A podcast from Beacon, NY

Singing In Church Choirs And Pete Seeger’s Folk Group, With Sharlene Stout

Sharlene Stout

In the early 1960s, Sharlene Stout was a gifted singer in church choirs. One day when she was about 14 years old, a tall man approached her out of the blue and asked her to sing in his folk group.

“Who are you?” she remembers asking.

“My name is Pete Seeger,” the man said.

“I ain’t never heard of you before,” she said. “I have to ask my parents.”

After getting permission, Sharlene went on to sing and tour with Pete and his band for more than six years, into her 20s. Pete would ask her to sing Amazing Grace at many of those performances.

But long before her time in his group, and long after, Sharlene’s life was filled with music, singing in church choirs from a very young age. Later she would form the Southern Dutchess Coalition mass choir, an interfaith vocal group drawing from churches across the area. She tells these stories and more in this episode.

“The police need more training.”

Toward the end of the interview, Sharlene describes a harrowing encounter with the Beacon Police Department that took place in 2018. Her grandson, who struggles with mental illness, one day had an episode that led Sharlene to call 911. She wanted to get him to the hospital.

When the police arrived, the situation escalated. Sharlene says her grandson was not violent, just scared, but that the police subdued and apprehended him anyway.

“By the time I got to the door they had wrestled him down on my porch and was trying to put handcuffs on him,” she says. “Another officer came from who knows where with a taser and was going to tase him.”

Sharlene tried to intervene. “Then he tried to tase me, but the taser broke.”

“All of these officers attacking him and holding him down. He’s got scratches and things on him ‘til today,” she remembers. “They said, oh he kicked me. I said, ‘He doesn’t know what he’s doing!’ They got him up, put him in the police car, took him to the police station.”

Later that day, Judge Tim Pagones ordered Sharlene’s grandson released without charges. But Sharlene says it took all day and into the evening for him to get the medical help he needed.

“I was so upset,” she says. “I think the officers need more training in how to deal with people who have mental issues. There’s got to be a better way. And every time I look at my grandson, I think about what they did.”

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Sharlene Stout

Sharlene (bottom right in the photo above) was an entrant in the “Miss Mardi Gras of 1965” contest. Photo originally published in the Poughkeepsie Journal.

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