Singer John Vincent lifts seniors’ spirits one ballad at a time via nursing home ‘concerts’

Vincent, the national anthem singer for the Cubs, performs hit songs from Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra, among others, to senior citizens — the people most susceptible to COVID-19.

SHARE Singer John Vincent lifts seniors’ spirits one ballad at a time via nursing home ‘concerts’

While singer John Vincent provides hope and cheer by performing classic hits to senior citizens through nursing home “concerts” around Chicago, his heart is heavy. 

“We’re in unprecedented times where the unemployment rate is the highest since the Great Depression. When I’m singing, all of this is weighing on my head,” said Vincent. “My mind is constantly spinning, so I’ll experience waves of anxiety and happiness and sadness during one song.”

Singer John Vincent performs classic tunes to senior residents of the Lakeside Square Apartments at 920 Lakeside Place.

Singer John Vincent performs classic tunes to residents of the Lakeside Square Apartments at 920 Lakeside Place.

Annie Costabile/Sun-Times

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Vincent, a Southwest Side native and the Cubs’ resident national anthem singer since 2003, was approached by a Chicago police commander whose district is in the shadow of Wrigley Field about performing nursing home “concerts” for residents.

“The commander of the 19th District [Town Hall district commander Chris Papaioannou] said, ‘Hey John, what do you think about going to some nursing homes? We’ll have [concerts] outside where we’ll have you singing and bring some news and some happiness to people in these places — stuck in their rooms, feeling really down and really depressed during this whole pandemic.’”

While showcasing a positive mental attitude for senior citizens across the city sounded like an amazing idea, Vincent said he was initially reluctant — until he realized he’d found a way to overcome his own mental health issues by helping others. 

“I have OCD [obsessive-compulsive disorder] so, for me, it was a challenge to first go out,” said Vincent. “I was afraid. I was nervous. I was mostly staying in the house because of this [COVID-19] pandemic.

“I said to myself, if people are out there helping other people, I gotta step it up and do the same thing because at the end of the day, what’s more important — to help other people [or] live a life [in] fear?’’

Singer John Vincent performs outside the Lakeside Senior building at 920 W. Lakeside Place.

Singer John Vincent performs a mini concert outside of Lakeside Square Apartments at 920 W. Lakeside Place in Chicago.

Annie Costabile/Sun-Times

Vincent, who got his start singing Frank Sinatra’s classics at Ditka’s restaurant, boasts a repertoire of covers including “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding, “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond, “Georgia on My Mind” by Ray Charles, and “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong, among others.

“I just try to [bring] a smile to somebody’s face,” he said.

Vincent has his go-to cover ballads that move concertgoers to tears, putting them in a mind-frame where they reminisce about a loved one who’s passed away — or a song that just helps them get through a difficult time in their lives. 

In one instance, Vincent sang “Happy Birthday” to “Mary,” a 105-year-old nursing home resident who survived the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918.

“ ‘What a Wonderful World’ is the one that everybody can relate to,” said Vincent. “Because it’s talking about life, is talking about humanity. … It’s talking about everything that is the essence of life — not money, but the actual core of life.

“When I was younger, I had a lot of anger issues because I was bullied, so there were times when I probably wasn’t the nicest person to be around. As I have gotten older, I found out the only thing that matters in this life is love.”

A woman listens as singer John Vincent performs several songs outside the Lakeside Square Apartments in Chicago.

A woman listens as singer John Vincent performs several songs outside the Lakeside Square Apartments in Chicago.

Annie Costabile/Sun-Times

Vincent, who wrapped up his ninth nursing home concert earlier this week, revels in the response he receives from nursing home residents; he adheres to social distancing guidelines while belting out the hits. 

“I find it very hard to understand why kindness is not the way,” said Vincent. “I just don’t get it. I understand we’re afraid. I understand people get angry from fear and everything, but why can’t we all just come together? 

“If somebody doesn’t believe this pandemic isn’t as bad as it is, or somebody believes more than it is, at least talk — be respectful. And that should happen with everything in life; life is too f- - - ing short.”

Seniors wait outside the Lakeside Senior building at 920 Lakeside Place for singer John Vincent to begin his serenading on Wednesday afternoon.

Seniors wait outside the Lakeside Square Apartments at 920 Lakeside Place for singer John Vincent to begin his serenading on Wednesday afternoon.

Annie Costabile/Sun-Times

Vincent says that a pandemic shouldn’t be the thing that prompts people to be kinder to one another. He has a staunch belief that kindness should be top of mind for everyone, every day.

“We should be doing that all the time, with or without a pandemic,” said Vincent. “We need to get everybody’s love and respect, and if that means going [to] nursing homes to sing to people and make people smile, or just having common decency for your fellow human being, it all comes down to the same thing: love.”

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