Last Saturday I drove to Long Island, NY to see my friend’s long-awaited performance from the Sinatra songbook at Hofstra University. There were several times during this seven hour drive that I wanted to just turn around and go home. Traffic was terrible, I wasn’t familiar with the area and the friends I was planning to go with had canceled. Still, I didn’t want to miss the show.
When the curtain went up, the 30-piece orchestra came alive. A man with his back to the audience stood at the top of the stairs. The stage was awash in light blue and a clear voice sang out:
I’ve got the world on a string,
Sittin’ on a rainbow
Got the string around my finger,
What a world, what a life, I’m in love!
His performance sounded beautiful and effortless. When veteran actor Robert Davi turned around to face the audience, I couldn’t help but smile. He was in his element and could have no greater inspiration than Frank Sinatra. The show, “Davi Sings Sinatra: A Tribute to Sinatra, the Great American Songbook and America” packed Hofstra’s famous John Cranford Adams Playhouse for two evening shows and one matinee. The opening act, Tommy Dressen, is a top-notch, “old school” comedian that toured with Sinatra for more than a decade and has made hundreds of television appearances. It was the perfect opening act for passing the torch from Sinatra to Davi.
The “Rat Pack Era” has been hot for a number of years. There are a couple young singers who put forth a good effort, but their voices don’t have Davi’s richness and depth. His voice was soulful, but in control. During the course of the show he sang audience favorites, as well as songs that may have been forgotten if not for Davi’s resurrection. By the end of the show, surely everyone in the audience felt like Davi was also their friend. Davi wove stories with songs and the stress of the day melted away. What a world, what a life, I’m in love!
I first talked to Davi when I wrote a review of his movie, The Dukes, in 2008. A friend suggested I write about the movie because his character’s name in the movie is Danny DePasquale. I’m not embarrassed to admit that I’ve mentioned that on more than one occasion and I’m still tickled by it.
I grew up in Tallahassee, Florida and there weren’t many others with “funny last names.” Every first day of school began something like this:
For a 10 year-old, it was like a neon sign that said “You’re weird!” My last name is part of my identity. Sure, I’m a mix of this and that, but I look Italian and have always felt pride in having something in common with Elvis Presley (Italian and Irish) and Frank Sinatra (an Italian with blue eyes like me!).
As conservatives we’re not supposed to dwell on what makes us different. We’re all Americans. As Davi told stories about growing up in Long Island and Sinatra’s upbringing in Hoboken, it became clear to me that for many first generation Americans their heritage is important because it is a testament to how much this country has given to them (and vice versa). Our Italian heritage ties us to the greatness of America. And being Italian, ties us to Sinatra. For a boy growing up in an Italian family in New York, Davi said Sinatra was like the Pope. He was fortunate that his first role was with Sinatra in the movie, Contract on Cherry Street.
Davi’s show was not just a tribute to Sinatra, but also a tribute to America. He’s been an ardent supporter of the military and America. One of the poignant moments during the show was when he thanked all of those who served and asked former and current servicemen and women to stand up to be recognized.
My grandfather, like many first generation Americans, found equality in the military. Similarly, entertainment and sports were the first avenues in which non-whites were on an equal playing field (despite the laws that dictated otherwise at the time). Talent was talent.
Davi told the audience about the time Sinatra brought actress Lena Horne to the famous Stork Club. At that time the restaurant didn’t allow blacks. The manager flipped through the reservation book, claiming that he couldn’t find the reservation. Sinatra said, “Try Lincoln.”
Like Sinatra, Davi approaches life with humor and reverence for the important things. Later this fall Robert Davi will release a tribute album to Sinatra. As, Ol’ Blue Eyes would say, the best is yet to come.