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North Neighborhoods
Singing doctor to welcome holiday season in concert

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

By Jill Cueni-Cohen

Dr. Carey Andrew-Jaja is busy doing the two things he does best -- singing and delivering babies. As an obstetrician-gynecologist on staff at Magee-Womens Hospital, Andrew-Jaja became famous locally after he was featured singing "Happy Birthday" to former Steeler Lynn Swann's newborn in a 1998 television ad for Allegheny General Hospital.

"When I was at Allegheny General, there was a physician who used to sing 'Happy Birthday' very lustily to his babies," said Andrew-JaJa, 56, of Hampton.

"I liked that, and I would join him and we'd both really belt it out. When he was retiring, he asked me to continue that tradition. 'It's all yours,' he told me."

That was 12 years ago, and Andrew-Jaja is still belting it out for babies and their families.

"After the birth, if the mood is right, I like to sing 'Happy Birthday' to the baby," said the obstetrician/singer.

"I ask everyone in the room to join in, and sometimes I'll also throw in a lullaby of some sort."

After all the publicity, singing to babies has become his trademark -- and something his patients anticipate.

"The last delivery I had, some family members were really expecting me to bring them into the delivery room to sing, but the mood was such that I had to sing right away, and the rest of the family missed the moment," he recalled.

"So they made me sing again, and I sang 'What A Wonderful World.' The dad joined me in humming, and there was not a dry eye in the room -- that's how I celebrated the moment with the rest of the family."

When he's not delivering -- and serenading -- babies, the doctor, who sings bass, is rehearsing with the Pittsburgh Concert Chorale. Since 1990, the volunteer choral group has been his favorite pursuit.

"He's had to drop out from time to time when he gets too busy, but he always comes back to the chorale," said Director Clark Bedford of McCandless, who founded the group, originally called the North Hills Chamber Singers, in 1985. "He's very loyal."

Singing has come naturally to the Nigerian-born doctor, who started out as a choirboy at the age of 8.

"I sang all through high school and a little bit in college, but it was difficult to find the time because I was also involved in drama," said Andrew-Jaja, who came to Pittsburgh in 1976 with his wife, Lorna, to pursue residency training in obstetrics and gynecology at Allegheny General Hospital.

"I loved acting, but with singing, everyone can enjoy it more easily."

With his three children now in college, he can devote his spare time to singing with the chorale, often standing out as soloist in a diversified collection of more than 80 talented singers.

Andrew-Jaja's acceptance into the group gave him the confidence to begin singing to everyone, including newborns.

"I always felt I could sing, but not with quality, and I wanted to sing at parties," he recalled.

"I couldn't assume that all my high school and college singing was enough, so I went to Clark in 1987 for private lessons. In '89, I auditioned for the chorale."

"He's our star," chorale soprano Nancy Naragon of Franklin Park said of Andrew-Jaja's solo in the chorale's upcoming holiday concert with the River City Brass Band.

The concerts will be held at 8 p.m. Friday in Hampton High School and at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 15 in West Allegheny High School.

The program will include holiday songs from around the world, with Andrew-Jaja singing a Nigerian carol in a native language called "Yoruba." African drums and the chorale will back him up.

Steve Bittle of Plum, the chorale's executive director, said the contemporary Nigerian song represents that holidays are celebrated all over the world

"Carey's song is really something different," he said. "It's haunting and striking."

"There have been times when I took off a semester from the chorale and backed off from singing, but work comes first," said Andrew-Jaja, who also sees patients at offices in Franklin Park and Richland.

"However, I intend to make this a primary event in my life for as long as possible. I still work on my voice, and I want to get better at doing it."

He added, "Each of us has to find a way -- in medicine and other walks of life -- to communicate a cheerfulness to those we work for and with, and it keeps everybody happy."

For information on the Pittsburgh Concert Chorale or tickets to its holiday concert, call 412-635-7654 or visit the group's Web site at www.pghconcertchorale.org.

Jill Cueni-Cohen is a freelance writer.

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