View Full Version : songs for retirement villages

12-22-2016, 10:35 AM
There might have been a prior thread on this but I could not locate it.
Our group is going to become more active in visiting local retirement communities and nursing homes and we want to put together a set of songs that really are liked by the current 60-90 year olds. Some of these will like songs from the mid to late 1900's but they are also responsive to those from the "standards" of the late 1800'a and early 1900's, particularly those that work as sing-a-longs.

Got some suggestions that have worked for you and your group? Any song books that cater to that need?



12-22-2016, 11:00 AM
Hi Ralph

Our group has been playing at retirement communities & nursing homes for a 4-5 years now and we just do a real mix of songs unless it is a specific time, like Xmas etc.

We find that if you want them to join in singing (we supply 'song sheets' to encourage them to join in) you would need to choose songs that they are quite familiar with, rather than heaps of more 'current' songs.

The 'standards' from the late 1800/early 1900s are songs they would be familiar with as it is what their parents would have been familiar with. They would have grown up with music of the war years & then the excitement of the 50s songs etc

If the residents are in their 70-80s - they would have been 'young & with it' back when Rock & Roll & the Beatles & Rolling Stones were at their best in the 60/70/80s - so they would be quite familiar with them as well. So .... don't forget to include those songs, as well as Elvis, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra - all those guys and more - and songs right up to stuff in the 80/90s. Choose the more popular ones so they are more likely to know them.

We do a real mix of songs & have put our own songbooks together.

As a reference, sites like Richard G's
http://www.scorpexuke.com/ukulele-songs.html is a brilliant resource,

as is Jim's Songbook

cheers & have fun! It is immensely rewarding to play to the 'oldies' - and they LOVE having us there. It is also a terrific way to become more confident in your playing - everyone is nervous when playing at first, but once you realise they aren't looking at YOU in particular - it just becomes a really fun gig!

The one thing I would emphasise is to 'eyeball' the audience - interact with them - scan all the different faces as you play & sing. There is nothing worse than having everyone with their heads down looking at their songsheets & not interacting with the audience. Make sure your music stands don't hide your faces when playing!

All the best!


12-22-2016, 12:36 PM
I play with the Glastonbury Ukulele Band lead by Dr Uke. For an extensive list of songs check out his site. He has the lyrics and tab to
Over 1600 songs and recordings to almost all of them.
http://www.doctoruke.com/songs.html. This past month we practiced and performed Holiday music but normally perform standards, Beatles, ragtime,etc.. His tabs are all tested, chord changes are over the correct word or even silible. It's an impressive list of music

12-22-2016, 02:27 PM
Was just talking about this with a friend - he did a set of Tin Pan Alley standards at a retirement home. When they started taking requests, the requests weren't for Hoagy Carmichael and Bing Crosby - they were for Beatles, Stones, Dylan, etc.!

12-22-2016, 03:22 PM
I recommend 'Enjoy Yourself (It's Later Than You Think)' - assuming a crowd with a sense of humour :)

12-22-2016, 05:08 PM
Was just talking about this with a friend - he did a set of Tin Pan Alley standards at a retirement home. When they started taking requests, the requests weren't for Hoagy Carmichael and Bing Crosby - they were for Beatles, Stones, Dylan, etc.!

Agree. The 60s and 70s tunes are what current retirees find familiar. Play "Paradise By The Dashboard Lights" and you'll have them eating out of your hand.

12-22-2016, 07:35 PM
I think many of my uke groups play songs that are really not for our target audience in senior centers. In their 70s & 80s now, They seem to connect more with 50s songs, in general. I just brought my uke for some Salvation Army bell ringing and the best received holiday song was (with all, but especially with seniors) Blue Christmas, followed by Jingle Bell Rock, Motown or even Beatles and other 60s artists. Really oldtimey stuff may be slightly familiar, as in "stuff my parents listen to, and was maybe ok", but not really a big hit with our current senior population. I dig a lot of the older stuff, but it's not for everyone and I don't think we should presume that it is what seniors want to hear.

12-22-2016, 10:38 PM
Thanks Ralph, this is a really timely thread as I've just been asked if I would play & sing for one of our local retirement villages too. So thanks all, yes I see I need to add some '50s and '60s music to my mainly '20s and '30s repertoire.

My Uncle still visits a home where his mother was resident, and plays gramophone records for them. He said that those of them with fading powers of memory sometimes respond well to nursery rhymes too.

Croaky Keith
12-22-2016, 11:39 PM
To give a bit of perspective.
I was born in 1950, the tunes I mostly regard as my period are from the late 40's through to the 70's, no way do I like everything from that period, but a lot are familiar.
So, I would say tunes between 45 to 70 years ago are what is likely to bring back the memories for older folks. :)

Edit: When my time comes, remember, I like blues, rock, & country. :D

12-23-2016, 04:18 AM
My question is, when we talk about retirement homes, what are we talking about? Are we talking about a retirement community, assisted living, or a nursing home? I have a friend who lives in a retirement community, and it has its own rock band. They blast the place on Friday nights in the community center attached to it. Sometimes guest bands come in and play. They dance. My father lived in assisted living for several years. They would have "live entertainment", as my dad called it, and it varied. Sometimes they would have country, sometimes 50s and 60s, even bluegrass. Sometimes they had jazz. The more active residents might get up and dance. They had food and drinks, and it was almost like a club atmosphere. If they didn't like the music, they would go off and do something else. My mother went through a long period in a nursing home, and most every Sunday someone would come in a play some of those old timeless songs from the 20s and 30s. It was usually just a person, or maybe a small group. Sometimes they would bring in kids from the boys and girls club to put on a program for them. There was a woman who came and played the piano once a month. There was some old guy that was older than some of the people in the nursing home, and he would come in and play a guitar and sing. Some of the residents were more aware than others, but mostly they just knew that someone was playing music for them. Sometimes they would try to sing along, if the song was buried somewhere in the back of their brain, but mostly they were just happy for the distraction.

So anyway I really think that it depends on the audience. But if you are talking nursing home, they will just listen to whatever you want to play. Just go with what you know. If you are talking assisted living or a retirement community, better work up something that they can connect with, or they will all go off and watch Netflix instead.

12-23-2016, 06:38 AM
Was just talking about this with a friend - he did a set of Tin Pan Alley standards at a retirement home. When they started taking requests, the requests weren't for Hoagy Carmichael and Bing Crosby - they were for Beatles, Stones, Dylan, etc.!

I live in Sun City, AZ, the original planned retirement community. Our Ukulele Club has over 100 members and in the winter, we have 50+ at our weekly jams. 60's and 70's rock are the most popular by far. If you can get copies of the Santa Cruz song books, they're an excellent resource. I prefer the old timey stuff such as Ain't She Sweet and 5 Foot Two, etc.

12-23-2016, 09:01 AM
Thanks for all the great responses. As to venues, the key word here is FREE, for the venues we will be playing do not have much in the way of entertainment money. FREE is the key word for nursing homes, assisted living and such. For the upscale retirement complexes (not high on our list of facilities), which have money, we play for free anyway, since the income is so small, per performer, that it is just to much trouble to worry about fees, and taxes, and such.

Great responses. Thanks again


12-23-2016, 09:42 AM
My neighbor plays guitar in a couple of gig bands and does nursing homes and such. I got him to buy a Ukulele and he's liking it. Now he play his uke on a couple or three songs each set. I'm trying to get him used to re-entrant tuning, but he's stubborn linear.

The Sana Cruz Songbook is available on the web for free.

12-23-2016, 10:01 AM
Our club just played at a veterans' hospital and the act that followed us was an Elvis impersonator.

We've got the old-timey stuff covered, and the Beatles and '60's rock, but I think we need more Sinatra and adult popular music from the 1940s through 1970s. You know, the stuff our parents listened to :-)

What really matters, especially at the nursing homes, is having songs the audience can sing along with. That can include "Bicycle Built for Two" or "You Are My Sunshine" or "Hey Jude."

12-23-2016, 10:22 AM
Our group plays a lot of retirement homes, we do a lot of pop standards and early rock and roll, but don't forget country music from the 50's. We get good response from Hank Williams and Johnny Cash tunes.

12-23-2016, 03:48 PM
Our group plays at adult centers several times a year. We do a special Christmas/holiday set with many of the familiar songs, highlighting ones that are fun for sing-alongs (Feliz Navidad, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, etc.) and others that are just fun to play (Mitch Miller's "Must be Santa," "Christmas Island").

Our regular set is dominated by '50s and '60s music, pop songs, mainly. Again, singalong songs are the most appreciated.

12-24-2016, 01:37 PM
I have the words to an adult version of Jesus Loves Me that is well received, and I give to anyone who wants a copy of it. Another humorous one is to the tune of of Mamma's Little Babies Like Shortening Bread, with words about Ten Little Doctors. Another is alternative words to Home on the Range. These are not foul mouthed or inappropriate content songs, but get lots of laughs and smiles. If interested---> thecraftedcow@comcast.net <---

12-26-2016, 04:21 AM
If people are 65 today, they were 15 in 1966.

Beatles, Stones, Kinks, Beach Boys, Dave Clark Five etc etc etc . . .

Yes, that DOES means you're going to see a geriactric rendition of "Start Me Up...." Mind you that STDs are a HUGE problem in nursing homes so . ..

12-26-2016, 07:53 PM
I think they'd enjoy "Poison Arrow" by ABC, "I Want Your Sex" by George Michael, and "Relax" by Frankie Goes To Hollywood.

Those songs epitomize the gated-lifestyle communities made up of well-tanned, semi-married fun-seekers who drive golf carts to pick up raw oysters and 24-packs of Heineken at Publix before lounging in backyard Jacuzzis while reading Salinger's "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" and blowing bubbles with other morally bankrupt and scantily-clad snowbirds.

Or so I've heard.