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Songs Of Remembrance: 'The Impossible Dream'

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

More than 500,000 people have now died in the U.S. of COVID-19, and NPR is remembering some of those whose lives were lost by listening to the music they loved and hearing their stories. We're calling our tribute Songs of Remembrance. Here's Dan Hunt talking about his grandfather, Joseph Karszen.

DAN HUNT: The song that reminds me of my grandfather is "The Impossible Dream" from the Broadway play the "Man Of La Mancha."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM (THE QUEST)")

BRIAN STOKES MITCHELL: (Singing) To dream the impossible dream, to fight the unbeatable foe.

HUNT: Sunday afternoon, a lot of the times he would play a whole string of Broadway show tunes. And he would either like to start it with that or cap it with that. And he would stand up like it was - like the national anthem. He just loved it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM (THE QUEST)")

MITCHELL: (Singing) To right the unrightable wrong.

HUNT: The song talks a lot about hardship and overcoming it, and that's kind of what I think of when I think of my grandpa as well.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM (THE QUEST)")

MITCHELL: (Singing) To try when your arms are too weary.

HUNT: He came from a poor background, the son of Ukrainian immigrants. And he grew up in a tenement housing project in Yonkers. And at the age of 12, he started going blind. He used to tell me one of the things that lifted his spirits was music and musicals.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM (THE QUEST)")

MITCHELL: (Singing) To fight for the right, without question or pause, to be willing to march into hell for a heavenly cause.

HUNT: And then he somehow became a principal, which I sometimes look back and I think, wow, I'm surprised (laughter). But, no, he became a principal. He was really into education and really liked working with people. Looking back, I think he was glad to have made it that far and have triumphed over everything. So when I hear that song, I think about all the obstacles he overcame.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM (THE QUEST)")

MITCHELL: (Singing) This is my quest, to follow that star, no matter how hopeless, no matter how far.

HUNT: I think my grandpa really wanted people to do the best that they could, and he wanted to be encouraging to that and inspire them. And in the same way that Don Quixote inspires other people to live their dreams, I think my grandpa did that, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM (THE QUEST)")

MITCHELL: (Singing) This is my quest, to follow that star.

MARTIN: Dan Hunt, with a little help from Broadway star Brian Stokes Mitchell, remembering his grandfather, Joseph Karszen. He was 91 years old. You can visit our tribute, NPR Songs of Remembrance, at npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM (THE QUEST)")

MITCHELL: (Singing) To be willing to march... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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