After a storied career as a singer, teacher, vocal coach and mentor, Buffalo native Andy Anselmo knows the power of music to move, to heal and to change lives. That’s why he has pledged $500,000 to develop an arts center at Canterbury Woods Williamsville that will serve not only his fellow residents but the entire community.
The $3.5 million arts center will be built on what is now a large grassy area off Renaissance Drive. It is expected that the venue will be completed by 2019.
“Buffalo has been very helpful to me to carry on my music from the beginning,” he says. “From the time I was a young lad, I got experience from wonderful voice people at the Community Music School. They helped me so much to get started.”
Music has been Anselmo’s passion and life work since he was a child. Blessed with what he calls “an Italian voice,” he started performing in public at age 7. While still in high school, he was a featured singer on WEBR radio. After completing studies at Canisius College and the New England Conservatory of Music, he launched a career that included parts in Broadway shows, performances at famous venues such as the Copacabana in New York, recording and appearances on TV shows.
After several decades of performing, he started teaching and coaching, and found that he loved it. He taught voice at the renowned Actors’ Studio and in 1978 founded the Singers Forum in New York, a vocal academy where he worked with students from beginners to established stars such as Eartha Kitt, Tony Bennett and Liza Minelli.
“We had classes for older people who wanted to sing when they were younger but got waylaid somehow in their lives,” he says. “We had so many interesting older people who came to study and learn—people in their 70s. When they were there, they started to dress up, make up and look better. It was like they were in show business. There are people around here, I think, with the same ambitions, but not the facilities where they can go.”
Anselmo, who has lived at Canterbury Woods since 2006, expressed those thoughts one day during a conversation with Rob Wallace, the retirement community’s President/CEO and Executive Director. Anselmo wanted to find a way to share the joy and satisfaction music has brought him and to give back to the community where he got his start. Modestly, he says Wallace came up with the idea for an arts center and agreed that the Canterbury Woods campus was a great place to build it.
“He is wonderful to work with and very open to new ideas and just taking chances,” Anselmo says of Wallace. “They all seem to work because he’s got the energy, drive and interest to bring all of that to the larger community here. My being here to encourage it helped move it along.”
The center will be within walking distance for residents of the retirement community and easily accessible to everyone in the area. While there are many arts and performance venues in the Buffalo area, this one will bring the arts to Canterbury Woods’ doorstep.
“People are living longer, feeling better longer, and feeling the interest and excitement of whatever it was that they really cared about when they were younger,” Anselmo says. “We are giving them the opportunity to engage in it because it’s right here. Programs like this are what’s so wonderful about being at Canterbury Woods. It’s a wonderful place to live. Everyone is so nice and caring and looks after us in a wonderful way. We are really blessed with what we have here.”
Anselmo also envisions the arts center as a place where people of all ages can mingle and get to know each other.
“Music brings people together in the most amazing way,” he says.
At age 93, Anselmo still sings and continues to work with performing artists. In honor of his talent, achievements and generosity, the new venue will be named the Andy Anselmo Performing Arts Center.
The theater, designed by Architectural Resources of Buffalo, will seat about 250 people. The exact programming it will offer hasn’t been decided yet, Anselmo says, “but it will be a space that can be used for music and anything that has to do with the arts. We will try to make the best use of it for Canterbury and for the community.”