Columbia’s WKCR Launches ‘New York Sings Along’ With Local Choir

The performance was conceived and organized by members of the all-volunteer Peace of Heart Choir as the first-ever, 100 percent social-distanced, city-wide sing-along.

Robert Hornsby
April 21, 2020

Every night at 7:00 pm New Yorkers have come to expect the sound of clapping and cheers to ring out across the city as a well-earned thank you to frontline workers. Then last Thursday the applause gave way to singing as thousands of people across the city, the U.S. and the world performed Frank Sinatra’s classic, “Theme from New York, New York.” They sang from their apartment windows, their terraces and even the sidewalks. WKCR (89.9 FM), Columbia University’s 75-year-old campus radio station, broadcast the song live on-air and via a live stream on its website.

The performance, “New York Sings Along,” was conceived and organized by members of the all-volunteer Peace of Heart Choir as the first-ever, 100 percent social-distanced, city-wide sing-along. WKCR was joined by WBAI (99.5 FM), another independent station, in coordinating the broadcast and expects to make it a regular feature at exactly 7:02 pm every Thursday when “Clap Because We Care” ends.

“While so many of us are sheltering in place, other New Yorkers tirelessly fight the global pandemic and help maintain essential services, laboring in the city’s hospitals, restaurants, supermarkets, bodegas, subways, buses and more,” said Andrew Dykeman, co-chairman of Peace of Heart Choir. “We cannot gather as we normally do, but as choir members, we know that singing brings people together.”

On Thursday, April 23, the choir will lead the sing-along in a rendition of Bill Withers’ 1972 hit, “Lean on Me.” For April 30, they've chosen another appropriate classic, Ben E. King's "Stand By Me." Both songs are good reminders of the group’s origins. In 2001, Columbia Professor Mindy Thompson Fullilove, a research psychiatrist at New York State Psychiatric Institute and a professor of clinical psychiatry and public health, commissioned the choir’s first song as a class assignment to help New Yorkers recovering from the trauma of 9/11. They debuted at the “Rally for Recovery” in Washington Square Park that November.

“New York has the power to heal us all,” said Dr. Fullilove. “I hope that the NYC RECOVERS Choir in its current incarnation can awaken us to that hope.”

Over time, the nascent choral group evolved into the current Peace of Heart Choir, whose 50 members perform dozens of free concerts at hospitals, shelters and other social service providers across New York City annually.

The choir’s sprit of service is one reason that WKCR agreed to the broadcast. “Now that the quarantine is settling in along with the strange mix of cabin fever and breath-holding unease at the larger situation of the virus, initiatives like “New York Sings Along” help people remember that we're all in this together,” said Jeremiah Gabriel Aviles (GS’21), WKCR’s station manager. “WKCR is proud to be able to take part.”

As New Yorkers continue to shelter in place the sing-along will offer a space where people can safely come together. “This is our way of sparking a greater sense of community, while still maintaining appropriate physical distance,” said Dykeman. “We can raise our voices together to honor those who risk their lives every day to keep us safe and cared for. We welcome other choirs and singers of all ages, and from every neighborhood, to join in.”