Facility Profile: Veterans Home in Yountville
On a torrentially rainy day at the end of February, Bread & Roses presented outstanding vocalist Phillip Percy Williams and accomplished pianist Mike Greensill for a very special concert in honor of Black History Month at the convalescent hospital at the Veterans Home in Yountville. The concert was our first live in-person indoor event at the facility in over three years due to restricted entry during the pandemic.
Phillip and Mike both graciously answered the call from Producer Marian Hubler to perform together for the first time as a duo for this event. Phillip recalled when he met Mike to rehearse that he “felt light as if his spirit had been touched.” As we listened, we all knew we were hearing and seeing a duo with a very special synergy. Phillip’s heartfelt vocals combined with Mike’s wonderfully nuanced and spectacularly intuitive piano playing was a one-of-a-kind collaboration.
They kicked off their concert with a sultry version of “Summertime” which Phillip later remembered was the first song he ever performed as a cabaret singer. They followed with “Birth of the Blues” by Sammy Davis Jr., then “Nature Boy” by Nat King Cole with the unforgettable lyrics “The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.”
Phillip chose to honor his parents for Black History Month by telling us how close they were as a family and how important family is to African-Americans in the South. He said there is a real sense of community and that people look out for each other. He shared that people respond to who you are in the context of your extended family.
He told the veterans that being there was special for him as his Dad, John Henry Williams, was an Army veteran of WWII. Though he lost his Dad when he was only six years old, he recalled how his Dad made a difference in people’s lives and made Black History Month meaningful for him. This sweet tribute brought home the meaning of the event as he recognized the person most formative and significant in his upbringing as a child.
In addition to his amazing vocal chops, Phillip dazzled the audience of veterans -- on scooters and in wheelchairs -- with his nimble choreography and joyful tap dancing. During “Route 66” he darted into the audience and came back with one of the nurses on his arm who turned out to be an able and willing partner on the dance floor. They rounded out their wonderful set of music with songs like “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” “Autumn Leaves” and the incomparable song by Louis Armstrong “Wonderful World” as their poignant closing finish.
On staff as a producer for Bread & Roses, Phillip is a professional singer who excels in cabaret and musical theatre styles. He started his career singing at Lily Baptist Church in Mobile, Alabama where his mother Dolores Williams was the choir director. After his mom passed away, he moved at age 15 with his sister to Los Angeles where he began performing in high school musicals. He began singing cabaret while he was in college and spent several years performing on ships for the Carnival Cruise Lines. There he developed a one-man show based on the music of Nat King Cole, a foundation for much of his later music including his concert for the Veterans Home. He was a principal for Beach Blanket Babylon from 1998-2011 where he played many characters including James Brown, Barack Obama, Prince and Tiger Woods.
Accomplished pianist Mike Greensill, originally from England, settled into his adopted home of San Francisco in 1977. He was a long-time accompanist and music director for his wife, the late Wesla Whitfield, who was an acclaimed cabaret singer known for her storytelling and evocative interpretation of song lyrics. Mike was also the longtime resident piano player for Sedge Thomson’s famed live radio show “West Coast Live.”
A volunteer performer for Bread & Roses for over four decades, Mike goes back to the earliest days of our organization when he was recruited by our founder, the late Mimi Fariña, to play a benefit concert. In his own words, he “plays great tunes.” Now based in St. Helena, if you want to catch him live, he plays a broadcast every Wed. at 3 pm PST. You can check it out here!
Navy veteran submarine operator Jeff Jones was the onsite coordinator for our Black History concert at the Veterans Home. An eight-year resident of the home, he appreciates the peacefulness of its location in Napa Valley and that it is a community of and for veterans. During the pandemic, Bread & Roses presented video broadcasts during the winter holidays as well as Black History Month for the veterans-operated closed circuit TV station KVET with content provided by the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir and Marcus Shelby.
Founded in 1884, the state-run Veterans Home is the largest residential facility for veterans in the United States. The facility offers independent and assisted living as well as skilled nursing and memory care. We serve both the skilled nursing population in Holderman Hospital as well as the memory care facility at the Roosevelt Annex. Over 1,000 aged or disabled vets, both men and women, live at the home. Residents are veterans of World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The Veterans Home is one of the many facilities on our roster where we have been able to recently renew our service of in-person concerts. We are honored to bring live music again to this audience of veterans who have done so much for all of us through their service to our country.
Story, photos and videos by Marian Hubler.