Three Generations Singing: 87-year-old Promotes Family and Faith through YouTube Channel

In Community, Julia Pettiette Doolin, Louisiana Ladies by Lola Magazine

Mom was born in a small town in Minnesota during the Great Depression. The year was 1931. If you know a bit about Hollywood trivia, you are likely aware that Shirley Temple was a child movie star during the 1930s. Shirley Temple movies were quite popular due to her talent, but also because the movies gave people joy during a time when conditions were somewhat dismal.

Why do I bring up Shirley Temple? My mom was also a child prodigy as far as musical talent goes. In fact, Mom performed as a Shirley Temple look-alike. Beginning at the age of four, Mom tap danced and sang her way across the stage at numerous talent shows and events. In addition to receiving vocal and dance instruction, she studied the piano and organ. During her teen-age years, Mom sang with big band groups at various resorts. As a young adult, she auditioned for the Metropolitan Opera.

Mom earned her degree in music education from the Minneapolis School of Music. And, that’s where she met my dad – a handsome young man attending school on the GI bill. He was from the great state of Texas and a talented musician in his own right. Mom decided to give up her dreams of a stage life and chose to marry and raise a family of six children instead.

Fast forward many years later…Mom is now 87 years old. She is a grandmother of 15 and a great-grandmother of three (soon to be four). She remains an accomplished vocalist and pianist, although she is not doing much tap dancing these days. Our family is quite musical, and my mom and I often perform together. A couple of years ago, I made a home recording of us singing “Amazing Grace.” Just for fun, I put the song on YouTube. I was amazed at the response. We actually heard from someone in France who had watched and enjoyed the video.

Shortly after that, I asked my son, Sean, if he would record “Hallelujah” with Grandma. I wanted this video to be of professional quality, so I contacted my friends at Young Pros Entertainment. At the beginning of the recording, Sean announced our group as three generations of family members singing together. From that moment on, we have been known as “Three Generations Singing.” I posted the “Hallelujah” video on Facebook and YouTube, and we quickly reached over 10,000 views. A few weeks later, my daughter, Kelleen, asked to make a recording with Grandma. Kelleen chose a song called “River” which was written by contemporary artist, Leon Bridges. The song is unique, because it is in the popular genre but is also deeply spiritual. The three of us recorded the song, and once again, I was quite surprised at the response.

So, I began to wonder…Would people other than our relatives actually care to watch these videos? Is there something special about a great-grandmother having a YouTube channel? And, finally, could this be God’s perfect timing to have my mom return to the stage (albeit a cyber stage) at the age of 87?

During the past year, we have published over 30 videos on the channel – some are of professional quality and some are simply recorded from a cell phone. Our biggest endeavor thus far was to record a Christmas video with as many family members as possible. The end product is our rendition of the Pentatonix arrangement of “Away in a Manger.” This selection includes the great-grandchildren and represents four generations of family members performing together. As noted in the YouTube caption, it is “guaranteed to make you smile.” Soon, we will post “King of the Road” which also features four generations of performers and is doubly guaranteed to make you smile as the two-year-olds in the group attempt to sit still long enough to sing on cue.

People often ask me if I have a favorite recording. Each video is special in some way and each clearly conveys the importance of FAMILY. But I think there is a unique charm about “Dream a Little Dream of Me.” In this number, my mom accompanies Kelleen and plays a fantastic jazz piano solo. Mom is quite particular about her pianos and she had made up her mind about the type of piano she wanted to use for this Cass Elliott classic. She scoured the city of Shreveport to find a piano that had just the right tone. Eventually, she located a 100-year-old piano at the home of some friends of ours. Our friends were willing to accommodate us, so we went on location to shoot the video. I have to admit the extra effort was worth it.

“Tears in Heaven” is another very special video, as we recorded this song with a family friend who was in a musical group that my mom had founded when we were kids growing up in Dixie, Louisiana. And, more recently, Mom and I made a recording with my cousin who traveled in from Austin, Texas, just to participate in this project. We chose “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” as a backdrop for us to offer a military tribute to our family members who have served and to all who serve. This video tugs at my heart strings when I watch it.

Sometimes I am asked to clarify my ultimate plan for the channel – what am I trying to accomplish? The answer is threefold: Clearly, the memories we are making are priceless. (As I often tell my kids, there are millions of talented singers out there, but how many are singing with their 87-year-old grandmother?) Secondly, I honestly believe that this channel brings joy to others. And, thirdly, the more I am able to get traffic to the channel, the more I am able to promote other important causes. For example, I am also using the channel as a platform to tell the inspirational story of a friend who is a Stage IV breast cancer survivor. (See “Miss Bettye’s Story” and “You Have to Trust the Detours.”)

Whatever the end result, my mom and I are having an absolute blast making these videos. If you have a moment, please view a few of our recordings. Even better, please consider subscribing to the channel. Help us to continue to promote the message of family and faith as an 87-year-old jumps into the world of YouTube.