Arts & Culture · Music

Women of Reinvention: Grace Haggerty—“I Didn’t Want to Have Any Regrets in My Life”

1275188911_ebc291d8f4_zGrace Haggerty dreamed of becoming a singer. Then came the night she was summoned to the piano . . .   Image from Flickr via

“You’re in your fifties and all grown up,” Grace Haggerty reflects, “And then you decide, ‘Let me try this . . .’”

What she tried, in her fifties, was singing—for the public. Like many of us, she’d dreamed of doing that, but Grace has never been the performing type. She was not the kid always onstage in the school auditorium, belting out songs in musicals and school talent shows. She sang only for the joy of it— “around my good friends.”

“When I was young, I would go into my basement and just hang there all day long, listening to Frank Sinatra and Mitch Miller and Barbra Streisand and singing along,” she says. “I didn’t play with dolls; I’d just listen to music. And, from upstairs, the sounds coming from the piano: My father would sit down every night when he came home from work and play all the standards. I got that vibe from him. His playing inspired me to play the piano—that is, teach myself chords for the left hand, to accompany singing.”

She grew up, married Gregg Haggerty (they’ve been married for 30 years), has three children, and spends most of her working life running the office of their hardware business, Stanley Supply & Tool, in Long Island City, New York.

It was an unexpected challenge at a dinner party some five years ago that finally jolted Grace into taking singing seriously.

 “Gregg and I went to a party at a restaurant, the Crescent Beach Club in Bayville, New York, a few years ago,” she says. “I was seated next to the restaurant owner, Jim Scoroposki. In the background was a stream of wonderful sound . . . a medley of standards by a really accomplished piano player. I was just making chitchat, and I said, ‘I love these standards; I’ve been singing them since I was a child. When I was younger I always wanted to be a singer, but I never pursued it.’

“The next thing I know, my name is on the loudspeaker: ‘Grace Haggerty, come to the piano.’

“I went up to the piano reluctantly, but I went: You couldn’t say no to Jim; he was larger than life. I told the piano player, Robert Lepley, “I haven’t sung in maybe 30 years; only in my car.” He was a lovely person, and he figured out my keys right away. We decided to do “My Funny Valentine” and “Foggy Day” and “Where or When.” (Grace’s voice is a mellow alto. Asked to characterized it, she is slightly at a loss; all she can say is, “People tell me it’s sultry.”)

The next year, Gregg and Grace were invited to the very same party, and Gregg warned his wife that she’d better be prepared to be called up to the piano again. So she got in touch with Lepley, who is a composer, arranger, studio musician, and music educator. “We worked together for a few weeks, getting some songs down. I sang at the party and got a lot of good feedback—it kind of built my confidence a little bit. That’s what was lacking—the confidence to move forward.

“Moving forward” meant, for Grace, taking her singing seriously. She made a few practice recordings at Tiki Recording Studios in Glen Cove, Long Island, encouraged by Lepley and also by Fred Guarino, the studios’ owner. But she knew she needed voice training, so she auditioned for, and was accepted by, New York vocal coach Don Laurence. “I worked with him for maybe eight months, and he was a fantastic mentor. Then I got pneumonia, and I stopped singing for another few years. And that made such a void in my soul,” she says, “because I had started to open up this flower within myself, and then it was gone.

“I didn’t want to have any regrets in my life, so I said to myself, ‘Let me call Robert Lepley and go back to the studio again.’ I decided to make a CD—something generic, like a Christmas album.”

Self-producing an album, she knew, would be a major financial commitment. But she relished the producing process—the singing, of course, but also the chance to decide on arrangements and work with professional musicians. “Three hours in the studio felt like 20 minutes,” she says. “I was learning something new every day.”

And—recording newbie though she was—Grace was a hands-on producer. “I had Robert write the arrangements for the songs I wanted to do—nine popular standards like ‘White Christmas.’ Then I decided to re-record some of the vocals, and I wanted to change the feel of the CD. So I brought a fabulous guitar player, Ray Matuza, into it and told him, “Play what you feel.”

She started out with “a basic quartet—guitar/bass/piano/drums,” but her desire for a certain “chill, mellow tone” had her layering her vocal tracks with violins, cello, viola, piano, a horn section, an organ, a flugelhorn, drums, guitar, a saxophone, and a bass.

And how would a newbie like Grace know where to find good instrumentalists? She had Tiki studio owner Fred Guarino to guide her. “He really moved things along. He knew the right people to call to get the layers I wanted on this CD. In fact, he brought in Mauro Refosco, percussionist from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, for the album. I thank Fred for pushing me into this.”

The project took eight months. “What do I do now?” Grace asked herself when it was over. She got some CDs made. Someone suggested that she drop one off at local Long Island radio station WHLI. “The same day we dropped it off, in late November, I got a call from Paul Richards, the program director and morning announcer,” she says. “He said that he got my album, listened to it, and was adding four of the nine tracks to the WHLI Christmas rotation.  The very next day I heard myself on the radio! It was numbing. I was so excited! I never expected that!”

Now that the Christmas album’s done, Grace has found another project. Fred Guarino took the rough cut of the album to conductor/arranger/accordionist Angelo DiPippo, who liked Grace’s voice and is now writing the arrangements for a new Grace Haggerty CD—popular standards like “My Funny Valentine,” “Bewitched,” and “You Go to My Head.”

It was a piece of midlife good fortune—that dinner-party summons to the piano—that sparked Grace’s musical journey. “But what happened next wasn’t magical,” she says firmly. “I decided to put one foot in front of the other and do this. I think I made it happen when I said that I didn’t want to have regrets in my life. Things have dropped into place, and I’ve embraced them.

“I wasn’t sure I had something that someone would want to listen to, but that fear subsided, and I decided that whether or not someone liked it or someone didn’t like it, I had to do it for myself. I had to finish it. I had to do something, and that’s why I wanted to do a real album.

“I think I was waiting all these years to feel acceptance,” she muses. “I’m still learning how to accept the compliments I receive on the voice. I have a lot of support from my husband and my father (my mother has passed away.)” As for her children’s reaction to Grace’s reinvention, daughter Alexis says, “I am so proud of my mom for pursuing her dream. Singing is her passion, but she’s always put family and work first, so I’m glad she is taking time for herself and doing something that makes her happy and fulfilled. “

Grace’s advice to Women’s Voices readers:If you have a passion, follow it. My father told me, ‘You have the ability to do anything you put your mind to,’ and that has inspired me to always strive for more. If you have a dream, you can make it come true.”

31uWINyRrjLGrace Haggerty’s album, Merry Christmas Darling, is available as a CD from Amazon and is previewable and downloadable from CDBaby.

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Join the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • Susanna Gaertner December 29, 2014 at 4:06 pm

    What an illuminating tale to take with us into the new year. A little bit of luck, a lot of courage, willingness to accept help when offered…good advice for us all.
    Thanks, Deb, for this inspirational story!

    Reply
  • hillsmom December 28, 2014 at 9:51 am

    A lovely story which is especially appreciated this time of year. Kudos to Grace and more for what seems to be a fantastic selection of standards. Can’t wait to hear them.

    Reply
  • Diane Dettmann December 23, 2014 at 6:17 pm

    What a wonderful story of pursing your passion no matter where you are in life! Thank you Deborah for sharing Grace Haggerty’s bliss journey! We’re never too old follow our dreams. Wishing everyone a wonderful 2015!

    Reply
  • Toni Myers December 23, 2014 at 1:04 pm

    Thanks so much for inspiring me yet again with your Women of Reinvention series…makes me think…what will I reinvent about myself in the New Year?

    Reply