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Songbook Hall of Fame Gala delivers magic

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On the evening of June 29, Michael Feinstein opened the second annual Great American Songbook Hall of Fame induction ceremony with a quote from Irving Berlin, “Songs make history, and history makes songs.”

The quote was both appropriate and timely for a history-making night at Carmel’s Center for the Performing Arts. Feinstein, artistic director for the Center and founder of the Great American Songbook Initiative, served as the night’s host. By turns brilliant, gracious, humble and dynamic, Feinstein kept the ceremony lively and amusing.

It was a night like no other at the Palladium: a night filled with magic, music, and tributes. This was the night to honor four legends of music for their immeasurable contributions to the Great American Songbook. Liza Minnelli, Rita Moreno and

Jimmy Webb were all on hand to accept their awards, while Frank Sinatra received the posthumous Legend Award.

Following welcome comments by Center for the Performing Arts president and CEO Tania Castroverde Moskalenko, Feinstein introduced singer and Broadway star Tom Wopat, best known for his role on television’s “Dukes of Hazzard.” Wopat would induct award winning singer and composer Jimmy Webb. Webb is the songwriter responsible for such classics as “Wichita Lineman,” “Up, Up and Away,” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.” During a brief interview before the show, Wopat explained his admiration for Webb.

“I’ve been a Jimmy Webb fan for a long time,” he said. “Jimmy has the unique ability to write a song with timeless appeal, and a song that touches people.”

Wopat also has recorded several of Webb’s songs.

Next, television, screen, and stage actor Jimmy Smits took to the podium to induct multi-award winning singer, dancer, and actress Rita Moreno. Smits proclaimed Moreno a “goddess” who had profoundly influenced his art and his

life. Smits then introduced singer, composer, and guitarist Jose Feliciano who paid tribute to Moreno with an elegant rendition of “Strangers in the Night.”

In a stunningly novel tribute, Jill Godwin of Dance Kaliedoscope honored the legendary and iconic Sinatra with a smoldering dance interpretation of the Sinatra classic “That’s Life.”

One of the most striking performances of the night came from 16-year-old singer Nick Ziobro who performed in honor of Sinatra. Ziobro is the winner of the 2012 Great American Songbook High School Vocal Academy and Competition and serves as Youth Ambassador of the Great American Songbook. Ziobro already shows the poise and charm of a consummate entertainer.

Finally, as the ceremony drew to a close each of the three Hall of Fame honorees took their turns on stage to accept their awards. Webb was gracious, and low-key as he thanked God for his long and prolific career. The 81-year old Moreno wowed the crowd with her vibrancy and grace as she glided flamboyantly to the podium. She humbly thanked Feinstein and spoke of the significance of receiving her award in the nation’s Heartland.

Yet, nothing could have prepared the audience for the finale. Following a short but sincere acceptance speech, Minnelli launched into an amazing, show-stopping rendition of “New York, New York.” Minnelli’s strong and lively performance brought the surprised and cheering crowd to its feet with a lengthy standing ovation.

An evening of magic, indeed.


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