In the early fifties my mother, father, sister and I used to go to St. Matthew's Lutheran Church in Springfield, Delaware County, Pa., in part to hear Harry Danner sing. Harry Danner had a high tenor voice and could be heard above all of the other choir members. Who was Harry Danner? Harry Danner was the father of Blythe Danner and grandfather of Oscar-winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow who sang "County Strong" that brought down the house at the recent CMA Awards.
After church my mother, father, sister and I would return home and talk about Harry's
voice over a turkey dinner at our dining room table. In the early fifties his fine singing made our church a haven for music lovers who had no idea of the celebrity or joy his genes and talents would breed. (Gwyneth Paltrow's grandfather was the third person she thanked when she accepted her Oscar for Best Actress for Shakespeare in Love.)
When he wasn't singing in our church choir, Harry Danner was a banking executive who handled my father's affairs when my father was well.
"Harry Danner's office was just off 69th street in Upper Darby. Our father only had a business relationship with him. Stocks and that sort of thing," my sister recalled.
But I recalled the chills that went up and down my spine when Harry Danner would sing, "We Gather Together to Ask the Lord's Blessings." His voice rising above all the other members of the choir of St. Matthew's Lutheran Church.
While seeing Gwyneth Paltrow sing at the CMA awards, I experienced the same feelings as hearing her grandfather sing in our church. I listened in amazement at how she has
inherited Harry Danner's voice, his instrument and how she exudes his same spirit of love, serenity, purity and humility in her voice.
A fragile figure she stood, legs spread, holding a guitar big enough for a fullback in front of a large Cinemascopic screen showing a country road leading to a horizon of clouds flowing over fields.
Once again I thought of my childhood, my father, my mother and her family on their farm in Shoemakesville Pa. with its ground cellars, hay lofts, and, yes, outhouses -- fine Pennsylvania Dutch Country -- and the roots also of Gwyneth Paltrow's family. Paltrow helped me to recall the good feelings of childhood before all the pain of my father's suffering dominated my life. Before pain of any kind appeared.
Paltrow's sang "You may fool me and I fall, but I won't stay down long. I'm Country Strong." Country Song is the name of the film she stars in and portrays the trials of a country singer's rise back to the top after overcoming alcoholism.
At the Bridgestone Arena's packed house, Paltrow's frail thin frame silhouetted by her shoulder length blonde hair stood bravely on the stage for the CMA Awards though slight tremors moved from time to time through her body prior to her standing ovation. She was a symbol of strength, beauty and courage as she trembled slightly, her nerves wanting some attention. But we as her audience wanted her attention because she possessed warmth, love and memories of faith that so often threatened one's believe in all that is good. She is good. She is great. She is Gwyneth Paltrow and when I was 8 years old her grandfather used to sing in church for me each Sunday and of that I am mighty proud.
I never forgot him and I will never forget Gynthew Paltrow.