R&R Concert Series at Good Shepherd on May 13th

Mark Your Calendars: Roy Eaton Free Concert "I Remember Mama"

David Stone
Roy Eaton / Album Cover for "Meditative Chopin"
Roy Eaton / Album Cover for "Meditative Chopin"

Advertising Hall of Fame member and Roosevelt Island pioneer Roy F. Eaton's life took shape thanks to "...the vision of a powerful Jamaican mother," Bernice Eaton. On the day before Mother's Day, he dedicates a free concert, part of the R&R series, to her and his wife, Barbara Pittman.

Roy Eaton's life story embraces so many startling and inspiring incidents, it's hard to know where to start, but for this article, it's going to the day his mother shared a lesson that gave him a mantra that guided him through happiness, sorrow, loss and achievement.

"I was told to overcome prejudice I needed to do 200% to get credit for 100%."

That he did, not once but many times.

No Opportunity To Fail

Born in 1930 during the first wave of the Great Depression, Eaton's powerful vision pushed him to overcome the accidental loss of half of the first joint of the fourth finger on his right hand at the age of three. He won his first piano competition in 1937 and performed in Carnegie Hall. Lily Pons presented him with the gold medal. 

Mother Bernice was as wise as she was inspirational.

"Mom encouraged me but cautioned me to develop other skills," Eaton recalls. The advice would serve him in ways he could not have imagined as a child.

Music carried him through a reward filled early adulthood.

"I never thought when I entered CCNY because it was free, that I would spend my Junior Year like some rich kid at the University of Zurich in Switzerland," Eaton recalls in Pure History. "But thanks to Mom’s '200% principle,' being 3rd in my sophomore class of 3000, I was interviewed for and won the Naumburg Scholarship from CCNY to do just that in 1948."

"Did I bust out in Europe!"

"I simultaneously graduated from CCNY, B.S.S. magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, and the Manhattan School of Music B.M.; won the first Kosciuszko Foundation Chopin Award, won two years later by Van Cliburn, and received a fellowship for graduate study in Musicology from Yale University."

By 1952, Eaton had made professional debut concerts with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and at Town Hall here in New York City. The next year, his blossoming career as a pianist came to an abrupt halt.

The Korean War provided the brakes. By the time he mustered out in 1955, he was "Roy who?"

Of course, recalling the path on which his mother set him, anonymity was an incentive that set him off to blaze a whole different trail.

Path to the Advertising Hall of Fame

In 1955, Eaton was not only "Roy who?" He was Roy without a job. But this was not an obstacle. Instead, it was the launch pad for another step into greatness.

"I applied for and was hired as composer/copywriter by Young & Rubicam advertising. I was the first Black in a general market creative position in advertising.  Mom’s '200% principle' worked again."

Roy Eaton, in other words, was the Jackie Robinson of advertising. He broke the color line, going on to create landmark jingles and campaigns for Beefaroni (We're having Beefaroni. It's made with macaroni.), Kent Cigarettes and Gulf Oil, plus the Brighter Day soap opera theme etc.

For Texaco, he created, "You can trust your car to the man who wears the star."

Then, his world flipped upside down.

Roy Eaton Died in July, 1957

If you've talked with Roy Eaton recently in a chance encounter on Main Street or had the privilege of hearing him play, this might surprise you, but so does much of the rest of his life story.

Although declared dead following a car accident in Utah, Eaton miraculously survived, but his wife of less than one year, Margaret, and the car's driver both died.

"I emerged from a six day coma with the clear mandate that God spared my life to take a message to the world. I am still exploring this possibility."

Soon, Eaton "became Vice President Music Director of Benton & Bowles advertising, married again and had 3 wonderful sons, David, Daniel and Christopher."

Ten years down the road, "To alleviate intense walking pain from the accident, I learned Transcendental Meditation in 1968."

Reborn in 1980

Although his work at Young & Rubicam as well as Benton & Bowles was more than enough to lead to his induction in the Advertising Hall of Fame, Eaton determination to fulfill his mother's dreams faced fresh challenges.

In a sign of the times, he got down-sized at Benton & Bowles in 1980. By now, his response should not surprise you.

"Facing no income with three Ivy League tuitions, mortgage and alimony payments, I set up my own production company within one week, and simultaneously began the restoration of my initial dream. I returned to concert performance with a unique recital at Alice Tully Hall in 1986 called The Meditative Chopin.

Four albums and world tours followed. His recent Keyboard Classics for Children provides much of the material for his upcoming R&R Roosevelt Island concert, and Joplin: Piano Rags has been an international best seller for more than a decade.

These Days On Roosevelt Island

In 1996, when most of us retire, Roy Eaton remarried and with his "ideal partner," Barbara Pittman, blessed Roosevelt Island with twin sons Ravi and Ari in 2002.

During his annual weeklong stint playing piano for lunchtime crowds in Bryant Park, Eaton joked that the birth of his sons, when he was 72, proved the worth of his nearly four decades of meditation. "The equipment still works," he told his audience.

This brings us to the present, and the free concert he is giving to the community on the eve of Mother's Day, May 13th, at 7:30 p.m. in the Good Shepherd Community Center.

"The concert will be dedicated to two important "Mothers" in my life, my birth mother, Bernice Eaton, and the mother of my twins (and my wife!) Barbara Pittman.  It will be called. "I remember Mama."

"Parents are encouraged to bring their children," says Eaton. "I'll be playing pieces addressed to or inspired by Childhood as well as favorites of my mother."

And there's an additional incentive. The day following, May 14th, is not just Mother's Day, it's the 87th birthday of Roosevelt Island's own living legend, Roy Eaton.

See you there!

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