The Beautiful Blend Of Ballads on the Night Bus
I had just gotten out of my cabaret class on East 52nd Street and waited impatiently on a cold and windy April evening for my bus. No. 101, I think, or was it the No. 102? Anyway, it came, and I hopped on, sliding into the best seat in the house, front right, just opposite the driver.
I was singing softly when I looked up and noticed the bus driver smiling at me. "I like your hat," he said (it was denim and sunflowers).
"You do? Thanks!"
The driver had a contented expression on his face. "What's the name of that song?" he asked.
I replied, "Embraceable You," by George and Ira Gershwin.
"I'd like to learn it," he said.
I sang a line, and then he echoed me, phrase by phrase. A few people near the front - two women and a grinning man - seemed to welcome the "singing lesson."
The second time around, "Joe" - that's how I'll refer to the driver - sang the whole song by himself, just about note and letter perfect. Two others shyly joined in, and a couple more looked as though they'd like to sing, too.
"You have a really good voice," I said. "You should be singing - at least with a group."
"Oh, I do," Joe replied. "I'm a gospel singer!"
I told him I'd done some gospel work a few years back. "Do you know the song, 'I Believe'?" I asked.
"Yeah, I think so."
"It was my 'special.' I never got home with less than five choruses."
Somewhere along the way the bus stopped, the door opened, and a girl - obviously an artist - got on and struggled to a seat next to mine, dropping many art materials in her amazement at our "concert."
She was grinning from ear to ear and said: "It would make my evening complete if I could hear 'Amazing Grace'."
I nodded "go" to the driver, and he sang it - with most of the smiling passengers joining in. The girl thanked us profusely as she happily gathered her belongings and got off the bus somewhere around 90th Street. We had been singing practically nonstop since 52nd Street, and at this point the forever-grinning man across the aisle got up and took the artist's seat.
"Great, beautiful! I love it!" he exclaimed.
When we were not too far from the last stop, I decided on a grand finale, "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" - a well-known group folk song, almost a spiritual where everybody contributes to the lyrics.
For example, one may start with "He's got you and me, brother, in his hands" or, "He's got the lil' tiny baby in his arms," etc. We closed with, "He's got dear old Joe in His arms!" Nobody needs any nudging once this song takes hold. Everyone joins in.
I am sure we would have liked to slow down the bus, to come to a stop and just sing; but I could see from watching Joe that he was not up to schedule! So those of us who were still aboard obediently got off at 96th Street - the last stop - with smiles from everyone, enthusiastic thanks, and - yes - even a tear here and there.