In the early ’70s, the Brothers Gibson were in demand in Newark.
Before they reached high school, Kevin and Keith Gibson had performed with Leonard Bernstein, recorded a Coke commercial and appeared in Ebony magazine. They even sang for the Pope.
“He was short, wore red shoes and was very pleasant. He came to each one of us, gave us a gold medallion. We had to kneel and kiss the ring,” said Keith, now an environmental services supervisor at Somerset Medical Center.
The memories flooded back on Monday, at a lunchtime holiday concert by the Newark Boys Chorus at the Morristown Medical Center. The show was presented by the hospital and Mended Hearts, an organization that reassures patients facing cardiac surgery.
Kevin and Keith Gibson had sung with the chorus during their middle-school years and it changed their lives.
“I learned about other cultures at age 12 and 13,” said Kevin, supervisor of environmental services at Morristown Medical Center. “I learned to be an adult.”
“We became stronger men,” added his brother.
‘THE VIENNA BOYS CHOIR IS FIRED’
Established in 1969, the private Newark Boys Chorus School offers music tutoring to fourth- and fifth-grade “apprentices.” Forty-eight boys in grades six through eight sing in the chorus, which performs around the world.
Many of the boys hail from disadvantaged families and receive scholarships to defray the $3,000 annual tuition, said Donald Morris, the school’s music director since the mid-1990s. The boys get a full load of academic courses along with music instruction every day. They also are coached on etiquette and serve as ambassadors for the school wherever they perform.
A highlight of Monday’s lunchtime concert was Remember Me Wherever You Go, a South African song that concluded with the boys serenading audience members in the aisles of the hospital’s Malcolm Forbes Theater.
The discipline required to produce such sweet sounds keeps these kids on the straight and narrow, Donald said.
“Most of them get into very good high schools,” he said.
When the Gibsons were choir members, Harry Belafonte and Shirley Chisholm were trustees. The boys recorded with Roberta Flack and met Moms Mabley. Kevin remembers sizing up British talk show host David Frost, who was dating Diahann Carroll at the time.
Although the Vienna Boys Choir was more famous, the Gibsons were reminded at a recent reunion–also attended by former choir member Enrico Crocker, from the Morristown hospital’s security department–that Leonard Bernstein preferred them.
The great composer had prepared a piece for the Vienna ensemble to perform for Pope Paul at the Vatican. But after hearing the boys from Newark, he changed his mind.
“‘The Vienna Boys Choir is fired. The Newark Boys Choir is in,” Leonard said, as Keith remembers it.
Leonard Bernstein was “passionate, focused, a genius. We were like his children. We sang the way he wrote the material,” Keith said.
LISTEN UP, COCA-COLA!
In those days, the chorus did a two-and-a-half-hour show, From Renaissance to Rock, complete with four costume changes. The boys’ repertoire ranged from Bach and Beethoven to Simon & Garfunkel.
Many of today’s inner city youths dream of NBA careers; the Gibsons’ passion always was singing. They sang on street corners, and at every family and neighborhood function.
“We were the Jackson 5 of the projects,” Kevin said. “If the neighborhood was having a party, it was always, ‘Send the Gibson Boys!’”
All these years later, they still have the magic. After the auditorium cleared out on Monday, Enrico Crocker launched into a beautiful opera number. And the Gibson Boys reprised a TV jingle instantly recognizable to ears of a certain age:
I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony/ I’d like to buy the world a Coke, and keep it company…
Are you listening, Coca-Cola?
The Newark Boys Chorus alumni are ready when you are.