey Mouse Club had on fans. But we’re sure glad you know now, Roque. Why? Because we like you!

 

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