Celebrating the Unsung: ‘I’ll stand by you’

How do you recognize those who, through acts of kindness and support, brought light to an otherwise dark year?

Perhaps by bringing them together in the heart of New York City on New Year’s Eve, with a special performance by an up-and-coming Broadway vocalist and two children’s choirs?

That’s what MassMutual did and the celebration brought smiles, laughter, and even a few tears.

“It was incredibly fun, extremely well put together, and truly inspirational,” Austin Seth, a volunteer Hurricane Harvey rescuer and one of the honorees, said afterward. “I joke around about New Year’s resolutions every year. However…, just after I witnessed our surprise, I made a decision that this year I am going to make myself more available for my community.”

The event, held at The Appel Room inside Jazz at Lincoln Center (known for its amazing view of Columbus Circle), was the culmination of MassMutual’s effort to recognize those who went out of their way in 2017 to help others, from giving a homeless man a home to rescuing flood victims to helping a bullied boy. These relatively unsung acts of kindness and support stood out in a year that was dominated by negative news and acrimony. You can read their stories here.

Essentially, their acts attest to the strength that can be found when people come together and support one another; the type of spirit embodied in the lyrics of the song “I’ll Stand by You,” made famous by The Pretenders.

That song was the centerpiece of the celebration, which was broadcast live on CNN. Leading the performance was Frenie Acoba, a 16-year-old soloist who just ended a three-year run as Lavender in “Matilda the Musical” and performed at the opening ceremonies of the U.S. Open in 2012 and 2013.

Three choirs joined with her. One was the National Children’s Chorus, one of the country’s leading treble choirs with ensembles in Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, D.C. Another was the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, a youth ensemble with a reputation for innovation that has become the go-to chorus for New York orchestras. The third was the St. Ignatius Choir.

“It was a gigantic and communal swarm of fun and joy,” said the director of the performance, Sam Spiegel. “Our chorus lit up in song and dance. It was a New Year’s Eve I will always remember, and I’m pretty sure all of our kids will remember too.”

Put together, about 160 children sang in tribute to the honorees. But it was a message for everyone…

I'll stand by you, won't let nobody hurt you,
I'll stand by you, baby even to your darkest hour,
And I'll never desert you,
I'll stand by you.