STATEN ISLAND and BROOKLYN, NY (PIX11) — It’s a public elementary school whose chorus has become so popular that major recording artists seek out the young singers to do projects with them. On Monday, however, the P.S. 22 Chorus of Staten Island had one of their most important performances ever, at the inauguration of President Barack Obama.
At the home of Damaris Cruz, 42, a few blocks from the school in Staten Island’s Graniteville neighborhood, there was cheering and shouting. Cruz’s daughter, Taliah Pena, 11, was part of the 65-voice choir of fourth- and fifth-grade boys and girls. Pena’s grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings and cousins had all gathered around the television to watch her in the internationally broadcast ceremony.
“It just goes beyond words,” said Pena’s mother about her emotions, while the rest of the family laughed and smiled as they watched the girl with dark red-framed glasses sing with her fellow classmates on the stairs of the West face of the capital.
The chorus of nine- to ten-year-old soprano and alto voices first came to national prominence a decade ago, after its director, Gregg Breinberg, started uploading to YouTube videos of the children’s performances. The videos quickly went viral and gained a following. The celebrity gossip writer Perez Hilton was among the first big followers of P.S. 22 online, and his interest soon led to other celebrities following suit.
In recent years, the chorus performed the closing song at the Academy Awards, and has made numerous appearances with internationally acclaimed recording stars, including Katy Perry, Beyonce and Carrie Underwood.
For a member of her family to be a part of the chorus’s latest major performance, at the swearing in of President Obama, “it shows that you can do anything in America,” Cruz told PIX11 News.
Her father, Rafael Padin, 80, an orphan from Puerto Rico, left the Caribbean island in 1957 with a contract to play in the New York Giants baseball organization. When the team moved to San Francisco that year, he chose to stay in New York.
He found work with New York City Transit, and, with his wife, raised six children in a Brooklyn housing project. Those children are now all in their 50s and 60s, and have moved to Staten Island, Central New Jersey and even Stuttgart, Germany, permanently.
However, they all come together for major family events, and Taliah performing at the inauguration was certainly one of them. Her oldest uncle joined the rest of the clan via Skype from Germany, and watched the inauguration on PIX11 on his computer.
The Padin Family acknowledged that, from their matriarch and patriarch to their youngest great grandchild, that their situation is an American success story.
Theirs was not the only great New York story of growth and change on display on the Capitol steps. Another chorus, the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir also sang at the inauguration.
Their appearance was a contrast to that of P.S.22. While the elementary schoolers began the ceremony, serenading dignitaries as they found their seats nearly two hours before the swearing in, the 300 Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir members gave a rousing rendition of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” in the middle of the heart of the inauguration ceremony, minutes before the president took the oath of office.
Among the hundreds of booming voices was Fernando Nieto. His proud wife, Anita Buie-Nieto, told PIX11 News that she was also sad that the invitation for her husband’s chorus to sing did not include seating for spouses and other family.
However, she and her two children watched eagerly from their home in Midwood, Brooklyn.
The church choir, under the decades-long direction of Carol Cymbala, the pastor’s wife, showed why they have earned three Grammy Awards. They belted out the arrangement, to thunderous applause from the president and first lady, and their half million or so guests.
Both chorales, the children from Staten Island, and the adults from Brooklyn, showcased New York musical skill near the banks of the Potomac. The fact that the inauguration committee chairman, Sen. Charles Schumer (D) NY, is a proud New York City resident, clearly showed in his choices for musical entertainment, but in the end, the two choral groups were on Monday’s biggest stage in the world because of their talent.