More than 500,000 people have died in the U.S. from COVID-19 since the pandemic hit this country and the world just over a year ago. NPR is remembering some of those who lost their lives by listening to the music they loved and hearing their stories. We're calling our tribute Songs Of Remembrance.
The song "Music, Music, Music," as sung by Teresa Brewer, was released in late 1949 and topped the charts in 1950 when my mom, Margaret, was 19 turning 20. During the last few years of her life, she and I listened to it as we walked, visited, or just sat and enjoyed the view at her nursing home. She often recalled and laughed at her incredulity as a young woman at the racy parts ("I'd do anything for you, anything you'd want me to ... ") of which she couldn't believe would be lyrics in a song, let alone a top hit. She'd also describe the long ago scene when she and her contemporaries were at the local Soda Fountain on a Saturday night. She told of being dressed up with her girlfriends and wishing to dance a bit with the handsome Jimmy Messner, my dad. They'd all be hopeful that someone would have another nickel to put in the nickelodeon, or jukebox, so they could keep dancing, which is the main theme and chorus of the song. Being that a seat at the movies was 11 cents, a 5 cent song was appreciated by the whole crowd. This song encapsulated her youth in a unique way that allowed her to remember that brief period of her life throughout her remaining 70 years.
In her later years my mom developed dementia. Some days were harder than others, and on the hard days when nothing clicked, I could see she was still there with help from this song. On days when she didn't recognize anyone and my conversation attempts fell flat, we were able to still connect through this song. Once I played "Music, Music, Music," she would perk up as she sang along, tapping her leg to the beat. She and I were born with the worst singing voices ever, and she taught me from a young age to basically lip-sync in public in order to hide it as she herself did. However with dementia, she fortunately forgot what bad voices we had, so we were both free to sing out loud — and loudly at that — along with Teresa Brewer during my twice-weekly visits to her nursing home. Once she tired of it and asked me, "Do you think they'll ever change this song?"
For me, the song was a window to her former life that I could only imagine. It unlocked the young Margaret I never knew who had a crush on the handsome Jimmy Messner.
As COVID-19 took hold of Margaret and her condition deteriorated, we had a few FaceTime calls with her since she was in isolation. Eventually, she responded to little of what my family and I said, which was heartbreaking. During one of the last calls, my daughter, who has a beautiful singing voice, sang this song to her a cappella. For a brief moment, Margaret lit up and smiled. I could see she was still there. —Kristy Kutz, daughter Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.