SPRINGFIELD, NJ – Bea Slater has lived for 65 years in the same Springfield house. In that house, she and her late husband raised three children, helped found Temple Sha'arey Shalom and made many friends. Now 90 years old, Slater remains active and still goes out almost every day to do daily chores and catch up with friends and family.
A few weeks ago, her youngest son (and former Westfield Board of Education member) Mitch Slater gave her a Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul t-shirt and had her do a video for him. When Steve Van Zandt saw the video, he told Mitch he wanted Bea to introduce the Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul show in Staten Island on Sept. 27. Mitch asked his mom if she wanted to do it, and she said “Yes.”
They got to the concert hall early and Bea rehearsed the introduction withVan Zandt. She got on stage to start the show, with Mitch by her side and the introduction (fully written by Van Zandt) by saying, “Don’t bother googling my name, I am just another fan like you. That happens to be 90 years old.”
The crowd roared. She finished her introduction and then the curtain went up as the band played the opening number, Sweet Soul Music. Bea stayed for the entire concert and took selfies with fans at the end.
Because of Mitch, Bea first knew of Steve Van Zandt as a member of the E Street Band and also a force in rock n’ roll in his own right. For her 85th birthday, Mitch took Bea to see Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at their first show in the new Prudential Center. Like many New Jersians, she and Mitch are big fans of the “Boss” and the E Street Band. Mitch says he has seen them “hundreds of times.” When Bruce Springsteen’s biography was published, Bea bought it and read it and said, “He wrote it with his heart.”
Before New Jersey, there was West Philadelphia, where Bea grew up. Her favorite home there was on Catherine Street. There were lots of families and friends in the neighborhood. The family lived in a rowhouse NBA legend Wilt Chamberlain attended her high school. Bea’s son Jeff chronicled some of the memories and photographs of growing up in that neighborhood in “A West Philly Story”.
Wherever, music has always been part of Bea’s life. Her parents loved music. Her dad loved the opera and would sing songs from Gilbert & Sullivan shows and take the family to see Madam Butterfly. He would take her sister to the ballet because she loved it. Bea was a self-described “tomboy” as a kid.
After West Philadelphia, Bea summered in Asbury Park, then moved to East Orange and then Springfield in 1952. She has lived in the same house since; 65 years this month. All of her children attended the same three Springfield schools; Chisholm, Gaudineer and Jonathan Dayton.
Like her parent’s house, the Slater house liked music and all kinds were accepted. Bea remembers listening to artists like Gene Krupa and Dick Haynes being played by one of the top DJ’s at the time, WNEW‘s William B. William. William may have known the great music of the time but he did not appreciate how things were changing because according to Bea, “He would not play rock n roll.”
Her children introduced her to rock n’ roll. When did Bea remember becoming interested in rock n’ roll? She remembers the night. It was a Sunday night during February 1964 when the family turned on the television to watch “The Ed Sullivan Show.” That was the night the Beatles first played on American television. Bea’s daughter saw The Beatles in Atlantic City, thanks to her Uncle Robert, in 1965 when she was just 15 years old. Her daughter, Diane, introduced her to the Beach Boys. The older brother Jeff, a Springfield guitar legend himself, with his band The Mirrors Image, introduced her to Jethro Tull, Janis Joplin and Frank Zappa.
Mitch said he started going to concerts when he was 12. One of the early memorable shows he saw was a Dick Clark Rock n’ Roll Review that included Chubby Checker, Chuck Berry and Stevie Wonder. He saw Jethro Tull when he was 15 and when he was 16, he saw Giants Stadium opening concert that included The Eagles, Steve Miller and Bob Dylan.
In 65 years, Bea Slater may have lived in the same house but she has seen lots of changes in Springfield and enjoyed many of the new types of music. She can be followed on twitter at @momagogo90 and on Instagram @grandmabeaslater. She has shown she was born to rock and she rolls with the changes.