I want to tell you a story that goes back some years when I was still working as a full time vocalist. Liberace was an exceptional man and a great showman whose management company contacted my agent and offered me a short term run in Las Vegas where Lee was headlining at The Las Vegas Hilton. I had never met him before but it was a wonderful time because his show was spectacular and no expense was spared in terms of the audience experience. I was given, as I recall, 3 to 5 songs a show and on all but one Lee played piano for me while I sang the old songs that we both loved. He was generous and exceptionally kind. I later worked with Lee at one or two other venues, but this was the first and by far the most memorable. It was during my brief time in Vegas that I first met and heard Keely Smith, the undisputed Queen of Las Vegas. Lee knew her and introduced us.
Very few female vocalists give me a thrill to the degree that Keely Smith did and still does. That was back in 1980 I think but during that brief meeting we spoke of mutual friends like Johnnie Ray and others, some cousins of mine she knew and that sort of thing. Keely was walking a dog as I recall while we talked outside of what I believe was the Desert Inn, at least this is what my memory tells me and it was a big thrill for me. I mean Keely was known for so many hits with her husband Louis Prima and then of course her own solo outings which were huge sellers. Her recordings with Capital Records are so amazing to hear and of course Keely had the best arrangers, musicians and worked with the likes of Nelson Riddle. Combined with Keely’s remarkable voice, it was magic.
Some years later, maybe 2008, I was doing some songs from time to time at The Cicada Club. The promoter was telling me about the highly popular, and always entertaining, Jive Aces… who have more energy than a 17 year old boy on prom night. When I was informed that there was a concern of the cost of producing the show I offered to chip in, but I also wanted to host a table for Keely and her friends and family that were coming in from the desert to see the show. Keely and I caught up as we were being seated but one of the magical events of that particular night was when I first met one of Keely’s two wonderful daughters, Toni Prima. I sat next to Toni and we gabbed throughout the night and to this day she is without a doubt one of my closest friends and someone I respect as well as admire. Toni is an actress, singer, and really so much more in terms of her numerous gifts, but most important to me she is a dear and adored friend. Louis and Keely broke the mold when Toni arrived in our world! I have heard her sing many times and it always pleases me to no end to hear this lady own a lyric and deliver it as it should be. Not obtrusive, no bells and whistles, just a soulful reading of a lyric the way it was written and meant to be delivered. One night she sang one of my all time favorites on my own program, “I’ll be Seeing You”. This particular tune conjures up so many memories. Bing was not the first to do it, but it was his song during the war and the sentiment in the lyrics has always touched me. I had heard the Incomparable Hildegard sing it in New York, Liberace of course always closed with it, and numerous others but Toni’s reading of this song has always touched me. I may ask her to sing it when she joins me for our first program this coming February 15th in The Empire Room at The Sportsmen’s Lodge along with some other old chestnuts that are the standards that I treasure so much and which Toni can deliver with feeling and honesty.
In this life people come into our lives for reasons we may not always understand, but I do have to say how grateful I am for having Toni as not only my first special guest at our new venue, but a dear and much loved friend. I tell you now, Toni Prima has what it takes. Her voice is exceptional and her heart is made of pure gold. Who could ask for anything more? I am so grateful to my friend Toni for adding so much color to my program and my life. She is a treasure.
Until next time,