Award-winning soul singer-songwriter, music historian, and record producer Billy Vera will be the guest performer at the South Pasadena Arts Council’s festive “1st Annual SPARCtacular Benefit gARTen pARTy,” Saturday, September 22, from 3 to 6 p.m., at the estate of hosts Bill and Mary Urquhart.
A Grammy Award-winner and recipient of a Peabody Award for Excellence in Radio Broadcasting, Billy Vera may not be household name, but chances are you’ve heard his commercial voice-overs, watched his TV or film appearances, passed by his Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, or heard his songs—recorded by everyone from Fats Domino, the Shirelles, Lou Rawls and Dolly Parton, to Robert Plant, Freda Payne, Bonnie Raitt, and Michael Bublé.
Vera’s still-active career stretches back to the 1960s, where the white kid from New York was the “blue-eyed soul singer” playing the Apollo with former gospel singer Judy Clay as part of a ground-breaking, mixed-race duo there. A “first generation rock ‘n roll fan,” Vera gravitated toward black artists he heard on the radio, and his mother, a singer on the Perry Como television show, brought home recordings “by Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole, Arthur Prysock, Nancy Wilson and people like that,” Vera said. “That was the music that I found spoke to me most.”
In addition to his own career as a performer, Vera has produced hundreds of reissue albums featuring the work of such giants as Ray Charles, Nat King Cole, Ellington, and Little Richard. In 2013, Vera received the Grammy for Best Album Notes for “Singular Genius: The Complete ABC Singles,” a Ray Charles box set. His 2016 album, “Billy Vera: Big Band Jazz,” paid tribute to Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Buddy Johnson, and other legendary black songwriters of the 1920s, 30s and 40s. A new documentary feature film, “From Harlem to Hollywood,” based on Vera’s 2017 published memoir of the same name, premiered this year at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles and at New York’s Harlem Film Festival.
Today, Vera plays gigs on both Coasts with his Billy Vera Big Band and his group Billy Vera and The Beaters. He is set to release his album of original songs, “Timeless,” for his new label Vera Cruz Music, and is working on his first novel, a political thriller.
“I’m like George Burns,” Vera joked, “He said, ‘retire? Retire to what?’ ”
One of the “must” songs that Vera plans to perform at the SPARCtacular event will be “At This Moment,” a surprise turning point in his career. Vera’s recording of the song soared to No. 1 on the charts in 1987 after it was played on an episode of “Family Ties”— and Vera found himself “at age 42 and balding” headlining on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand” to teenage girls’ screaming acclaim.
“The 1st Annual SPARCtacular Benefit gARTen pARTy,” will feature additional entertainment, arts-themed activities, silent and live auctions, a raffle, a special cocktail and mocktail designed for the event by Griffin’s of Kinsale, and food provided on-site by Crossings Restaurant. SPARCtacular Awards, honoring individuals who “Ignite Creativity and Illuminate the Arts,” will be presented to Andrew Bernstein, the 2018 winner of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Curt Gowdy Media Award; James Reynolds, winner of the 2018 Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series; South Pasadena Poet Laureate, Ron Koertge; and Laurie Wheeler, CEO and President of the South Pasadena Chamber of Commerce. Proceeds will help support SPARC’s cultural programs and activities in the community. Tickets: $50 per person/$90 per couple.
Purchase online at https://www.sopasartscouncil.org/events/sparc-benefit-garten-party