first published november 2012 Seventy year old drummer Billy Arnold is presently touring the world with The Young @ Heart Chorus. Those who have seen the award winning Twentieth Century Fox documentary soon realize that age is a state of mind. This amazing group performs a wide range of eclectic rock and soul. All members of the chorus range in age from 73 to 95. To see them perform is a revelation. They truly are, young in heart, mind, andspirit.
Born in South Bend, Indiana in 1942, Billy began playing the drums professionally at age 16. He soon developed a reputation as a serious musician who could play in virtually any style. Since his teenage years Billy's phone has not stopped ringing. In fact, he is busier now than at any point in his career.
As a member of the U.S. Army Band for two years Billy honed his skills playing in a wide variety of musical situations. After leaving the service at 22, Billy began playing full-‐time. He worked in Detroit, Michigan with Johnny and Jackie, and The Whispers. This led to Billy's affiliation with Motown Records. Soon afterwards he was playing and recording with Junior Walker and the All Stars. InBilly got married and moved to Springfield, Massachusetts. Its proximity to New York City, Boston MA, Hartford CT, and Philadelphia PA was important to Billy as he was building his musical career. The Incredible Saxons called, and Billy spent two years playing with them traveling the 'Chitlin' Circuit. With a young wife and family at home Billy grew weary of the road and headed home. He literally began working seven nights a week and soon realized he did not have to constantly travel pursuing his musical career. In fact, this decision was a blessing in disguise.
"Billy Arnold has been the rhythmic force behind Junior Walker to Archie Shepp. While those achievements alone are impressive, more importantly he continues to mold the lives of hundreds of kids through his teaching and contributions to his community." Rick Drumm, President, D'Addario & Co.
He began working at the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, and had his nights free to play music. Springfield's proximity to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, also gave Billy the opportunity to work with many world famous jazz musicians. At the time Max Roach was teaching at UMass and had many of his friends and colleagues on staff . Billy had opportunities to play with Billy Taylor, Reggie Workman, Fred Tillis, Charles Greenlee, and Archie Shepp.Over the years, Billy has also worked with Bill Doggett, Teddy Wilson, Zoot Sims, Charlie Ventura, Ray Bryant, John Scofield , Herb Ellis, Buddy Tate, Wilson Pickett, and Jimmy McGriff. He also performed with The Springfield Symphony Orchestra under the direction of famed Boston Pops conductor Arthur Fiedler. Billy cares deeply about his adopted city of Springfield, Massachusetts.
Over 25 years ago he formed the Suez Temple #114 Drum Corps. Helping neighborhood kids stay out of trouble by teaching them musical history and the importance of drums and rhythm. His intent was to instill discipline in at-‐ risk kids who were in danger of falling through the cracks of society. He saved many children who had no direction in their lives. He kept many of them off the streets, and gave them a sense of purpose. The drum corps practiced faithfully every week and were featured regularly in most major parade events up and down the East Coast. At any given time their were at least twenty five to forty members participating. As a matter of respect, the kids always referred to Billy as Mr.Arnold.
All of the corps members remember Billy to this day. They thank him for giving them opportunities they never believed imaginable. Many of these same kids are now professional drummers. Building upon the lessons about life and music they learned from Billy Arnold. They achieved success through the values of hard work and discipline by a very caring teacher. Billy instilled these traits in all of his students … Always going above and beyond the call of duty. He was never going to allow any of them to fail.
Yet for all his personal victories and accomplishments, Billy is a very humble and soft spoken gentleman. He never has a bad word to say about anyone. Every musician wants Billy on the gig. He has been a first call drummer since the beginning. Always dependable, and always on time. If Billy is playing, it's going to be a good time for all.
Jazz is still Billy's first love. He plays it with a vengeance… Always pushing and driving the other musicians to their farthest heights. There is no time to slack off when Billy's on the drums. This most likely the reason he is a valued Jazz faculty member at numerous schools and colleges. They include, Holyoke (MA.) Community College, Springfield, (MA.) College. Suffield (CT.) Academy , and the Community Music School of Springfield, Massachusetts. Billy also has a large number of private students studying with him at his home and studio. In 1988 he was chosen to play at an exclusive cocktail party reception for then President Ronald Reagan.
One would think that Billy had somewhat reached the pinnacle of his career. Not a chance… The best was yet to come. Just as most older musicians are slowing down, Billy Arnold is busier now than ever in his life. He has gone planetary… Touring the globe with the internationally recognized Young @ Heart Chorus under the direction of Bob Cilman. Billy joined the group in 2003, and is passionate about the positive vibes he gets from the performers. Everyone could learn valuable lessons from all its members. They understand the fragility of life. This is why the show goes on even if a member passes away on the very day of a performance.
The Twentieth Century Fox documentary is absolutely amazing to watch. Who would be expecting senior citizens to be singing Rock 'N' Roll ? These men and women do rock out, and hold nothing back. It doesn't hurt that Billy Arnold is kicking it on the drums… Pushing them to even greater heights. They continue to win standing ovations wherever they go. Watching a woman in her nineties belt out Should I Stay Or Should I Go By The Clash borders on the surreal. Yet, it is really happening.
The group also performs tunes by James Brown, Jefferson Airplane, Lou Reed, The Police, Sonic Youth, The Pointer Sisters, David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, and the Talking Heads. The documentary directed by Stephen Walker is a best seller as is their CD " Mostly Live". The film first premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2008 and has won 23 other awards since that time.
Young@Heart is the highest grossing British documentary ever released in the US. Recently the group also performed and recorded with the Drunk Stuntmen. In 2007 they were invited to sing at New York City's Town Hall by David Byrne.They have also appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and the Ellen Degeneres Show. Have opened for Quincy Jones and Maya Angelou…Recently they sang the National Anthem at Fenway Park as guests of the Boston Red Sox. They are constantly on the road. In fact, Billy and Young @ Heart just returned from a two week tour of New Zealand. The chorus is presently celebrating its thirtieth anniversary with a brand new CD entitled, "NOW".
After nearly ten years with the Young @ Heart Chorus, Billy Arnold shows no signs of slowing down. Check out the group with Billy on drums if you get the chance. You will be truly inspired.