Nov. 03--William E. Keegan was surrounded by music in his final moments on earth. At his bedside, his family sang songs and played guitars.
Mr. Keegan was one of the first clients at Hospice of Jefferson County at the Ellis Farm on outer Gotham Street. In his last days last November, with the family music enveloping him, his final thoughts may have been of warm summer evenings when his children gathered after dinner on the front porch of the family's Boyd Street home. Then, music drifted over the neighborhood, attracting neighbors who strolled over to join the improvised concerts.
"Dad would listen more than anything else," said Ted Keegan, the youngest of William and Agnes Keegan's six children. "He was a great support system."
Support and service, Ted Keegan said, are something his father emphasized. And the Keegan family is very thankful hospice was there to give them support during William Keegan's last days.
"They were amazing. Absolutely amazing," Mr. Keegan said.
Ted Keegan will give something back to Hospice of Jefferson County in the best way he knows how -- by singing.
The concert "Ted Keegan: Songs My Father Taught Me" will be held Friday, Nov. 22, and Saturday, Nov. 23, at Savory Downtown's Empire Ballroom, 300 Washington St.
Mr. Keegan, a 1979 graduate of Watertown High School, made his Broadway debut in 1989 in "Sweeney Todd." He played the role of the Phantom in "Phantom of the Opera" as an understudy on Broadway from 1996 to 1999. From 1999 to 2003, he toured with the show as the Phantom, and later he appeared in a Las Vegas run of the show. Mr. Keegan returned to the Broadway "Phantom" production three years ago, performing as Monsieur Andre.
Among Mr. Keegan's other Broadway and national tour credits are "Cyrano: The Musical," "Camelot" with Robert Goulet, "My Fair Lady" and "The Most Happy Fella."
The baritone/tenor paused late last month for an interview in the lounge at the Ellis Farm hospice. He had traveled from his home in West Hurley, Ulster County, to spend a few days in his hometown and to work out the logistics for the upcoming concerts.
Mr. Keegan said his first encounter with hospice was with an uncle, Bernard E. Palumbo, who died in 1987.
"Hospice came into his home and helped take care of him," Mr. Keegan said. "At that point, it was a new thing. Not many of us knew about it."
Hospice of Jefferson County has embarked on another new thing with its Ellis Farm. In addition to home care, the facility, which opened last fall, provides an eight-bed residence.
"There was an opening; Dad came in and was put into this absolutely glorious room with light, beautiful nature outside and amazing care," Mr. Keegan said. "The nursing staff here goes completely above and beyond anything we could have imagined. He received such beautiful care -- physical and emotional. That was for all of us, as well."
Mr. Keegan said "Songs My Father Taught Me" will have selections from the 1940s, especially the World War II era.
"It's sharing experiences of my dad -- and his mother having five sons in the armed forces and how she dealt with that, and music that was important at the time," he said.
William E. Keegan, born in 1924 and a 1942 graduate of Watertown High School, was in the Army Air Corps from 1943 to 1945. The war ended before he could be sent overseas. His four brothers who also served in the armed forces all made it back safely. In 1947 he married Agnes E. Flynn, who survives him. The Keegan brothers operated Garland City Auto Parts Corp.
William Keegan's instrument of choice was the bugle. He was the bugler on the staff of the Jeff-Lewis Boy Scout Council camp on Lake Bonaparte in 1940. A year later, he was the camp bugler for the American Canoe Association at its annual meeting in the Thousand Islands.
His father, Ted Keegan, said, was a huge Glenn Miller fan.
"That was something I grew up to listening to a great deal," he said.
Even though his father didn't make a living out of music, it played an important part of his life.
"I think it does with all of us," Mr. Keegan said. "Music connects us to our history -- who we are and where we've been."
In the 1960s, Ted's father surprised him when he showed him an old songbook.
"It was an Army publication given to the Air Corps when they joined the service," Mr. Keegan said. "There were parody songs in there, and things like 'Give My Regards to Broadway' and other popular music of the time. What amazed me is that he knew every single song, every single verse. He didn't miss a beat."
Mr. Keegan still has the songbook. He added, with a smile, "It may play a part in the concert."
The Keegan siblings kept the family's piano in constant use. William Keegan always wanted to learn how to play, and at age 65 he started taking lessons, along with his granddaughter, Tia Marie Morgia.
"That was something the two of them shared that was wonderful," Mr. Keegan said.
His dad would also sing around the house, Mr. Keegan said. "Nine times out of 10," he said, it was songs from the 1940s. It was just part of a musical household.
"It was a time when people sat on their front porches," Mr. Keegan said. "You'd have dinner and you'd go sit on the front porch afterward. My brothers had their guitars and we would sit and sing. You knew all your neighbors."
During his performance in Watertown, Mr. Keegan will be accompanied by local musicians Charles Heck on upright bass, Nicole Bartholomew on percussion, Maresa Badour on trumpet and Chris Hyde-Hall on piano. Mrs. Hyde-Hall also serves as musical director.
the phat pack
Inspired by the singers of the Rat Pack (Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin), Mr. Keegan and two associates recently created the Phat Pack, based in Las Vegas, where they performed in "Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular." In addition to Mr. Keegan, the trio consists of Randal Keith, who spent years playing Jean Valjean in "Les Miserables" on the road and on Broadway, and Bruce Ewing, who sang three of the four roles in "Forever Plaid" on the road and in Las Vegas.
The Phat Pack sings musical theater, American standards, Vegas hits and some original music.
"We wanted to create something that we were in charge of and have a little control over," Mr. Keegan said. "It's not really an homage to the Rat Pack at all. But we were in Las Vegas, we all wore tuxedos with the ties undone and it was close enough."
Mr. Keith is a bass baritone and Mr. Ewing is a tenor.
"I'm smack dab in the middle," Mr. Keegan said. "So when you put the three of those together, we've got a great sound."
The group was created with touring in mind, Mr. Keegan said. While he lives in New York, he works all over the United States and Canada. In the past few months, besides Las Vegas, he's had singing jobs in Calgary and Edmonton, in Canada, and Cleveland, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Fla., and on Broadway.
He said the Phat Pack is just one project he's involved in.
"We booking for 2014-15," he said.
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