Annie Crotts, who sang the national anthem for Bolinas, dies at 91

David Briggs
Annie at the annual Independence Day parade in Bolinas in 2012.
05/14/2014

Annie Crotts, who lived in Bolinas since 1925 and belted the Star-Spangled Banner to commence the local Fourth of July parade for more over six decades, passed away last week, at age 91. 

Annie lived through upheavals in her community and tragedies in her own life, but her inner strength and tolerance kept her in the town she loved, the town that was her whole life.

Annie was born in Massachusetts in 1922. Her family moved to Bolinas when she was a toddler, after her father got a job as chief rigger at the Radio Corporation of America transmission station.

As a child she took piano lessons, but didn’t practice much. Eventually her teacher switched her to voice lessons, although Annie told the Hearsay News last year that she received little in the way of structured training; her vocal prowess was God-given. She sang in a chorus at school and took music classes in high school, and her talent eventually led to her to sing the Star-Spangled Banner at the Fourth of July parade starting in the mid-1940s. 

“She had a hell of a voice,” her son Roland said.

Annie met her husband, Harvey Crotts, at a local dance, and they married in 1941 when she was 19, he 31. 

Harvey was born in Willits and moved with his family to Sebastopol when he was a teenager. Roland was unsure if his father made it past the eighth grade. After Harvey’s parents died, he drifted; a cousin had a job at Slide Ranch, and Harvey found jobs on ranches around Bolinas. Annie’s parents did not approve of the union; he was rough around the edges. Still, her father drove them to the ferry in Sausalito so they could (somehow) get to Reno to marry. 

The newlyweds rented the apartment above Tarantino’s, a downtown restaurant, for about $20 a month. 

Almost immediately after they married, the attack on Pearl Harbor led the United States into World War II and Harvey left to serve in North Africa. Annie moved back in with her parents and went to work at a telephone exchange house—where operators would manually connect calls—located between her own home and Smiley’s. She gave birth to Roland, who was conceived during one of Harvey’s leaves, in 1943. Harvey returned in 1945 and over the next eight years the couple would have two more sons, Charlie and Jimmy.

The family didn’t have much money; Harvey worked in construction and winters were often slow; they kept a tab at the grocery store when cash ran low. Roland remembers just a single vacation during his own childhood: they went to Willits, where Harvey had hoped to find the house in which he was born.

There was always enough to eat, though, and Roland recalls his childhood fondly. He and his friends would tear up hay bales and turn them into forts, and he would come home to the sound of his father’s whistle. “It was a pretty simple life,” he said. 

Harvey sometimes had a quick temper, but Annie accepted him for who he was. “He was a lucky man. She was very tolerant and very non-judgmental, and trusted in the Lord that things would be okay,” Roland said.

Annie got a job at the post office in 1961 and eventually became the town’s postmaster. In an interview this spring with Elia Haworth, the history curator at the Bolinas Museum, Annie noted the job’s perks. “[Y]ou get to know everybody and meet everybody. In some of the offices I’m sure that all they do is just stay at the window and sell stamps, or whatever it is that they do. They don’t have the variety, and they don’t get the close contact with people.”

Roland remembers his mother’s fastidiousness and dedication to her work. Sometimes she would come home, cook dinner and go back to the post office to make sure the books were square. “She would stay at that post office for hours trying to find where that last penny had gone,” he said.

Annie loved raising her children at a time when things were easier, safer, less complicated. There weren’t so many people around, and she didn’t worry about the youngsters playing in town or on the beach, swimming, fishing and clamming. 

But of her husband and three sons, only Roland is still living. 

Her second son, Charlie, died in a car accident in 1952, when he was just five years old; the brakes on Harvey’s truck failed around a hairpin turn. Harvey passed away from leukemia in 1972. 

Annie’s youngest son, Jimmy, who battled with alcoholism, died about 15 years ago.

She didn’t talk about those things too much, Roland said. They each dealt with the tragedies in their own ways, but Annie went to church every Sunday. She was religious, but she didn’t discuss that much, either. “She didn’t need to talk about it. It was just part of her life,” Roland said.

The tragedies she experienced didn’t lessen her capacity to care for others. Richard Nielsen, a childhood friend of Roland’s who still visits Bolinas every summer, said Annie treated him like family. “It was like I was one of her sons,” he said. When he heard that Annie passed, “It was like losing another mother.”

Last Friday, at a memorial gathering at the community center that drew nearly 100 people, Bolinas resident John Cozy described how Annie took him in about a decade ago. He had served as an informal sports broadcaster at Smiley’s Schooner Saloon—to the chagrin of many, since the sound was turned down on the T.V. 

But Annie loved baseball and would stake out a seat next to Mr. Cozy to listen to his play-by-play. One time, he asked if he could park his truck in the driveway of her Brighten Avenue home and sleep for the night. At around 2 a.m. she knocked on his window and told him to come
inside. 

He lived there ever since, and would cook her dinner, get her coffee from the Coast Café, fetch her mail. Roland said he was comforted that his mother wasn’t living alone.

Annie also liked to socialize and listen to music at Smiley’s, and everyone made sure she had a good seat, Roland said. “She closed the place sometimes,” he added.

Annie was part of the fabric of Bolinas. She sang with the choir at Bolinas Cavalry Church and in numerous musicals over the years, ranging from South Pacific to The Mikado, a comic opera in which Roland said Annie played a geisha. She was a treasurer for the White Caps, a senior citizen’s group. 

She loved visiting with people and sharing the news in town. Ralph Camiccia, whose wife, Terry, worked with Annie at the post office, said Annie would sometimes come over around 11 a.m. to chat and have lunch. Soon it would be dinner time, so they’d all have dinner, too, and then they’d chat some more. 

Annie lived through significant changes in Bolinas. The counterculture flocked to the town in the 1960s and ‘70s; in more recent years, millionaires and billionaires have purchased property there. But Mr. Nielsen said Annie adapted well to these shifts. 

“The thing that has struck me so much about Annie is that I’ve never seen anyone who was able to transition through the years, and be accepting of the way a place was at every age that she was. Annie did that. When Annie was young she fit into Bolinas, and before she died she fit into Bolinas. And Bolinas is an unusual place to do that, because it changed so much.”

Roland once suggested to Annie that maybe, someday, she should move close to where he lived in San Anselmo. She refused. She belonged in Bolinas, where her absence will now be markedly felt.

At Independence Day celebrations people would cheer for Annie, who would wear an American flag scarf around her shoulders, when she sang from the balcony at Smiley’s. Sometimes she would offer pointers to the crowd before she started to sing. 

“Sing loud, put your heart in it. Think of the words you’re saying and what they mean to all of us,” she said one year. 

Everyone joined her in the anthem, as they do each year, but the force of her soprano voice, almost operatic, rang clear above the chorus.

At her funeral on Friday the crowd sang a hymn, “Will There Be Any Stars in my Crown?” But some attendees were not sure of the rhythm and the voices were not quite in sync. If only Annie had been here, Pastor Bob said. “Annie, where were you when we needed you?” 

 

This article was amended on May 26 to reflect Annie's age at her time of death—91, not 92—and to the correct year her husband, Harvey, returned from war, 1945. Our sincere apologies to her family.