In Memoriam: Katherine, Ledell, and Don Mulvaney

9/25/2015

Kat, Ledell, and Don Mulvaney Photo from Ledell's Facebook page

by Anne Hughes and Eric Anderson

BROOKLYN, NY (09/25/2015) -- The Silver Lake community and their friends throughout and beyond the Connecticut Conference mourn the passing of three expressive and compassionate souls this month, lives lost due to a horrifying car crash in Yorktown Heights, New York, on August 15, 2015. Don and Ledell Mulvaney co-deaned the God Show conference at Silver Lake Conference Center for years, leading high school youth in preparing an original Bible-based musical worship service in just six days. Katherine Mulvaney worked with them as a counselor, and also served on Camp Family and the camp's summer Environmental Task Force. Ledell and Katherine died in the crash on August 15, while Don held on despite grievous injuries until September 15, when he died at Westchester Medical Center. Don was 63; Ledell was 61; Katherine was 31.

Don was born on February 3rd, 1952 in Rockville Center, New York, and grew up on Long Island. Mr. Mulvaney was educated at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, and after graduation was known for his jazz drumming, percussion, vocals and compositions with his many ensembles, beginning with Orchestra Luna, considered one of the best bands in Boston in their day. The band later signed with Epic Records.

Ledell was born in Chicago on April 13, 1954, to Mary Ann and Ken Waterman, a distinguished civil rights activist pastor. The family moved to Kansas City and then moved to Geneva, Switzerland, while Ledell's father worked for World Council of Churches. When they returned to the US, the family spent one year in Wisconsin, where Ledell became a notorious and lifelong Green Bay Packers fan. Then the family moved to Norwalk, Connecticut, where Ledell became the first Queen of Norwalk High and started a rock and roll band. Ledell went on to graduate from Berklee College of Music with a Bachelors of Music in Applied Music; she was the only woman in all her classes at Berklee. She subsequently earned a Masters of Music Education from Manhattanville College in Purchase, NY, in 1993.

Don went on to play and record with many such luminaries as Tony Bennett, Itzhak Perlman, Maureen McGovern, Jaco Pastorious, Bill Frisell, jazz singer Mark Murphy, Melissa Manchester, and countless others. He was a sought-after musician on Broadway, performing in the original production of The Mystery of Edwin Drood and appeared briefly with Barbra Streisand in the movie 'Mirror Has Two Faces'. He earned his MFA in Music Composition at SUNY Purchase in 1993.

The Mulvaneys at a wedding: Devan, Ledell, Don, and Kat
Photo courtesy Anne Hughes

Many of Don's former and current students and musician colleagues have been pouring out testimonies to his lifelong passion as a teacher and as an inspiring and accomplished musician. Jonathon Konya offered, "Don was my drum teacher and one of my earliest musical mentors growing up in Norwalk. Don was a beautiful, generous man and a wonderful drummer. He helped me understand that if you love people around you, work hard, and follow your creative drive, life will give back to you in spades. It has so far, and he is a big piece of the reason I've stuck with it."

Don and Ledell met in Boston as Berklee College of Music graduates. They were married Aug. 18th, 1979, at First Congregational Church UCC in Norwalk. Don and Ledell had two children, Katherine Ledell, born June 16th, 1984, in Brooklyn, NY, and Devan, born June 9th, 1987, also in Brooklyn. For most of their married life, Don and Ledell made their home in Brooklyn, NY, Greenwich, CT, then Norwalk, CT, and moving back to Brooklyn in 2008 where they could be closer to the City's artistic and music scenes. Together Don and Ledell became active leaders in the Park Slope United Methodist Church, where they started a Gospel Choir that Ledell directed and Don accompanied on piano. They became very active members and leaders of the social justice outreach ministries of the church, as they had been at First Congregational Church of Norwalk previously.

In Brooklyn, they joined the People's March for Climate Change and Occupy Wallstreet, faithfully marched in New York's Gay Pride, advocated tirelessly for racial justice in the Black Lives Matter movement and always, always, worked for peace.

Katherine also attended the Berklee College of Music, graduating as a songwriting major in 2007. Better known as "Kat," she embarked on a songwriting and performing career, taking the stage name of "Kat Ledell" as she prepared her first album this past year, working side-by-side with her father acting as mix engineer and producer. Funny and bright, she made music the way she made friends: with love and enthusiasm.

In May, she shared with joy the choral performance of her song "Battle Cry" by seventy young people in Waterbury. "There's nothin like hearing 70 kids that you've never even met," she wrote, "singing their hearts out on your song for a great cause... Pretty awesome."

Ledell received the 1998 Distinguished Teacher Award from Greenwich District Teachers. She was a Fullbright scholar with Yale University and travelled to Ghana for 6 weeks in 1994 to expand her multicultural education and arts experience to her students. She taught music at Greenwich Public Schools, Side by Side Charter School in Norwalk, Ethical Culture School, NYC, Little Red School House in Greenwich Village, and most recently at International School of Brooklyn as the Performing Arts Program Director. She founded Connecticut Children's Musical Theater with her husband, Don, and directed scores of original children's musical productions, from 1995 until 2004, impacting generations of youth, many of whom later pursued the arts, theater and music professionally.

Ledell and Don were both faithful and enthusiastic volunteer deans, counselors and leaders of Silver Lake Conference Center's Outdoor Ministry, offering original musical conferences for high school youth, from 1978 through this past summer, 2015, returning from their final God Show conference when the tragic accident occurred. They brought their children Katherine and Devan along to participate in this outdoor ministry when they were first toddlers, and they continued throughout their early adulthood.

Ledell with Pete Seeger in 2004
Photo courtesy Anne Hughes

Katherine went on to dean her own song-writing conferences, and served on summer staff for 2 years. Devan went on to produce the Silver Lake videos and Outdoor Ministry Association videos for the UCC national settings. As a family, the Mulvaneys have influenced countless youth in developing confidence, experiencing their creative passion for song-writing, music, theater arts, community-building, production, and radical worship, and bringing the message of radical welcome, inclusivity, God's love beyond the boundaries of Silver Lake, and back into the churches and communities where the conferees live.

Ledell emulated Pete Seeger, activist and folk singer, who she was honored to sing with at First Congregational Church in Norwalk in 2004 for an anti-war demonstration. In her ISB Spotlight interview, she said: "I was a member of the Clearwater Singers, upstate New York, and this was a group Pete Seeger started, oh, thirty years ago. We sang on the sloop Clearwater, an environmental boat where people would come aboard to learn about cleaning up the Hudson River. Pete would stop by once in a while to see how we were doing… The most memorable time I met him was when I was living in Norwalk. I was involved in the anti-war movement post 9/11, 'George Bush Two,' and I organized a peace rally. Pete Seeger heard about it and said he was going to come. I said, 'My goodness — you've got to sing, and we'll put you on the flyer!' And he said, 'Don't put my name above yours.' We sang 'Down by the Riverside!'"

Don taught music at Fairfield University, Eagle Hill School in Southport, Side By Side Charter School in Norwalk, the Regional Center for the Arts, Magnet School of Performing Arts, the International School of Brooklyn, and Whitebird Theater Camp. Don and Ledell also co-founded and directed the Connecticut Children's Musical Theater from 1995 – 2002, introducing scores of elementary and middle school youth to original musical theater scripting, writing, and performing. He was known best as a prolific musician and composer of 20th and 21st century music, orchestral pieces, pop, rock, jazz, latin and children's music. He is featured on many albums recorded over his almost 40 plus years of professional musical career. He was a long-time member of the American Federation of Musicians and the local NYC Music Union 802.

Don, Ledell, and Katherine leave behind Don's brothers Robert and Richard, the couple's son Devan and Devan's partner Lucy Westphal, numerous nieces and nephews, as well as a wide community of friends.

A wake is planned for Friday, Sept. 25th, from 6:00 - 8:00 pm at Park Slope United Methodist Church on 410 6th Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11215. A service in celebration of the lives and ministries of Don, Ledell, and Katherine Mulvaney will be held at 4:00 pm on Saturday, Sept. 26th, at First Congregational Church on the Green, 1 Lewis St., in Norwalk. Funeral arrangements are being handled by Magner Funeral Home, 12 Mott Ave, Norwalk, CT. Contributions in the Mulvaneys' memory may be made to Silver Lake Conference Center, 223 Low Rd., Sharon, CT 06069 or Park Slope United Methodist Church, or First Congregational Church UCC of Norwalk on the Green.

Anne Hughes is former co-Director of Silver Lake Conference Center and currently a social worker in Massachusetts. The Rev. Eric S. Anderson is Associate Conference Minister for Proclamation, Identity, and Communication for the Connecticut Conference UCC.