Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Unca Lloyd

Most of the people who merit eulogizing in this space are celebrities of one sort or another — whether famous or infamous — and usually significant in my memory or experience in some way.

Today, I memorialize someone who, though not a celebrity in the usual sense of that word, and not particularly famous outside a rather narrowly specific sphere, was by virtue of a few brief interactions significant in my experience, and will remain so in my memory as long as I live.

In the fraternity of barbershop singers, we called him Unca Lloyd.

I knew of Lloyd Steinkamp for several years before I actually met him. He fit that oft-repeated cliché as a person of whom everyone who spoke, spoke fondly. Few people I've known deserved the accolades more. He was a tireless promoter of the hobby he loved, both as an official Barbershop Harmony Society representative for many years, and as an enthusiastic coach and instructor — especially of young people — for many more.

When I at last met the legendary Unca Lloyd, I was astounded that so immense a reputation could fit a man at least a head shorter than I. A boisterous little fireplug of a guy, Unca Lloyd immediately filled any room he entered with his boundless joie de vivre. At any barbershop event he attended, he was always surrounded by folks renewing acquaintances, seeking his advice, or both. Thus, I could hardly believe it when, after a competition in which my chorus had just competed, he buttonholed me and introduced himself.

"I love watching you perform," he said.

Now, I've been praised often on my performing ability. I've been on stage in one form or another all of my life. More than once, judges evaluating my chorus in competition have singled me out for commendation.

But I was never more thunderstruck by a compliment as I was in that moment.

"Do you sing in a quartet?" Lloyd asked me.

"No, sir" I replied.

"Well, you ought to," he said, his eyes never leaving mine. "You've got talent in desperate need of more exposure."

I thanked him profusely, and walked on air for the rest of the day.

A year or two later, I was singing lead in my then-new quartet. Following one of our typically mediocre showings in a contest, Unca Lloyd caught up with me again. "I'm so happy to see you singing in a quartet," he said. "Now you need to be in a better one."

Again, I thanked him, and acknowledged — with absolute sincerity — that I often felt that it was my fellow quartet members who deserved a better lead vocalist. Lloyd would have none of it.

"I see everyone in this Society perform — everyone," he told me. "You're as good onstage as anyone we have right now."

Again, I thanked him. And again, I walked on air for the rest of the day.

That conversation, in one form or another, was repeated at least three times over the next couple of contest cycles. Whenever my quartet competed, I could always count on Unca Lloyd seeking me out to compliment me, and offer a helpful hint or two.

I tell this story, not to flatter myself, but as a reflection of the kind of man Lloyd Steinkamp was. Lloyd knew, coached, and was eagerly sought after by the very best talents in our musical genre. He was an immense fish in our little pond. I, conversely, am an unknown in a Society of around 30,000 singers. I was one face, one tuxedo among a few dozen on a crowded stand of risers; the lead singer in a C-level quartet with no realistic aspirations for greatness. As the pond goes, I hardly qualify as a minnow. It gained Unca Lloyd nothing to single me out for ego-boo, when hundreds of guys with grand reputations and musical gifts dwarfing mine wanted to chat him up.

But he did it anyway.

And I'll bet I was one of several thousand for whom he did.

Lloyd Steinkamp died today after a tough battle with lung cancer. Word of his passing probably won't appear on your evening news, or make the morning edition of your local paper. But it deserves mention here.

I'll miss you, Unca Lloyd.

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1 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Anonymous Brian Philbin offered these pearls of wisdom...

Hey, Bud! Was just surfing the 'Net for stuff on Lloyd for a page I'm putting together. This story needs to be preserved and I'd like to do that on the Metropolis website, if that's okay with you. That's a perfect example of the kind of encouraging and thoughtful man that Lloyd was and, with your permission, I'd like to duplicate it on the page we're building for him. Let me know!

Pax, harmonia,

Brian Philbin
Bass, Metropolis

8:34 AM  

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