Back in March, Sen. Ted Kennedy’s family and friends organized a private 77th birthday gala for him, appropriately held at the Kennedy Center in DC. It was a star-studded affair. Bill Cosby was master of ceremonies, and all of Kennedy’s favorite Irish tenors and Broadway crooners showed up to serenade him. (Apparently, Kennedy was such a huge fan of show tunes and Irish music that his wife gave him singing lessons a few years back so he could better belt out Wild Irish Rose, a video of which was presented during the event.) President Obama made a surprise appearance as the grand finale.
I was there as part of the community gospel choir doing some back up numbers and performing the big rousing patriotic tribute to Kennedy at the end. The man who organized the choir and composed the tribute to Kennedy was the incredibly talented young African-American minister Rev. Nolan Williams, the music minister of the Metropolitan Baptist Church in DC. Kennedy and his wife Vicki had befriended Williams a few years ago after Kennedy asked Williams to accompany him on his regular visits to Walter Reed Army Medical Center to help bolster the spirits of the wounded troops.
Williams told us during one choir practice that he and Kennedy had been making these visits for several years, which was one reason Kennedy’s family had tapped Williams to choreograph the big gospel production at Kennedy’s birthday party. What I found touching about the story was that Williams said Kennedy’s visits to Walter Reed were never publicized. The country’s most famous senator regularly went to the run-down military hospital without the cameras to show his support for the people who had fought in a war he never supported. It was an authentic expression of patriotism and seemed to say a lot about who Kennedy was and why he will be so so sorely missed in American political life.