When Bob Cilman and Judith Sharpe organized the Young@Heart Chorus in 1982, all of the chorus members lived in a housing project for the elderly in Northampton, Massachusetts called the Walter Salvo House. The first group included seniors who had lived through both World War I and World War II. One member, Anna Main, who lost her husband in World War I, sang with the chorus until she turned 100, an event celebrated with a parade in downtown Northampton. This initial group also included “Diamond” Lillian Aubrey participated in two European tours and wowed audiences with her deadpan version of Manfred Mann’s “Doo Wah Diddy.” In later years, she appeared on stage via video, performing the Rolling Stones song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”
In 1983, Roy Faudree from No Theater helped the chorus stage their first production, Stompin’ at the Salvo, which sold out four times and brought more members to the group, including Eileen Hall, Warren Clark, and Ralph Intorcio. Warren took on the persona of Sophie Tucker, a popular vaudevillian stage performer, and Ralph did a send-up of Carol Channing’s “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” Eileen was born and raised in London, and brought an array of different routines, including strip, mime, and the song “Nobody Loves a Fairy When She’s ... Ninety.” Young@Heart combined these performances with a group of Latino breakdancers from another local housing project in the show Boola Boola Bimini Bop, the first of many collaborations created with different arts groups in town, including Oh No a Condo (1988), with Cambodian folk artists and punk rockers; Louis Lou I — A Revolting Musical (1991), a retelling of the French Revolution using the songs of Frank Sinatra; and Flaming Saddles (1994), with the Pioneer Valley Gay Men’s Chorus.
Road to Heaven, staged by No Theater, was the first production featuring only members of the chorus. Initially created for the 1997 R Festival in Rotterdam — the festival’s theme that year was “Forever Young” — the production went on to tour Europe, Australia, and Canada 12 more times between 1997 and 2004.
Road to Nowhere, a production staged by No Theater, premiered in 2004 in Rotterdam and later toured Zurich, Berlin, Dublin, Angers, and Strasbourg after a 12-show run in London in 2005 (where Director Stephen Walker first saw them). In July 2009, End of the Road premiered at the Manchester International Festival in Manchester, England and was also performed in Belgium and Rotterdam, with upcoming performances in Los Angeles and New York City. Alive and Well is a concert production that features both songs from past shows as well as new music. The chorus has performed Alive and Well in venues in the U.S. and Europe, and will tour Japan in March 2010.
In 2007, the chorus released their CD Mostly Live. The current performers in Young@Heart range in age from 73 to 89. Some have prior professional theater or music experience, others have performed extensively on the amateur level, and some never stepped onto a stage before turning 80. None of the current performers of Young@Heart were part of the original group that formed in 1982, but they have kept alive the spirit of the early pioneers and continue to push the group into new directions.