Once you dig into her past, you’ll discover Annette Keefe was a bona fide rock star.
A resident at Bell Trace Senior Living, a CarDon & Associates’ senior living community located in Bloomington, Ind., Keefe has performed in stage operas, on television and even in front of presidents at the White House.
And she’s hard-pressed to pick a favorite moment from her musical career, though sharing the stage in 1978 with Leonard Bernstein at Constitution Hall, in Washington D.C., to sing a part of “The Mass” ranks right up there.
“I loved all of it,” Annette said. “I was definitely in the right place at the right time.”
Annette didn’t have a “stage mother” or anyone pushing her toward a life in music. From an early age, she found herself fiercely determined to perform. When she was just 17 years old, she spent an entire summer learning Italian after landing the difficult role of Donna Elvira in Mozart’s classic opera “Don Giovanni.”
Before the opening of the Scranton Opera Company production, Annette thought, “My God, I don’t know if I can do this!” Of course, she nailed it.
Annette went on to study music and undergo classical training at Marywood University in her hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania. She performed in multiple languages, including Italian, which she was a master of at that point.
Annette’s career skyrocketed when she moved to Washington, D.C. in the early ’50s. She sang in the lounges of several luxurious hotels, including the now-infamous Watergate Hotel. That was just one of her many brushes with the city’s political world.
In the mid-’50s, Annette performed at the White House in a tribute to Sam Rayburn, the 43rd Speaker of the House of Representatives. She recalls Richard Nixon, Lyndon B. Johnson and then-President Dwight Eisenhower sitting next to each other in the East Room.
“It was quite a crowd,” she said with a chuckle. But Annette wasn’t nervous as she sang — she could hardly contain the excitement and happiness in her voice.
One of Annette’s most striking, politically-charged memories goes back to when she auditioned to sing as a soloist for St. Patrick’s Catholic Church — the oldest parish in D.C.
“It was the day JFK was shot. Everyone in the church was crying. It was such a sad, shocking time,” she said.
Annette ended up auditioning the next day and going on to perform in the church for eight years.
“It was only a small amount per month, but I didn’t care,” she said. “I would’ve done it for nothing. I just wanted to sing those beautiful masses by Mozart, Handel and Hyden. I felt like I was in heaven.”
This is just a small slice of Annette’s amazing career. She often finds herself overwhelmed with joy as she’s flooded with memories of her long and storied life as a singer. She continued studying and performing for quite some time, and she even went back to school well into middle age, finishing her music degree at George Mason University in 1983.
Now at 87 years old, Keefe no longer performs, but she looks back fondly on her glory days.
Her advice for aspiring young performers: “You’ve got to absolutely love what you’re doing. And put everything into it — your heart and soul. You have to put yourself out there. I’m so glad I did.”