Pearl Jam star sneaks in for PE reunion
Remember the time Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder came to town to sing to pupils and plant trees at Walmer High School? No?
That is because the superstar flew, in his private jet, quietly into Port Elizabeth earlier in December, swearing all those in the know to secrecy.
A “state of love and trust” for former Walmer High School pupils and choir members saw Vedder, his wife Jill McCormick and two daughters, arrive on Wednesday last week for a morning visit to the school, with which he recorded The Molo Sessions album in 2004.
Vedder was in South Africa as part of the lineup of international artists performing at the Global Citizen Festival.
Walmer High principal Lunga Dyani said the humility of the 53-year-old Grammy award-winner reminded him of their initial meeting in Seattle in the US in 2004, when Dyani was attending a principals’ convention hosted by the University of Washington.
While there, Dyani was put in contact with Vedder by US businessman Eddie Taylor.
The two-week interaction resulted in the album being recorded soon afterwards, and the establishment of nonprofit organisation Molo Care.
With some of the proceeds from the album sales and a fundraising concert in Seattle, Molo Care raised enough funds to cover the 10 choir members’ entire tertiary education.
There was not a dry eye at the 3½-hour reunion between Vedder, Dyani and the former choir members which, the principal said, spoke volumes about the special place the school held in Vedder’s heart.
So much so that “no matter where he [Vedder] is in the world, [I] can call his office and say ‘Eddie, it’s Lunga – you are overdue for a visit’ and I am confident he will oblige”.
He said that after picking up the Golden Globe award-winner and his family, the group had driven through Walmer Township before arriving at the school, where Vedder planted a tree and entertained pupils and staff with a few songs while interacting with past and present pupils and staff.
One of the 2004 grade 11 pupils, Sindiswa Speelman, 30, who is pregnant, said Vedder’s first visit to her alma mater was especially emotional for her as he sang Here Comes the Sun to her unborn baby boy.
“The influence he had on our lives can’t be put into words,” she said.
“He totally changed the trajectory of my life.
“Coming from an underprivileged background where both my parents were unemployed, university was never really on the cards for me.
“His dedication to improving the lives of 10 children he had never met before recording the album is testament to his character.
“Because of him, I now have a degree in media and communication as well as my honours in development studies.
“I am an economic development officer at a top renewable energy firm – all because he took us under his wing, showed us the possibilities life could offer and presented us the opportunity to grab them.”
Dyani said that while the school e-mailed Vedder regularly and touched base on social media, last week’s visit was the result of the efforts of two sisters and friends of the school, Barbara Bulbring and Monica van der Poel, the second of whom lives in Australia.
The Pearl Jam “fan girls” started a Facebook fanpage about two years ago, called “Remembering the Molo Sessions”, but it was only after they started a similar page on Instagram earlier in 2018 that they received a response from McCormick late in November.
“The reason for the page was, and is, to remember what was done for these kids and, being from PE, we couldn’t allow it to just be forgotten.
“But for two years, the page has been mainly to provide – and has been running on hope of – a reunion,” she said.
“When Jill liked a photo of kids holding a banner which read ‘visit us in Walmer Eddie’, we realised this was our opportunity as we were aware he was coming for the concert.
“We contacted them and they were happy to come.
“After two years of just posting to this finally becoming a reality is a totally surreal feeling. To see the emotions on the day and see how generous Eddie and his family were with their time was truly inspiring.”
Asked how they had managed to keep the visit a secret, Bulbring said: “That was the easy part – this visit was not for us as fans.
“It was Eddie who requested for it to be kept quiet and for the former pupils.
“So we did what was necessary to make sure it happened.”
Lindezwa Nkrankra, 33, who was a grade 10 pupil and member of the choir in 2004, said: “Seeing him again was wonderful and inspiring.
“And while I did start studying hospitality at a tertiary level, I was forced to drop out due to personal reasons.
“But those reasons have since been sorted out and seeing Eddie has inspired me to complete my studies soon.”