BEMIDJI, Minn. — Darolyn Erickson admits she’s a bit of a show-off. That came in handy this summer when she took first place in the Bemidji Sings! competition. With a rousing rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” Erickson won the 21-and-older division.
She’s older, all right. Ninety-two years old.
“I’m impressed with people who can get to Darolyn’s age who still have this sort of forward momentum,” said Dan Will, who played piano for her at Bemidji Sings! “What I noticed about her is that she's just into doing stuff. I know so many folks that age who have made peace with their fate or something.”
Erickson, a resident of Sanford Health Baker Park Housing in Bemidji, will be among the contestants at the Minnesota Sings! statewide competition on Saturday, Oct. 16, in Woodbury, Minnesota, although she won’t be able to attend. A recording of her song has been sent in to be played at the event.
The other contestants must have been puzzled when they watched Erickson take the stage on July 16 for the Bemidji Sings! competition. The nonagenarian was many decades older than the other singers, in their teens and 20s.
“I wish you could have seen the look on some of those kids’ faces when they saw me come in,” Erickson said. “It was like, ‘Boy, she ain’t gonna make it.’”
But she certainly made it, relying on her experience from a third-place finish in the 2019 competition. And making the most of an opportunity to show off.
“She was totally in the moment, just there to enjoy it,” Will said. “She just wanted to get up there. She stayed right on the beat, but it was very free and speech-like. I thought it was a very good encapsulation of the piece. She did it her way. She interpreted it in such a way that you could feel all those years. There was a lot of positive energy in that room already, but once she was done it was just very moving.”
Erickson remembers singing harmony with her sisters while they were doing dishes in their Pennsylvania home.
“My mother was the one who taught all four of us girls how to sing,” she said. “I’ve sung all my life. I would go out tomorrow and sing anywhere if they asked me. But it would have to be for a good cause.”
She said having Will as her accompanist was a blessing.
“He’s just a wonderful young man,” said Erickson, a retired registered nurse who also enjoys knitting and walking four to eight blocks a day. “He is so tuned in to the singer when he’s playing. I know when I make a mistake, but he covers it up so fast. I loved him with the dearness of my heart. I could have taken him home and made a pet out of him. And to this day we’re friends.”
The feeling is mutual.
“Darolyn is kind of like no nonsense,” Will said, “but she’s also very sweet, affectionate and appreciative.”
Erickson's daughter, Barbara Boguslawski, was in the audience for the competition, and said her mom was nervous about getting up onstage, even though she had done it two years earlier.
“She gets nervous and questions whether she should do it,” Boguslawski said. “But the minute it starts she just gets in that zone. She can knock the audience right off their seats. She has been a Frank Sinatra fan for decades. ‘My Way’ was really a reflection of her life. She captured that audience. It erupted. It’s not just because she’s 92, but it’s also that she has a good voice.”
Also in the audience at Bemidji Sings! were 10 of her fellow residents from Baker Park.
"We support her 100%,” said Carla Erickson, a volunteer at the facility. “We were definitely thrilled for her. She’s the life of the party.”