News Column

Never too old to sing

June 13, 2014

By William Smith, The Hawk Eye, Burlington, Iowa

June 13--With their bellies full of pulled- pork sandwiches and their closest friends sitting beside them, more than 100 senior citizens packed into Memorial Auditorium at midday Thursday to listen to some 1950s classics.

It was Senior Citizens Day at Burlington Steamboat Days, which started with a free lunch and ended with performances by Burlington's own Silver Singers and the all-male a cappella band Blend. By the end of the day, Blend had the crowd dancing and clapping in time to 1950s classics like "Rockin' Robin."

While the majority of the crowd consisted of senior citizens, not everyone in attendance was older than 65. Burlington resident Wilma Van Osdol brought along her daughter, Linda Hall, granddaughter, Misty Grasso, and 7-year-old great-granddaughter, Vendetta Grasso, for a four-generation outing.

"This is something new," Van Osdol said. "I've come here for several years, but this is the first time all of them have come."

Van Osdol just happens to live next door to Silver Singers director Marilyn Sullivan, so there was no way she was going to miss the show. Consisting entirely of senior citizens with a passion for singing, the group has been around since 1979. Sullivan became director more than a decade after that.

"I taught music in the school system, and I retired in 1993. They needed a director, and I was retired, and music is my life. It always has been," Sullivan said.

Dressed in a sparkling red blouse that shimmered under the stage lights, Sullivan directed the group of 20 singers as they worked through a variety of songs that paid tribute to the four seasons. Winter came first, which was recognized through classic tunes such as "Winter Wonderland" and "White Christmas."

Then it was time for Al Jolson to take the stage. Retired Des Moines County crime prevention officer and community volunteer Steve Parker portrayed the timeless crooner at last year's Senior Citizens Day, and he was happy to do it again this year.

"Folks, you haven't heard nothing yet," Parker said as his stepped onto the stage in a tuxedo.

Parker has been a huge Al Jolson fan for most of this life and started imitating the singer after one of his friends noticed their singing styles were similar. Parker has studied Jolson meticulously and took great joy in reading his biography. Jolson is best known for appearing in the first movie with sound, "The Jazz Singer."

"He appeared in Burlington four times. He loved coming to Burlington," said Parker, who also serves at the national voice for McGruff the Crime Dog.

Most everyone in the Silver Singers group had a chance to perform a solo or small group piece, and singer Mike McCullough danced around on stage with an umbrella while the group sang "Singin' in the Rain."

"It's a marvelous group of people, and we just have fun," said singer Ruth Lindsey of West Burlington.

Lindsey just joined the group about three years ago, and her only regret is she didn't join sooner. She even got to sing a solo this year.

"I've sung since I was 3 years old in Springfield, Mo., sitting on top of an old piano. I sang 'Your Cheatin' Heart.' Shows how old I am," Lindsey said with a laugh.

As the concert wore on and the songs transitioned from spring to summer, the Silver Singers brought out summer props and costumes that made the crowd giggle like school children. A solitary old man fishing out of a bucket decorated the stage during the song "Lazy Bones," and it wasn't long before some of the singers were decked out in 1950s beach attire.

The audience clapped to the beat as the show ended, keeping perfect time with "When the Saints Go Marchin' In."

"We always, always end with 'When the Saints Go Marching In.' That's just a standard," Lindsey said.

The Silver Singers perform more than a dozen times a year at local nursing homes and private parties, but they always consider their BSD performance "The Big Show." Considering they rehearse an hour a week at the Steamboat Senior Center, they were obviously ready.

"We're not professional singers. But we love to sing," Sullivan said.


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Source: Hawk Eye, The (Burlington, IA)

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