Today's American Story with Bob Dotson comes from Northampton, Mass., home to a group of the most unlikely movie stars.
“Eyeeeeee feel Good!” Dora Morrow shouts into a microphone, then growls her best James Brown. "Like I knew that I would …”
If it’s not loud enough to wake the dead, it's loud enough to show that she isn’t among them, even though Dora and her 25 friends in this rehearsal hall have a combined age of 2,000 years.
The Young at Heart chorus sings to standing-room-only crowds in England, Europe and Australia. But in this country — outside their hometown, they are practically unknown.
A new movie is about to change that.
They didn't make it big just because it's funny watching old folks sing rock songs.
Some of what they sing shouts the honest part of growing old. Their concerts are intelligent and deep. Ninety minutes nonstop, constantly shifting from laughter to tears.
"Nothing to do and nowhere to go,” they croon. “I want to be sedated."
It took standing ovations for director Bob Cilman to convince the chorus to sing the songs they used to tell their kids to turn down.
“It's not interesting to come here and sing the same songs over and over because the audience likes to hear them,” says Cilman.
“Maybe we're just doing something that people would rather hear us sing,” laughs Louise Canady.
She turns to join her friends as they wiggle rear ends and belt out “Shake it like a Polaroid picture.” Their average age? Eighty-two. But this place is about as stiff as a mosh pit.
The chorus subverts all notions of how older people should look and sound. They don’t sing Sinatra. No golden oldies. They sing punk rock and hits from Coldplay, OutKast and Allen Toussaint.
Dora is trying to memorize lyrics that repeat the word “can” 71 times.
“I think I can. Yes, I can. Yes, I can. I know darn well, I can. Yes, I can, can! Them words are too hard to put there!”
How do they handle senior moments?
“What did he say?” they shout, and then laugh. None of the 25 has ever made a living in show business before.
Dora raised 15 kids. All but one went to college. Her grandkids think she’s hip.
These folks are at the point in life where the word “hip” is usually followed by “broken.” But the Young at Heart Chorus started performing with a group of Puerto Rican break-dancers. That was a quarter of a century ago at the Northampton Senior Citizens' center.
Now they add a rare vision of mortality to the tracks you love.
“When you try your best and you don't succeed,” Bob Salvini sings in a weak, reedy voice.
“Fix You” means something different coming from a man whose health is deteriorating. Salvini checked himself out of the hospital so he could get to rehearsal. He died just days before his song's debut.
Fred Knittle came back from a heart attack to sing the duet alone.
“When you lose something that you can't replace …”
In our country older people are often shuffled into the shadows. Yet, here they are — center stage.
Want to contact the subjects in this morning's American Story with Bob Dotson? Here's their contact information:
Bob Cilman, Artistic Director
Young at Heart Chorus
240 Main Street
Memorial Hall, Room 5
Northampton, MA 01060 USA
Telephone: (413) 587-1300
By fax: (413) 587-1303