Bahai News - Music, faith can guide us, a singer believes
Music, faith can guide us, a singer believes
Thursday, June 29, 2000
By PAT KINNEY
"I hear music when I look at you...
A beautiful theme of ev'ry dream I ever knew"
The voice is strong and melodic. The song, written in 1932 by Jerome Kern
and Oscar Hammerstein II, is familiar to this mostly middle-age audience.
"Vic! Ya still got it!" a man shouts from somewhere in the
cavernous Atlantic City showroom.
"Got what?" the performer replies, smoothly shifting into his
next number, Kurt Weill's "September Song," without missing a
The crowd laughs -- then applauds. This will not be a raspy-throated trip
down memory lane. Vic Damone had his first hit record more than half a
century ago, but clearly the years have been kind. True, the photo on the
billboard outside the theater in the Atlantic City casino could be updated.
The singer's hair is gray now, but under the rose-tinted stage lights a
boyish charm remains.
But that evening last February the singer did disappoint the crowd, with
an unexpected announcement: "I'm going to miss you," he told the
audience. "I'm going to retire." A low groan filled the darkened
"Yeah, that's it. Fifty-three years. May 2001 at Carnegie Hall
-- that'll be it.
Though Damone was never quite a superstar like his mentor and idol Frank
Sinatra, his longevity in show business is remarkable. His singing career
began when he was still in his teens. Now, at 72, fans and music critics
alike say he is in his prime.
Decades ago Sinatra said, "Vic Damone has the best pipes in the
business." But it is in recent years that his joy in singing
and pleasing an audience have added assurance and stage presence to his
matchless vocal instrument.
"The Baha'i faith" had saved Damone's life, he told a group
invited to his dressing room that evening after the show.
Unlike many performers, Damone does not impose his personal beliefs on his
audience. But he revealed to the small knot of friends and admirers that
he does take his faith on stage.
"You know, when I sing 'The overpowering feeling that any second you
may suddenly appear ...'"
Everyone nodded, familiar with his 1950s hit, "On the Street Where
You Live," from the Lerner and Loew musical "My Fair Lady."
"When I sing that, I think of Abdu'l-Baha," Damone said.
He stretched out his hands, palms up. On the stage Damone is not alone
because he brings Abdu'l-Baha, son of the founder of the Baha'i faith,
on stage with him.
The singer revealed that when he strikes that pose in his songs it is not
to draw applause from the audience, but to draw strength from his faith.
Damone embraced the Baha'i faith in the early 1960s. His career was hot
in those days: Columbia Records gave him first dibs on the entire score
from "My Fair Lady," movies at the legendary MGM studio in
Hollywood, engagements at The Copacabana and The Empire Room of The
Waldorf Astoria, concerts, and TV appearances.
His private life, in contrast, was falling apart. His marriage to actress
Pier Angeli had ended in divorce. She left Hollywood for her native Italy,
taking their son, Perry (named for Perry Como), with her.
Then, just when he was despondent enough to fritter away his life and his
talent, Damone received a gift: a Baha'i prayer book. Prayer brought his
Damone gained fortitude through his prayers and began to read Baha'i books:
"Baha'u'llah and the New Era," "All Things Made New,"
and "The Hidden Words," given to him by the drummer in his band,
who was a Baha'i.
Still, life is filled with tests, Baha'is are told. Tests strengthen and
mold the soul.
Damone has had his share, both private and public, as evidenced by the
title of the memoir he is writing, "Singing Was the Easy Part."
He has maintained the balance in his life and nurtured his musical gift
through the Baha'i faith, he said.
He marked his 50th anniversary in show business three years ago. Reflecting
Baha'i precepts of the importance of education, he celebrated the milestone
by getting his high school diploma. He had dropped out of school after his
father, Rocco, an electrician, was injured in an accident. He said that
although he had been invited to sing at the White House numerous times and
traveled all over the world, he had an unfinished dream.
Officials at Lafayette High School in Brooklyn granted credits for
Asked to give the commencement address to the Class of '97, the
bespectacled father of four and grandfather of five wore academic robes
as he stood at the podium.
"Without education you're at a disadvantage," he began,
reading from a prepared speech.
Then he spotted a couple of wise guys clowning around in the back row
and spoke from his heart: "People without education, they're the
losers," he advised. This was a public school, but he added,
"Have spiritual guidance. Don't lose God. There is a God. Trust
Since then Damone has expressed his concerns for youth and education,
stemming from his faith. Disturbed by the tragedy in Columbine, Colo.,
and increasing violence in this country, he has said that if we are
concerned about speaking to the hearts and souls of young people, we
have to consider the music they listen to.
"Music does more than entertain," he said. "It informs
culture and changes people.
It can transform a person's entire body and soul," he said. Speaking
from firsthand experience, Damone said, "I've seen it happen every
time I do a concert. A torch song of lost love brings tears to the eyes.
A great, jumping Cole Porter tune will have feet tapping and hands
"Our schools have expelled George Gershwin and his colleagues
from the classroom," he said.
The singer said he believes we have turned our backs on one of this
country's greatest treasures. While schools were once sanctuaries of
learning, our school grounds and neighborhoods are poisoned with a more
violent culture, he said.
"When a young person feels misguided, adrift, and unsure, we could
point them in the direction of Gershwin's 'Rhapsody in Blue,' Dizzy
Gillespie's 'Groovin' High,' or Elvis Presley singing the 'American
Trilogy,' he recommended. "This music can expand narrow horizons and
give listeners a depth they had not imagined existed."
"So many of our kids have turned to non-melodious, three-chord
songs with monotonous drumbeats and often offensive lyrics," he
said. "Let's show them there's more."
"Please, God -- let the light shine upon their music again,"
he said. "The great American standard song has transcended generations,
and it can build a bridge over the vast valley of ignorance."
Pat Kinney is a representative of the Baha'i faith on the Interfaith
©Copyright 2000, Bergen Record Corp.
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