By MARNIE McALLISTER
Record Assistant Editor
Twenty voices and a lively piano accompaniment delighted a local retirement community Monday night with traditional Irish airs in four-part harmony.
The Care Singers, a group of adult singers led by former music minister Kelly Cobb, visit nursing homes throughout the year, bringing varying programs that include songs from Broadway musicals, nostalgic tunes and classical selections.
Cobb is a native of Flaherty, Ky., and served as a music minister in the Archdiocese of Louisville for 43 years. At 83, she is still leading a choir,which gave a dozen concerts last year.
She began playing church music when she was 7 years old and in the second grade. Her parish, St. Martin of Tours in Flaherty, needed someone to play the organ when the parish organist fell ill. Cobb’s
father volunteered for her to play, though she had never played an organ.
“I remember they had to put two pillows under me at the organ,” Cobb recalled during an interview last week. “I couldn’t reach the pedals.”
She felt her way through that first encounter with the organ — and she’s been playing ever since. She served as a music minister and teacher at St. Leonard, St. Therese and St. Raphael churches. She has also formed many choirs over the years and taken part in others, including the Holy Name Band and Choral Club. She was the accompanist and piano soloist for that group.
Her music ministry, though, was a sideline while she raised three sons on her own and worked full time.
“Music was an outlet for me because I really worked hard in real estate,” Cobb said. “I needed beauty in my life. And in music, there is beauty.”
She also was compelled to serve, she said, because “I felt I had to give back. I never felt I earned (her musical talent), so I felt like I had to share it.”
Cobb’s affinity for music came naturally, she said.
“When I see (sheet) music, I hear it,” she explained. “I was a sophomore in high school before I realized not everyone could hear it.”
It was a gift Cobb inherited from her mother, who was from a musical family. But she never knew her mother, who died when Cobb was quite young. Cobb and her two sisters were sent to Catholic boarding school.
While at Bethlehem Academy in Bardstown, Ky., her sister Margaret contracted pneumonia and tuberculosis. It was during the flood of 1937, and because of the flooding, she couldn’t get to a hospital for medical treatment. She spent the rest of her life in sanitariums — including Waverly Hills — and later died at a nursing home, said Cobb.
Cobb said she was struck by the loneliness and lack of beauty in the lives of nursing home residents. She pledged to change that and formed The Care Singers in 1999 in honor of her sister, Margaret L. Hamilton.
“I want to bring quality music and joy” to people living in nursing homes, said Cobb, who has recently moved into a retirement community at The Forum in Eastern Jefferson County.
That’s where The Care Singers performed Monday night for an overflow crowd of about 75 people — including residents and their family members.
As The Care Singers gave a high-energy performance, the audience bobbed their heads and clapped. Some residents mouthed the lyrics until they were invited to join in singing “When Irish Eyes are Smiling.”
Among the choir members was Patti Nash, who has been singing under Cobb’s direction for 45 years.
She was in the first grade at St. Leonard School when she met Cobb, who said she recalls “discovering” Nash’s voice.
“I heard this voice, and I walked up and down the aisles (of the classroom) looking for that voice,” Cobb said during the interview last week.
Nash said after the concert on Monday that Cobb taught her to sing.
“I’ve been singing with her for 45 years,” said Nash. “She’s a second mom and a great lady. You can just see her love for music. She does great arrangements, and her songs just flow.”
She also inspires her singers to share their gifts with other people, said Nash. “It’s a tremendous ministry. When we go to Nazareth Home, they channel it through the whole community.”
The choir spends a lot of time together, too. They rehearse on most Monday nights throughout the year in Cobb’s living room.
“She’s just like she was when I was a child,” Nash added. “No talking. We’re focused on learning the music.”
The devotion the singers feel for Cobb is mutual.
“They are all so great,” Cobb said after Monday’s performance. “They are all so talented. I just gather them together to do charity. I tell them they are going to heaven this way. They’re like my kids.”
But, of course, they don’t overshadow Cobb’s actual kids. She has three adult sons who, she said, call her every day. They live out of town, but she is immensely proud of them. They are Brett Cobb, Greg Cobb and Dr. Perren Cobb.
Another choir member, Doug Pohl, who sometimes plays the class clown to Cobb’s strict school marm, said the choral group is therapeutic for its listeners and the singers.
“I watched my grandparents get old and go into nursing homes. I noticed how lonely they were,” he said. Residents of nursing homes “know these songs. They’re out there singing along, and it energizes us. It is so much fun to be here. This is my therapy.”