Sarnia’s Al Shaw held nothing back when he recorded an audition tape for a global singalong of Neil Diamond’s classic Sweet Caroline.
“My vocal instructor always said, ‘Sing with your whole heart, not just your voice,’ which I did,” he said.
A few weeks later, Shaw watched the finished YouTube recording for the first time and was astonished to see he made the cut with dozens of other Neil Diamond fans.
Diamond’s classic feel-good anthem featuring enthusiastic fans from around the world was released Dec. 21.
The video recently surpassed 1,000,000 views. Shaw can be seen at the 1:15 mark belting out, “I’ve been inclined” from the top left corner. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F8y9dojrjdE.)
“Neil Diamond used my photo on an Instagram post to promote it,” Shaw added. “I couldn’t be happier, especially because I was already well-known for singing Sweet Caroline.”
Shaw is a retired high school teacher from Petrolia’s LCCVI where he developed a reputation for singing the song, written in 1969 and considered so significant by the Library of Congress it’s preserved in the National Recording Registry.
Shaw sometimes sang Sweet Caroline over the school PA system in the morning, held lip-syncing contests with the song, and sung it with the jazz band.
He led a particularly poignant singalong of Sweet Caroline at the high school’s 2019 graduation.
“That class had lost three classmates to tragic events and the staff had a special attachment to every one of them and all the families,” he said.
“So when we sang together, I was thinking about how much we supported one another in getting through it.
“I know I was only selected to sing one line for the global singalong, but it meant so much to me because of all the memories I have with that song.
“As an amateur singer, I felt like I won the Olympics.”
After retiring that year, he took vocal lessons with Lambton College international student Fernanda Cunha.
“She’s a great person and a great teacher,” he said. “She helped me with my tone, my range and my interpretation. I think that was key to me being picked.”
“Al has a lot of talent and he’s dedicated,” said Cunha, a Brazilian-born professional jazz singer and recording artist.
Cunha came to Sarnia to study recreation therapy and leaves this month for a job in Toronto but will continue to offer online vocal lessons.
She helped Shaw prepare the audition tape at The Grove Productions studio in Camlachie, where he recorded six other covers he might release one day.
He’s available for online performances, like a recent virtual concert he gave for a retired teachers group.
“I’m getting a lot of good reaction from the global singalong so perhaps I’ll perform live somewhere, sometime,” he said.
The Arts Journal reflects Sarnia’s cultural life. Send your ideas to [email protected].