59: The Alliance Singers

59: The Alliance Singers

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Spirit of America

The Alliance Singers

It always seems impossible until it’s done.

~Nelson Mandela

Joined together by fate, The Alliance Singers came into being from the aftermath of September 11, 2001. During the first forty-eight hours that followed that horrific event, I started making phone calls to my neighbors. I felt the need to “do something.” But what? No one knew what was happening — except that we needed each other to lend support to the families waiting to hear the fate of their loved ones and the fate of our country’s future.

Two days later we managed to pull together a group of local residents and formed The Alliance of Neighbors, an all-volunteer organization to establish emotional and financial support for the families and the community. But we still needed a forum in addition to the street fair we had planned. The director of The Count Basie Theater in Red Bank, New Jersey offered us two nights to hold a benefit concert yet there were only weeks to prepare. Putting on my managerial hat, I became one of the founders of the organization, concert producer, and street fair director. It was the most flying by the seat of my pants I’d ever done!

Once word got out, music icons Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi were the first to sign up, followed by Felix Cavalieri, Joe Ely, Joan Jett, and Kevin Smith — to name a few. While scrambling to cover all the details, I was faced with another last minute challenge when music director Gary Tallent urged: “We need backup singers for these acts. I know YOU can sing, so see if you can pull ten more people together for rehearsal — for the day after tomorrow.”

Slightly panicked, I ran to the first place I thought of: The Pilgrim Baptist Church, where I pleaded with musical director Jesse Moorer to “gather some voices (and they have to sound good with mine) and be at my house tomorrow night at 7:00.” This was to be the first meeting of many.

As promised, the singers appeared and raised their voices in harmony for the various performers of the concert and became what is now known as The Alliance Singers. Our concert was also broadcast live on Comcast and we raised a million dollars for assistance to the families and established an educational fund for the survivors’ children.

Weeks after the successful concert madness, I received another phone call. This time it was Terry Magovern, Springsteen’s tour director, requesting a smaller group from the original to appear with Bruce for a week of holiday concerts at Convention Hall. I called Jesse again, and he arrived at rehearsal with Antonio Lawrence, Michelle Moore, and Antoinette Moore to join in the festivities where we performed with Bruce’s guests Bruce Hornsby, Elvis Costello, and Sam Moore of Sam and Dave. “Soul Man” almost literally brought down the house because Convention Hall was in such a state of disrepair! It was electrifying and also hilarious to have Danny DeVito as the show’s MC.

Months later, on a snowy Sunday afternoon, I was once again called by Terry, who asked if the singers wouldn’t mind working on some new material with Bruce.

Then another stunning moment arrived in June when I was phoned by Springsteen’s management company informing me that the four cuts they recorded earlier that year would be included on Bruce’s next album, The Rising. The management company wanted to be sure all of our names were spelled correctly. Trying to act cool — as if this sort of thing happened to me every day — I could barely control my excitement! This was to become a Grammy Award-winning album.

I had studied music at the University of Miami and Carnegie Hall, auditioned for dozens of shows, and cut an album that got some recognition, but I still had to keep my day job in publishing. But this? This was the validation that someone — and not just anyone — recognized my talent in this very tough, competitive business. The songs are “Mary’s Place,” “My City of Ruins,” “Let’s Be Friends,” and “The Rising.” Some of these tracks are also included in The Essential Bruce Springsteen CD. The film Jersey Girl also featured the entire track of “My City of Ruins.”

More concerts with Bruce ensued, including an acoustic version of “My City of Ruins” for the Today Show, where Matt Lauer exclaimed, “They lit up the room!”

Invitations for additional performances followed as the opener for The Garden State Film Festival, The Red Bank Jazz Orchestra in a live performance on NPR, and a private concert for the entire cast and crew of the HBO Series The Wire.

A few years later, I received a phone call one afternoon from the producer of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. She asked if the backup singers from The Rising would be interested in doing a bit on the show — that same day! We scrambled and made our way to New York and subsequently appeared on four additional episodes, earning an Emmy nomination and garnering us the title of “Official/Unofficial Gospel Choir.” When Jon wrapped up his tenure as host, a special called The Best of The Daily Show featured us again as the fans voted one of our bits as “Best Smack Down.”

We decided to cut a song to use as an audition piece, and to see if we could get some airplay. A spiritual from the early 1800s, “Wayfaring Stranger” was our first recording as a solo group. Its unique jazz-gospel spin on this timeless classic made it hip, smooth, and very “cool,” which earned us a Top 75 position on the International Gospel Train Radio Charts.

Life can bring you the most incredible experiences. Five people who had never worked together — some of us hadn’t even met before 9/11 — had some remarkable experiences together. Jesse and I often joke that we are the poster children for “you never know.”

When fellowship and compassion meet with determination, remarkable things can happen.

~Corinda Carfora

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