The 84-Year-Old Grandmother Who Fronts D.C.'s Coolest House Band For the past several years, a dive bar in the District has drawn crowds of eager millennials to see Granny and the Boys, a funk act led by Alice "Granny" Donahue.

The 84-Year-Old Grandmother Who Fronts D.C.'s Coolest House Band

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

On a Sunday night in Washington, D.C., a white-haired grandmother is warming up for her set at a local dive bar.

ALICE DONAHUE: (Playing piano). You know what that is? "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer" (laughter).

CHANG: This is Alice Donahue. She's 84 years old, and she plays in a band called Granny and the Boys - four middle-aged men on bass, guitar, drums and vocals, one granny at the keyboard. Their band plays a live funk fusion show every Sunday at a bar called Showtime. And though folks of all ages come, the majority are people in their 20s and 30s. For them, Granny is something of a novelty.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Celebrate Granny's 84th birthday. Did anybody give it up for Alice?

(CHEERING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: She can't hear you. Come on, make some noise. Eighty-four years, that's a blessing from God, right?

(SOUNDBITE OF GRANNY AND THE BOYS SONG)

CHANG: Granny's band is led by her partner, Richard Lynch. He lives in the apartment above the bar. A few days after the show, we went back there to interview the two of them.

DONAHUE: Come on this way. Sorry, we are preparing for Sunday night because we had a show last night.

CHANG: Granny and the Boys got the bar gig a few years ago. The power had gone out, and the bar's owner came upstairs to ask Richard if he could play a few songs for his patrons. Richard brought Alice to perform with him, and people loved it so much that the owner offered them a monthly gig, which then became a weekly show by popular demand. But Alice and Richard's story together starts long before that. The two of them are 20 years apart. She's 84. He's 64. And they've been dating for about 20 years.

RICHARD LYNCH: I was working at Maryland University at the Roy Rogers, and I saw her sitting in the cafeteria and I wanted to meet her.

CHANG: What was it about her that drew you to her?

LYNCH: She was just pretty as heck. I saw all these young people sitting in there and I just saw one elderly lady. And I said, OK, why is she here? She was holding a music book. And I said, that's my cue. And some damn fool walks up behind her and just snatches the book right out her hand.

CHANG: You did that?

LYNCH: I said hey, what you got here? I see you're reading a music book.

CHANG: (Laughter).

DONAHUE: And you have to understand, I'm white, he's black.

CHANG: What was going through your mind, Alice?

DONAHUE: I had just registered to go back to the University of Maryland to take some credit courses in the Golden Age Group. And I'm sitting there. And normally, because it had been just about a year since my husband had passed, I would have reacted like (grunting), you know? But I didn't. I said, gee, he's got a friendly face. Maybe he's a little off the wall, but (laughter) he's got a friendly face. And then we started talking music. See, that's a common language.

CHANG: Yeah.

DONAHUE: We started...

CHANG: Could you tell he was hitting on you?

DONAHUE: I thought he'd have to be crazy...

CHANG: (Laughter).

DONAHUE: ...Because I'm 64 and he's 44. I mean, I know he's a little off the wall, but that's completely off the planet. So, you know, (laughter) I didn't even let that register. I thought, he's just interested in music. And then you take it from there what you did.

LYNCH: And I told her I was interested in her. And I said I had a band, I was recording, and would you like to manage? And I said, before you answer, would you like to go out on a date? And she said, well, my husband just passed. I'm going to tell you what I told her - I'll wait till you finish grieving. I'll be here. Everything else is history.

CHANG: So, Alice, when you decided to manage the band, was it because you were drawn into Richard as a person, or it was this idea of being able to perform music that attracted you?

DONAHUE: It - I had never even thought of performing. I thought, you know, I could learn some things from a band. And my professor in Maryland had actually said to me, you'll learn a lot more managing a band than you will sitting in a classroom here. And then about a year and a half later, the keyboard player had personal problems. And we had a show coming at Farragut Square. Farragut Square at noon with federal workers...

CHANG: Oh, it's jammed, yeah.

DONAHUE: ...All walking around. And he says, you have to do this show.

CHANG: Up until then, had you ever remotely done anything close to managing a band or performing live music with a band?

DONAHUE: No. No. Never performed live, never did a recital, never did anything.

CHANG: That must have been terrifying.

DONAHUE: It was. It was a baptism of fire. And then - he's not telling you - besides the federal workers, he went and told all his musical friends that this elderly white lady was now playing keyboard with the band. And guess who all turned out walking around the stage? Is she really doing it?

CHANG: No pressure.

DONAHUE: But I made it. And from then on, I was the keyboard person. And that was 19, 18 years ago.

LYNCH: (Laughter) Best decision I've ever made.

(SOUNDBITE OF GRANNY AND THE BOYS SONG)

CHANG: Funk, or fusion, as you call it - had you ever been drawn to that kind of music before?

DONAHUE: No, strictly classical right up until I met him. In fact, I was trying to get a degree in music therapy, but Maryland doesn't offer that. I really always had believed that music heals and brings people together, so I wanted to try to get the degree, but I couldn't. And, you know, it's funny. God has put me in that same position right now because I really believe when people come in downstairs for whatever reason - some have had a frustrating day, some have lost their latest significant other, and for different reasons - but they - when they leave, they have all said to me they feel so much better.

CHANG: So in a way, you are practicing music therapy.

DONAHUE: In a very practical life situation, not by the book.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GRANNY AND THE BOYS: (Singing) Been going through some funky changes, changes are the same.

CHANG: What did you do when you were married? Did you work?

DONAHUE: No, I had the five children (laughter).

CHANG: Oh, you were busy enough.

DONAHUE: That is work.

(LAUGHTER)

CHANG: Yes.

DONAHUE: Very rapidly, I had four and five years when I was first married. And then eight years came along, the spoiled one.

CHANG: Have your kids been surprised by how you've evolved? Like...

DONAHUE: They are, and they were a little skeptical. I mean, how can she be doing this? It might be too much on her physically and all this and that. But they have seen that it has improved me, not lessened me. And of course, now they can't - my daughter - I don't know if this can go over the air, but there was one write-up who called me the badass octogenarian, and she read it, and she just loved it.

(SOUNDBITE OF GRANNY AND THE BOYS SONG)

CHANG: Alice, when you were in your 60s...

DONAHUE: Yeah.

CHANG: ...This is after your husband had passed - did you have any clue that you would find new love, a new chapter professionally?

DONAHUE: No. No.

CHANG: You would be able to combat your anxieties about performing? I mean...

DONAHUE: I can only say God has a tremendous sense of humor because I have not been recognized on the piano for 81 years. That's longer than most people live. If that's not hysterically funny, I don't know what is.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALICE DONAHUE'S "CHRISTMASTIME IS HERE")

CHANG: Alice Donahue, also known as Granny, and Richard Lynch, her bandleader. Their group is called Granny and the Boys.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALICE DONAHUE'S "CHRISTMASTIME IS HERE")

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