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March 26, 2005

Jacqui Brown

Elsie Nelson's first album is a Grammy winner of sorts -- at least

that's what her daughter, son and five grandchildren think.

At 78, the soft-spoken, delicately elegant Burbank grandmother set

out on a personal journey to record a few of her favorite songs to

leave her family as a sort of inheritance.

"I don't have any money to leave to my family, so I thought this

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would just be something I could leave behind to remind them of me

after I'm gone," Nelson said.

What started out as a small personal project quickly blossomed

into a three-month task that culminated in a full-length CD filled

with 14 romantic arias and heartwarming love songs. Titled "With a

Song in My Heart," the CD was released in December and has sold more

than 200 copies.

"I didn't expect anything to come from it, but I'm thrilled," said

Nelson, adding that she's finally living her life dream.

Glendale vocal coach and recording artist Valerie Miller has been

teaching singers for nearly 20 years. She spends an hour and a half

every week working with Nelson on things like her breathing and

posture. There are several things about Nelson's voice that make her

unique, and it's very apparent that her classical training when she

was younger has stayed with her, Miller said.

"She doesn't sound old, for one thing, and she truly sings from

her heart," she said. "Her voice is youthful and fresh; it's

completely intact, and she sings with tons of passion."

Nelson grew up in a basement apartment in what is now known as

Spanish Black Harlem in New York. She started taking singing lessons

at 15 with two opera teachers in hopes of developing a singing

career, but then moved to California when she was 18 and got married.

Soon after, she started a family, and those dreams quickly fell by

the wayside. Because her marriage lasted only a little more than

three years, she quickly found work as a secretary, which she did for

more than 35 years, and raised her children as a single mother

As she speaks of her late-life career and how her more-than-15

minutes of fame have made her feel, her eyes sparkle with excitement

and easily convey her gratitude at having survived a battle with

breast cancer at 74, as well as two other major surgeries, including

a knee replacement.

"I thank God for letting me live to raise my children and to know

my grandchildren," she said. "I can't complain about anything."

With hopes of promised great-grandchildren in the future, she's

also taken up the piano and ukulele so she'll be able to entertain

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