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Putting 'Danny Boy' to Rest

Desiree Cooper

Marc Sanchez

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A.J. and Branden
(Branden Reeves)
View the Slideshow
"Danny Boy" -- The Muppet Version
(The Muppet Show)

A.J. O'Neil: This weekend, we'll have two microphones set up. While one person or group is performing, the next group or person will be on standby. As soon as the person that is on, is finished, the next person's ready to go. And we'll do that over and over and over and over and over.

"Danny Boy" -- Cher
(Cher)

We have rock bands, we have jazz, we have swing, we have marching bands, choruses. We have a whole family of 18, ranging in age from four months old up into their 80s, all with kazoos. We have a 14-piece madrigal group of women who are going to be performing it in their own way. God help us all.

"Danny Boy" -- Keith Jarrett
(Keith Jarrett)

When my father died, looking back, I think he knew when he was going to die. He had been in and out of hospitals his entire adult life. The last night of his life, he went over to my mother's sister's house and helped them move a dishwasher. And that was one of the nights that all four of my brothers and I were playing baseball together on the same team at Lazenby Field in Berkley, Mich., which was walking distance from the house where he lived. He got to see us all play baseball that night, and he was in his glory when he got to see his sons play sports. He loved it.

My father was a good Catholic. An Irish Catholic upbringing, he went to church every Sunday, always observed all the holidays and rituals. So when he died, naturally, it was at Our Lady of La Salette Church, the church he called home. There was a full Irish funeral. In fact, the city of Berkley actually had police shut down the road for the funeral procession.

As I was growing up, my father's favorite song, or one of them, was "Danny Boy." And I would sing that song when I was practicing to learn it for a "Danny Boy" singing contest for a local radio station. I thought if there was anything my father would love, I would give him that song. When they made arrangements, the church said they'd provide an organist for me, and if I could tell them what key or what notes to sing it in, they would be able to play along with me. The organist said it would be fine. He'd wait for me to start singing, and he'd join in.

So the time came, and my father's coffin was to the right of me, and I was over by the choir. The organist was sitting, waiting to start playing, and I just started singing:

"Oh Danny Boy, the pipes the pipes are calling.
From glen to glen and down the mountain side.
The summer's gone and all the leaves have fallen.
It's you, it's you must go and I must fight.
But come ye back when summer's in the middle.
Or when the valley's flushed and white with snow.
I will be there in sunshine or in shadow.
Oh, Danny Boy, oh Danny Boy, I love you so."

And the organist didn't play. I thought, "Wow, what did I do wrong?" I looked out, and people were sniffling and crying and I had made it through without crying. I was surprised.

I asked the organist later, "Why didn't you join? What was it that I did?"

And he said, "It was too beautiful. I couldn't interrupt it. Your father would be proud."

Comments

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  • By Karen Wilhelm

    From Dearborn Heights, MI, 11/10/2008

    A book about the 2008 Danny Boy marathon is in the works and will come out in February 2009 - just in time for another Danny Boy Marathon. The book is called "In Sunlight or in Shadow" and it had contributions from more than 50 of the participants. It had turned from a fun event into an experience of community, with heart. That's what people most wanted the world to know.

    By Clark Kent

    From Detroit, MI, 03/17/2008

    At 4am this morning I stopped in at AJ's. Things were going strong. A bunch of EMO rockers experimented with incarnations of Danny Boy. Eyes glazed with caffeinated exhaustion they told they had been playing all night as needed. Before I left at 5:30am they did versions comparable to Ministry, Joy Division, Tom Waits and U2. Other acts included a gentleman with a walker who sang once then came back and played the harmonica; an Irish looking gentleman rendered a Bing Crosby version; the sound man did Chuck Berry; the video tech sang Karaoke. At 4:45am the video crew from WDIV’s Channel 4 showed up and filmed the sound man. At 5am as WWJ news radio arrived a saxophone player began tastefully playing Jazz. WWJ interviewed one of the organizers as a woman was on stage rocking out with her guitar.

    AJ - Thank you!! World record or not you have created a wonderful moment.

    By Robert Johnson

    From Livonia, MI, 03/17/2008

    I spent Sunday afternoon @ AJ's with my brother Rich Johnson and my musician buddies John Sallis, Christina Monroe, Shamra Clark and Ed Berger. It was magical! We sang a traditional Danny Boy, then a jazz, folk and blues version. What a great place . . . God Love ya AJ, Brandon, Brian and the rest of the crew!!!

    By judy caddy

    From south lyon, MI, 03/16/2008

    Our madrigal group, the Twelfth Night Singers, orinating in Royal Oak and Ferndale, sang in the marathon yesterday.....as a group, solos, duets, quartets, as a dramatic reading, with kazoos, etc. It was a most memorable day for us. Our group has been together for over 28 years and through these years we have lost people very near and dear to us....including members of the group. It was an honor for us to be able to partipate. Thanks AJ for putting this together!

    By Karen Wilhelm

    From MI, 03/16/2008

    My husband Mike just got home from AJ's (it's almost 9:00 am) and reports that the night was magic. AJ and Ted Berlinghof ran the midnight-to-dawn shift and got all sorts of different performers together in impromptu combinations, leading a whistling and bird-call version himself. AJ was there except for about a 2-hour nap and surely his father was watching along with all the other Irelanders in heaven.

    AJ has also written a book based on his forebears who fled the Irish potato famine and made their way to Northern Michigan. We hope to publish it later this year. The Danny Boy marathon will make a perfect epilog.

    Thanks for covering the story.

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