Bill “Uncle Sid” Tracy has lived in Marblehead nearly all his life, but don’t look around town for him on Tuesdays. Instead, you can find him at the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home, where he’s pretty tough to miss. Just follow the sound of Uncle Sid singing and his playing his violin. He’ll be the guy clad in a brightly colored, sparkling sequined vest and a homemade leather top hat, having the time of his life entertaining the veterans who live there.
Tracy has been playing music and singing for the veterans at the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home every Tuesday for nearly 20 years.
“I play before their bingo,” says the 77-year-old Tracy, who himself served in the Merchant Marine for half a century, including during the Vietnam and Gulf Wars. He plays his music in the long-term care facility’s common areas and residents’ wards, and whether he’s performing for a packed house or a single person, he’s equally enthusiastic and thrilled to be there, honoring those who served.
“It doesn’t matter how many people there are. I am the only show in town for them,” he says. “I could be playing for one person, I could be playing for 1,000 people.”
For a long time, Tracy had a sidekick during his weekly performances at the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home: Fellow Marbleheader Marjorie Putnam Mace, who’s turning 100 years old this month and is affectionately known as “Nana Putt.”
“Let me tell you about Putt,” Tracy says with a smile in his voice. He describes a woman who is full of life and love, “was 22 years old on the day that Pearl Harbor was bombed.” While she was performing, she regarded herself as a “minstrel,” rather than a musician. She accompanied Tracy on any variety of instruments—kazoo, maracas, tambourine—until she fell and injured herself about a year ago.
“Putt thoroughly enjoyed being a minstrel,” Tracy says, and the veterans’ feelings for her were mutual.
“They love her there,” he says. “Every time I’m there they ask me about her.”
Tracy plays familiar singalong songs, like “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” and always ends his shows the same way, with a military ensemble that incorporates the anthems of each branch of the military, and finally, the National Anthem.
“Each will stand up and wave the flag when they’re doing their part,” Tracy says of the veterans, even those who have trouble doing so because of age or illness, out of respect for their country.
“They deserved this, they served,” he says of his weekly performances. And although many have expressed gratitude to Tracy for his work, he insists he doesn’t need any recognition.
“When I get to the pearly gates, God’s gonna say, Bill, you enjoyed doing it as much as the veterans did hearing it,” he says.