Catonsville music fans enjoy Olde Golde

Two-man band from Catonsville travels region bringing music to seniors

For Catonsville residents Jim Blackwell and Larry Stauffer, playing music together at Catonsville United Methodist Church wasn't enough. The pair wanted to take their talents out into the community. They wanted to bring their music to people who might not have much opportunity to catch a live musical performance. So, more than seven years ago, they formed the two-man band, Olde Golde.

"We just decided we liked it, and people enjoyed it," said Stauffer, a 75-year-old occasional church soloist who takes the lead on the microphone.

He and Blackwell, 82, the band's keyboardist and a former Baltimore County public schools music teacher, make up Olde Golde, a traveling band that tours the region's numerous senior centers and residential facilities, performing well-known songs that topped charts decades ago.

For Blackwell, music has been a major part of his life since childhood. The Anne Arundel County native began playing instruments when he was 8 and never stopped. A Peabody Preparatory alumni, he studied organ and keyboard in college. After college, he taught music in Baltimore County schools for 34 years and spent 36 years as choir director and organist at his church. In addition to playing with Olde Golde, and another church band, Blackwell still substitutes on the organ whenever the church needs a musician.

"I think it's good for my mind, as well as my fingers," Blackwell said of continuing to play music on a regular basis.

Stauffer, a 1957 graduate of Catonsville High School and retired Social Security Administration employee, didn't receive a formal music education until adulthood. Growing up, he often sang around the piano while his mother and older sister played almost every night, he said. But he never took any classes in singing until a fellow CUMC choir member offered him lessons and told him he had talent and should pursue some solos with the choir. From there, he was hooked.

Both active church members, Blackwell and Stauffer connected through CUMC's XYZ senior club. Outside regular group gatherings and events, and with the sponsorship of the church, they decided to begin a singing group of their own to travel the region and help spread some happiness into the lives of local seniors.

Since 2007, Stauffer and Blackwell have performed at dozens of nursing homes, assisted living facilities and senior centers, traveling as far as Sykesville to perform their hour-long program.

Most years, they perform about two shows a month at sites like the Arbutus Senior Center, the Catonsville Senior Center, Paradise Assisted Living and Milford Manor Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Pikesville.

The band, they say, helps them give back to the community.

"Well, we love the music," Stauffer said on why they continue to perform. And "to see the smiles on the faces."

"Shows are simply about the beauty and joy of great old songs," Stauffer said, noting that the pair does not charge any money for the shows or incorporate much talk of any kind about religion. "We do this as a free music ministry."

As for the name, he jokes, "I just grabbed it out of the air, because we're old and the music we do is gold, and then put the "e" on each end to make it look more old, I guess."

On a recent Thursday afternoon, the pair traveled to HeartLands Senior Living in Ellicott City to perform some show tunes for a crowd of more than 30 residents and aides.

Starting off with "Give My Regards to Broadway," they played a set full of popular Broadway songs.

Before each song, Stauffer gave the audience a description of the song and its history, along with an occasional joke or story.

Though the crowd started out relatively quiet, by the end of the hour-long program, most residents were singing along with Stauffer as he performed classics such as "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning" and "A Bushel and a Peck." By the last song, residents were still wandering into the room just to catch at least a few minutes' worth of songs.

For Helen Moros, a HeartLands resident who attended the performance, the show was just what she needed.

"I know all the words," she said, as she sang along with Stauffer from the back of the room. "I love to sing."

She said she attends every music-themed event HeartLands hosts, no matter what the genre, but she especially enjoys performances by Olde Golde.

"I love music," she said. "To me, it's home."

Stauffer and Blackwell said they like to pick a theme and design a set of songs that embrace that theme every year, they said.

In past years, Olde Golde has performed classic love songs and hits from the 1940s.

The past two years have been devoted to Broadway tunes. Not only do the seniors at their performances like the songs and know most of the words, but Stauffer and Blackwell themselves are big fans of show tunes as well, they said. For many of the songs they played, Stauffer would offer bits of history about it, such as the number of weeks it spent at the top of the charts.

In introducing, "On the Street Where You Live," from the musical "My Fair Lady," Stauffer told the audience he could relate to the song. "When I was a young man, I used to drive by my girlfriend's house," he said to the laughing seniors in the HeartLands lobby. "She never caught me, and I guess it worked out because she ended up marrying me."

Blackwell says the response is usually a little more lively at senior centers and assisted living facilities than at nursing homes, where residents are sometimes less engaged.

But, he notes, "Nobody says, 'Don't come back.'"

The music helps keep both Blackwell and Stauffer feeling young, they said. "I like trying to keep my ability up," Blackwell said.

And lifting the keyboard, speakers and other equipment in and out of the car twice a month doesn't hurt either.

On June 23 at 1:30 p.m., Olde Golde will perform for the first time at Brightview Rolling Hills, the new senior community that opened earlier this spring on South Rolling Road.

After that, they will likely begin work on another performance set. They're toying with the idea of something involving "Les Misérables," Stauffer said, but no decisions have been made yet.

"It's got to be something familiar," Blackwell said," and beautiful."

"I'm singing these songs in my sleep, on my way to work," Stauffer said.

The time and date of the band's show at Brightview Rolling Hills has been updated.

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