Photo by Jan Nebozenko
Like millions of others, I first learned about the NYC Second Avenue Subway Sinatra, Gary Russo, on August 1st 2011 when the Huffington Post ran an article, and then I saw him on Good Morning America.
Like many, I was instantly charmed. It seemed with all the badness and brokenness of our current state -- uprisings, the devastating tsunami, deadly southern tornadoes and the attempted assassination of a U.S. representative and more -- Gary Russo gave a smile to the world by his simple act of kindness. He sang the global blues away. David Fisher, or "Fish" as he's called, a marathon runner and entrepreneurial New Yorker, discovered Gary and thrust him into the spotlight. Fish believed in the Sinatra-like iron worker enough to come back the next day to film Gary crooning to passersby on his lunch hour. Fish then uploaded his first-ever video onto YouTube. Another simple and kind gesture.
Gary had devoted his lunch break to the endeavor. He gave back to the community by sharing his amazing voice through songs such as Sinatra's "Summer Wind." It was a timely and welcome respite from the noisy construction site and the year's bleakness.
I wanted to catch up with Gary and see what impact the world's attention had on him. When I found him and he graciously agreed to talk with me, I asked him how his life has changed since Fish uploaded the video. He told me that since then, he's had the privilege of everything from opening the New York City marathon by singing for 47,000 runners, performing for the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, being on a number of national and international television shows, to performing for a variety of charitable and worthy causes, including rehabilitation and senior centers.
I asked Gary about his favorite fan-on-the-street moment. He said,
There were many, but I'd have to say that it was my 92-year-old girlfriend, Becky. She lived in the building right next to where I was working on Second Avenue. Her family would bring her down to the street to hear me sing. She seemed to enjoy it so much. Her daughter asked me to go to her birthday party... and I surprised her and came. She was special.
Gary is special in other ways. He raises money for charities through his performing. He remains a dedicated iron worker and speaks well of his fellow iron workers. At night he trades his hard hat for a fedora and microphone.
He said, "I love how this all began with a simple gesture of sharing some songs with the residents of a community inconvenienced by a construction site. I want to take that same spirit to other places in New York City and around the country."
And, Gary has done so by co-authoring a book with his cousin, psychologist Andrea T. Goeglein, titled; Don't Die with Your Song Unsung. The book titles the goodness he brings and provides inspiration and insight into the psychology of following your heart along your life's path. It is a powerful message about not giving up on your dreams. One of Gary's dreams is that Mayor Bloomberg will ask him to promote the spirit of New York in a venue of the mayor's choosing.
With his smile shining brightly outward and from within, Gary will achieve his dreams -- I have no doubt. Gary says he was humbled by the power of a smile from a stranger on the first day he took out his microphone on Second Avenue, and that it started with that smile.
Indeed, Gary captured the world -- and me -- with his unforgettable smile.