Arts & Entertainment

Bea Slater, Springfield’s Grandmother of Rock n’ Roll

Bea's last rehearsal with Little Steven Credits: Mitch Slater
Bea Slater opens the show for Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul Credits: Mitch Slater
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Steve Van Zandt and Bea Slater Credits: www.DebraRothenberg.com
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Bea Slater Credits: www.DebraRothenberg.com
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Bea and Mitch Slater holding Steve Van Zandt and the Disciples of Soul album Credits: Chip Dickson
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SPRINGFIELD, NJ – Bea Slater has lived in Springfield for 65 years in the same 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, Bea remains very 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 Mitch gave her a Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul t-shirt and had her do a video for him.  Steve Van Zandt saw the video and reached out to Mitch with an idea.  He told Mitch he wanted Bea to introduce the Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul show in Staten Island on September 27.  Mitch asked his mom if she wanted to do it, and of course she said “Yes”.

They got to the concert hall early and Bea rehearsed the introduction with Steve Van Zandt.  When she got on stage to start the show, Mitch was by her side.  She started the introduction (fully written by Steven) by saying, “Don’t bother googling my name, I am just another fan like you:  Who 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!

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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 St.  There were lots of families and friends in the neighborhood.  The family lived in a rowhouse.  Her high school was also attended by Wilt Chamberlin.  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. 

Her father was a professional photographer.  A native of Russia, her father was sent to Newark as a child to be taken care of by an uncle.  His two sisters remained in Russia and became doctors.  Her father’s career took him to the Philadelphia area where he would take pictures of the Philadelphia Phillies and many commercial jobs.  For the neighbors, he often took pictures of neighbors and their kids and would then give them 8x10 glossies and that made him a neighborhood favorite.

But Bea’s dad was not just a good father and photographer, he was a charitable individual and when he died, the New York Times obituary was George Ginsberg, 97, 'Penny Philanthropist,' Dies.  Like Bea, George was active into his 90s.  From the obituary, “He sometimes gave without being asked. If he read about a natural disaster or saw television coverage of a medical emergency, the victims might soon be opening envelopes containing $5 or $10, usually urging them to ''save your postage'' by not sending a letter of thanks.”  Well after he passed away, Bea said she still received letters of people thanking her for his help. 

After West Philadelphia, Bea summered in Asbury Park, then moved to East Orange and then Springfield, NJ during October 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 twelve.  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.
 

The Little Steven and Disciples of Soul tour started September 21 in Holmdel, NJ and ends December 13 in Rome, Italy.  Here is the link for the tour details.

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