My father was gifted with a beautiful singing voice. His voice was especially flexible in range, as he was able to sing as a tenor, baritone and bass.
He loved singing opera, and he used to sing arias in the grocery store that he owned. People came in off the street just to hear him sing.
It soon became apparent that an unusually beautiful singing voice ran in my family. My older brother Danny was a “boy soprano.” As a child I loved to hear him sing. I was so enthralled by my brother’s voice that I never even considered that I might be hiding the same musical ability.
Later, to my astonishment - and quite by accident - I learned at age 12 that I shared this same family talent. It happened like this:
At my convent boarding school, I was practicing piano in a private music room. I began to sing, thinking that nobody could hear me. All of a sudden the door flew open and in blew a nun.
I thought, “Oh, boy, am I in trouble now.”
She exclaimed, “Helen, I didn’t know you could sing!”
“I didn’t know either!” I responded, cowering.
The nun grabbed me by the arm and dragged me down the hall to her music studio. She put the sheet music to the song “Danny Boy” on the piano and said, “Sing this!”
As I sang, she was beside herself with delight. From then on, I was in every school musical and I sang at all of the assemblies.
After high school, I studied voice at the Boston Conservatory of Music for three years. There my voice developed into a coloratura soprano. This is an operative voice with an extremely high vocal range and the ability to run quickly up and down the musical scale.
At age 19, I won an audition for a musical theater show but I lacked the confidence to accept the role. My voice professor wanted to make me his protege so I could pursue a career in singing. He was devasted when I told him that I was getting married and moving to Florida.
In Florida, I sang at banquets, hotels, garden parties, weddings and funerals. I also sang weekly solos over the radio for various churches. I loved music so much that I opened my own music store at age 22. Whenever there was a lull in business, I would play the piano and sing. This always brought customers in off the street. How I loved owning and running that store.
Then I moved to California in 1951. I continued my voice lessons and to sing at weddings and funerals. I also joined the PTA Mothersingers, a larger choral group that performed all over California. The group later became known as the California Women’s Chorus.
For the next 20 years I sang in fine dining establishments during the dinner hour. My daughters loved to have elegant dinners with me and to hear me sing. They were my greatest fans.
They persuaded me to make a record album of eight show tunes and other favorite songs, including “Bless this House.” Even today, 40 years later, my girls enjoy my recording and the special memories it brings back to them.
At age 70, I joined a senior citizens’ choral group and we sang solos in nursing homes. Later, I joined another choral group. I quit singing at age 90, only because my group disbanded.
Meanwhile, my brother Danny continued a lifetime of professional singing, as I had done. AT the New England Conservatory of Music, his “boy soprano” voice developed into a magnificent dramatic tenor.
During his military service in World War II, he was assigned to Special Services as an entertainer. Then he sang in the famous Fred Waring Choral Group for 20 years.
His professional career as an operatic tenor in New York was unfortunately limited by his height. When he auditioned for stage parts, he was rejected only because, at 5 ft. 2. Inches tall, his leading lady would most certainly tower over him.
Singing has enriched my life and opened countless doors to wonderful opportunities and experiences for myself and my family. Music has been much more than a gift to us -- it has truly been a blessing.
Helen Hampton is a member of the writing class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. It is held off-campus at the Norwalk Senior Center.