Mason Swearingen, who fell ill onstage Friday while leading the Chicago tribute band Beginnings at Newbridge Road Park in Bellmore and died shortly thereafter, was remembered Monday as the heart and soul of the popular group.
"He'd shake every hand of every person who came up to him. He was always upbeat, not just onstage but even loading up a car with gear or talking to management at venues. He did it all," said his bandmate and co-musical director Adam Seely, 49, of Farmingdale. "We're a family and we're pretty shocked." As well, "A lot of the horn players in the band are from Long Island, so this was a bit of a homecoming kind of crowd."
Seely, a horn player and arranger, said he was standing "three feet behind" the 51-year-old lead singer and bassist when Swearingen began the second song of the night, "Make Me Smile," from the 1970 album "Chicago II." "That's when it happened," said Seely, after Swearingen had sung the lyrics "Living life is just a game, so they say / All the games we used to play fade away / We may now enjoy the dreams we shared. ..."
"Those were the last lyrics he sang," his bandmate said.
The suspected cause of death was a heart attack, although no formal determination has yet been made. "He started waving his arms and said, 'Something's wrong' and 'Help.' For him to wave his arms in the middle of a song and break character, we knew something serious was wrong," Seely said. "He went down, and there were paramedics there and an ambulance came. I drove his wife to the hospital, where they pronounced him."
Before the show, Swearingen, nicknamed Sam, "was talking, he was laughing, posing for pictures," said Seely, who also plays horns for the Billy Joel tribute band Big Shot. "This was not a guy who was sitting behind the stage before going on saying he was feeling woozy."
Beginnings canceled its Sunday show in Norwalk, Connecticut, as well as upcoming New Jersey shows.
Born June 26, 1968, in Richmond, Virginia, and raised mostly in Hendersonville, North Carolina, Swearingen moved to New York at age 19 to pursue music. In 1992 he met his future wife, Linda, to whom he remained married for 27 years. He joined Beginnings in 2004, two years after it was founded, and gradually became bandleader. He and his wife lived in Kew Gardens, Queens.
A wake will be held Tuesday at Schwartz Brothers-Jeffer Memorial Chapel in Forest Hills, followed by a service there Wednesday at 11:30 a.m.