Tribute written by Erik Ingmundson, Maria Petrillo, and Liz DeArruda, and shared with permission
It is with heavy hearts that we announce the passing of our dear friend, chanteyman, and colleague, Don Sineti. Don became ill in November and died peacefully surrounded by loved ones on the night of January 5th.
Don was drafted into military service and served his country during the Vietnam War from 1967 to 1968. During his training, he received high marks for his “command voice,” a talent that would shape the rest of his life. His tough war experiences motivated him to be a force for good when he returned from his combat tour. As he noted in an interview with The New York Times back in 1996, “It’s impossible to go through an experience like that without getting an
appreciation of how delicate things are — the environment, human life. I came back with a feeling of wanting to make the world a better place.”
It was after the war that Don combined his nascent career as a folk musician with his passion for the marine environment. He helped found Cetacean Society International, a nonprofit dedicated to educating the public about whales and advocating for their protection. He also found a niche for himself singing sea songs and chanteys, with a powerful bass-baritone voice that most definitely required no amplification. He performed with folk groups such as “The Morgans” and “Finest Kind,” developing friendships that he sustained for the rest of his life. He also developed a lasting friendship with Stan Hugill, who was famously known as “the last working chanteyman.” Stan’s mentorship gave Don a rare gift – a living connection to an era when chanties were actually used for work at sea.
Don brought his talents to the chantey program at Mystic Seaport Museum in 1992. He routinely made the 120-mile round-trip drive from his home in Bloomfield because he loved this place so much. He was a fixture along the museum’s waterfront for many years, with a singing voice that could be heard from one end of the museum’s campus to the other.
He was especially passionate about sharing maritime traditions with young people. Don spent many years as a skills instructor in the Williams-Mystic Program, and delivered hundreds of programs to school children and youth
groups. Even after the pandemic shutdown, Don continued to help the museum’s education department as an independent contractor. He believed in Mystic Seaport to his very core, and was a great ambassador for our
organization everywhere he went.
Don’s big voice belied a deeply kind and gentle personal nature. He was always willing to give people a listening ear, seldom interrupted, and always smiled with a twinkle in his eye. He seldom spoke ill of others, even if he had a difference of opinion. Time spent in conversation with Don was always time well-spent. May we all be good stewards of the wonderful legacy of music and relationships that he left behind.