Jim Seeley…Singing & Cruising Through Life
If you have been in Old Town Alexandria for any length of time you may have, at some point, run into Jim Seeley at one of the piano bars over the years or maybe on stage at the Little Theatre of Alexandria. I first met Jim at the Morrison House many years ago when Bob Smith was in residence at the grand piano in the back room bar area. I actually sang a few songs but I could not hold a candle to the local talent that performed there.
Jim’s story began in Alexandria where he was born at the old Alexandria Hospital. He attended school locally and graduated from Bishop Ireton High School in 1982. After he graduated from William & Mary University, he spent about a dozen years traveling around the country and to Central America. “I lived in Southern California for a while, briefly in El Salvador, and even Miami for a few years,” he says. “I then came back here, I came home to roost,” he declares.
Jim began to exhibit his singing talents in junior high school as a member of the choir. He also attended the Stephen Foster Intermediate School in south Alexandria. In his earlier years, Jim took singing lessons in Alexandria and became actively involved with the Little Theatre. If he wasn’t performing in the play, he was behind the scenes working the lighting, sound, props, set construction…everything. As we talked more about Little Theatre, Jim made the point that the last thing that will return to the Theatre will be musicals due to the coronavirus. “You know they say “six” feet of separation, well we need “ten” feet or better when projecting your voice in song,” he reminds me. They intend to bring back small dramas and plays before they can think about musicals.
As our conversation progressed, Jim and I remembered the long gone piano bars around Old Town. Cafe Barritz – formerly Myron Mixon BBQ on North Lee Street – had a grand piano on the street level. Jim reminded me of Cafe Lafayette at 105 North Alfred Street. Back in those days they had a fire escape on the side of the building that people would use to access the second floor. “Yeah, Jim says, another example how they got a grand piano up to the second floor!” Jim’s friend, the late Pat Rohrer, would play piano upstairs and the locals would gather to sing. I remember going there to hear the late Joan Cushing play and spin her political satire as Mrs. Foggybottom. This was back when Old Town was only 7 blocks long.
“There was a great mix of professional, amateur and semi-professional singers that would gather there,” he reminds me. “A lot of those people were also involved with the Little Theatre of Alexandria and years ago there was a community theater in Old Town called the Port City Players. Back in the 80’s they performed in the old theater in Old Town which has recently been sold to Patagonia. Some of these performers had lead roles in major productions but would perform in their own community for free.” It was the same with the professional and semi-professional singers, but unfortunately, those days are gone because of the virus. Hopefully in the future, some of these venues can have the music return.
In addition to his singing gigs, Jim has also been the co-owner of a tour business called VIP Cruises, Tours and Events for the past 28 years. “These were group cruises that had a theme and a common interest. They started off with some local water aerobic classes and grew into any group of people who had a common interest and we would get them group discounts. It worked out that for every fifteen paying participants we would get a free slot and would give that to the leader of the group. That expanded into several television stars of yesterday and today that somehow found out about our organization,” he tells me.
They started off with five cruises with the stars for the show Homicide Hunter: Lt. Joe Kenda. They did a number of these true crime shows where they hosted detectives and journalists who would bring their fans. They would have lectures with a Q&A following in addition to the normal cruise activities. From there they had television stars from yesterday that found out about the cruises, the likes of Jerry Mathers and Tony Dow from Leave it to Beaver and Dawn Wells who was Mary Ann on Gilligan’s Island and many others.
Even though the business has slowed, Jim is in touch with other stars who are considering a cruise for their fans as soon as the coronavirus abates a bit. The next cruise that Jim is hoping to organize will leave from the Port of Baltimore because of its’ convenient location.
In the meantime, until this small downturn in business reverses itself, Jim has taken a position at the Home Depot store in Annandale. The store he works at is actually in the western most part of Alexandria, but so as not to get confused with the other stores in Alexandria, they call it Annandale. Jim says for folks to come see him, he is at the Pro Desk which is basically for the contractors who patronize the store.
With a little bit of luck, Jim Seeley may soon be back doing what he loves…singing. I for one, hope that happens sooner than later. But whatever course life may take, Jim is ready for it. He is content and right where he wants to be.