Entertainer Tony DeSare got his first taste of the spotlight in high school when he was asked to do a few songs to fill time between performances of his middle school and high school orchestras.
The self-described shy kid sat down at a piano and played Georgia on My Mind, Fly Me to the Moon and a few more songs.
“By the time I was done, the whole place was standing on their feet,” he told The Daily Press in Hampton, Virginia, in January. “I was never the center-of-attention type, but it was pretty amazing to see that kind of reaction.
“I still feel that when I perform today,” DeSare added.
This week, the Grand Rapids Pops welcomes the singer and pianist to Grand Rapids for a salute to the songs of Ol’ Blues Eyes titled Sinatra and Beyond.
DeSare, who starred in the Off-Broadway show, Our Sinatra, will sings songs made famous by “The Sultan of Swoon” including Come Fly With Me, I’ve Got the World on a String, My Way and many more “ring-a-ding-ding” tunes.
Associate Conductor John Varineau leads the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Fox Motors Pops series concerts at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, November 9-10 and at 3 p.m. Sunday November 11 in DeVos Performance Hall.
One of the most popular entertainers of the 20th century as well as one of the best-selling recording artists of all time, Sinatra died 20 years ago at age 82. But his music has never gone out of style.
In October, Capitol Records released the 60th anniversary edition of “Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely,” an album that went straight to No. 1 and stayed on the charts for two years.
The album, regarded by many as Sinatra’s greatest record of all, included songs such as “One for My Baby (And One More for the Road),” which DeSare will perform with the Grand Rapids Pops this week.
Today, when people think of Sinatra, they think of the mature Sinatra, dressed in a tuxedo, singing such songs as “New York, New York.” But DeSare, age 42, prefers Sinatra’s music from the 1950s, when he recorded such albums as the 1958 release “Songs for Only the Lonely”.
“Frank’s voice was dead-on perfect, and he was such a great interpreter,” DeSare told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal in September 2017.
“Plus, he was working with those classic Nelson Riddle arrangements,” added DeSare, whose first appearance with the Grand Rapids Symphony was for its Wolverine Worldwide Holiday Pops in 2012. Earlier that year, he had been in West Michigan to perform Our Sinatra at Mason Street Warehouse in Saugatuck.
Named a Rising Star Male Vocalist by Downbeat magazine in 2009, DeSare has appeared in venues ranging from Carnegie Hall to jazz clubs. He’s headlined in Las Vegas with comedian Don Rickles, and he’s appeared with major symphony orchestras.
As a child, DeSare had his first music lessons on violin, but he soon discovered the piano.
“I’m not sure exactly what it is,” he told the South Bend Tribune in August. “I know one of the big things is that it’s the only instrument that lets you be your own orchestra.”
At age 11, he became obsessed with learning George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” Mining his parents’ record collection, he soon developed a fondness for such classic pop singers as Sinatra and Nat King Cole.
Still, music remained a hobby through his teen years, and he studied pre-law at Ithaca College until he attended a Billy Joel concert. The singer/songwriter shared some advice from the stage for the audience of 20,000.
“What Billy said is that we did not have to become recording stars or follow in his footsteps,” DeSare recalled in the interview with the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. “He basically said, ‘If you feel you can pay your bills by playing music, that alone is reason enough to follow your dream.’”
“I just sat back, thinking to myself, ‘Wow, when you put it that way,’” he added. “I was much too far along for me to switch and begin pursuing a music degree,” he said. “But I dropped my law courses the next Monday and became a business major.”
Described in the New York Times in 2012 as “two parts young Sinatra to one part Billy Joel,” DeSare channels the best of the Great American Songbook.
“My view of it is, with the Great American Songbook, these great songwriters and the recording industry gave the world a huge gift,” he told The Daily Press. “And when we look back through the lens of the 21st century, it’s interesting to find ways to present all sorts of songs, from all different decades, that are great music.”