There’s a deep void in the Island music community with the absence of singer Sabrina Luening, as she recuperates in Boston from a stroke she suffered earlier this month. Her unforgettable deep and moving voice and her high-energy performances are missed, but most everyone is waiting for her to win this battle like she’s won others.
As the months go by, there will be fundraisers to help support her family (Sabrina has a 15-year-old daughter, Ella) organized by musicians and other friends in the community, including the next one, planned for this weekend, Sunday, Nov. 17, beginning at 4 pm at the P.A. Club. The lineup of performers includes Sabrina’s band, the Groovers, along with Jemima James, Willy Mason, Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish, Rose Guerin, Mike Benjamin, the Outskirts, Barbara Dacey, Kate Taylor, and Anthony Esposito, among many more. It’s hosted by the P.A. Club with music organized by the Ritz, and food by Austin Racine and friends.
“I have a giant-sized hole in my heart right now, and I feel like a lot of other close friends feel this way,” singer-musician Rose Guerin said. “We play music, and this is how we console each other, this is how we try to do our best to help. This is what we do with our feelings.”
Don Groover, who himself was a recipient of Sabrina’s generosity last year when she helped organize a fundraiser at the P.A. Club for him when he was battling cancer, has been playing music with Sabrina in some form or another for around 20 years.
“She and I started out playing as a duo, I think for a kids’ summer camp benefit, and we got such a great reaction that we decided to put a show together,” Groover said. “A couple years later we added bass and drums to fill it out.”
Groover said he met Sabrina when she was in high school, but the two didn’t become friends until years later.
What’s it like to play in a band with Sabrina?
Groover laughed, “What’s she like to work with? Endless fun. She’s constantly laughing all the time, and she’s a ball of fire.”
Old friends from Sabrina’s childhood in Oak Bluffs talked about a fun, animal-loving little girl who played hide-and-seek and camped out in tents with them in the summertime.
Friends from the neighborhood, Pam Silvia and her sister Paula, said that Sabrina loved being around their family’s horses. Silvia, along with Guerin, met with The Times at the P.A. Club last Friday to share some memories and talk about the fundraiser.
“She went in a horse show one time with Paula’s horse, and I think she got a yellow ribbon,” Pam said.
Paula said she remembers how Sabrina often joined their family for Thanksgiving dinner. “She’d go with us to Aunt Bobby’s house many times for Thanksgiving dinner, because her mom ate lobster for Thanksgiving,” Paula remembered.
Pam said she had no idea that Sabrina could sing until she moved back to the Island after being gone for 20 years.
“I don’t know if it was here [P.A. Club] or the Ritz where I first heard her sing,” Pam said. “I walked up to her and I said, ‘Sabrina?’ and she said, ‘Pam?’ and I said, ‘Where the hell did that voice come from?’ I love Sabrina, she’s got such a good heart. She certainly hasn’t had an easy road, but she’s such a bright light.”
Guerin said Sabrina would often come into the Ritz on Saturday nights to help her finish up her show, Rosie’s Ritzy Review.
“She’d do the whole end of it, and light it on fire. I miss her so much,” Guerin said.
The Island’s musical community is tight-knit, explained Jeremy Berlin, keyboard player for Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish. Members from one band often join other bands for performances.
“It’s a fairly tightly knit community, and everyone knows each other and everyone has respect for each other,” Berlin said. “Members of bands are so fluid. I think everybody is prepared to step up for everyone else. That’s been the case ever since I’ve been here.”
Berlin first met Sabrina years ago when he was dating a friend of Sabrina’s step-cousin, Holly Dando. “I first met Sabrina in 1983, when I was a 21-year-old working on the beach,” Berlin said. “Sabrina, whom we used to call Beans, would come to the beach with Erich [her brother], and she was an incredibly joyful and cheerful 12- or 13-year-old. She was a bundle of energy, just like she is now.”
Berlin said he didn’t know that Sabrina could sing, but once he heard her and Erich together, he told Erich, “If I ever start my own band, you and Sabrina are going to be the singers in my band.”
“I have a thing about related people who sing together,” Berlin said.
The last time he performed with Sabrina was a month ago at Sweet Life, Berlin said.
“She sang ‘Good Morning Heartache,’ and it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard,” he said. “She just inhabited the song. It wasn’t tearing down the house or testifying, it was a completely different, introspective, heartfelt, beautifully done song, and it was amazing to hear Sabrina sing it. When it was over, she looked at me and gave me a wink and a smile.”
Sabrina’s musician friends said they realize it will be a long haul for her as she recovers from the stroke, but they’re all anxious to get her back into their fold.
“I hope this process leads her back to the place where she can do this again,” Berlin said. “We’re all planning on it.”
“If this benefit was for someone else, she’d be there,” Groover said.
“Heart, Hope, Unity,” a fundraiser for Sabrina Luening, is Sunday, Nov. 17, at the P.A. Club, with musical performances beginning at 4 pm and playing until late.