By Roger Friedman, ,
Published May 19, 2015
John Legend is not worried about the infamous jinx of winning Best New Artist at the Grammys next week.
"Mariah won," he said, "and Alicia, too."
He's right. In the past, the Beatles, Carly Simon, Lee Ann Rimes, Norah Jones and Maroon 5 have all won that award.
But consider some of these winners, too: Evanescence, Hootie and the Blowfish, Starland Vocal Band, Debbie Boone, Marc Cohn, Men at Work, Christopher Cross and, in 1964, an outfit called the Swingle Singers.
If Legend loses for some reason to Ciara, Fall Out Boy, Keane or Sugarland, he could save face by saying the category is jinxed, I told him.
But the 27-year-old Legend, whose album "Get Lifted," sounds like it was made by Marvin Gaye in his heyday, was too busy accepting accolades on Monday night at Denise Rich's off-the-cuff bash for a few hundred of her nearest and dearest.
(Legend told me, by the way, that he gives all the credit to Kanye West for discovering, producing and giving him his start. I'm not crazy about all of Kanye's sampling techniques, nor his bravado, but apparently his taste is par excellence!)
As for Denise: If she knows how to do anything besides write a song, it's how throw a party. This shindig at her Fifth Avenue triplex overlooking Central Park was a disarming warm and fuzzy doozy.
The occasion was to celebrate Legend's multiple Grammy nominations (his real name, by the way, is John Stephens). The two had met when Legend contributed vocals to Denise's hurricane relief song, "Come Together Now."
When I bumped into Denise over Christmas at Bloomingdale's, she said she was thinking about throwing a party in January for her friends in the music business. John Legend's skyrocketing career was an excellent excuse. Only Denise would put down a red carpet and paparazzi line in front of her own house — and have celebrities to walk them!
What makes one of these parties better than another? All I can tell you is, sometimes there's a good vibe and buzz. Last night, Denise hit the bulls-eye.
Friends poured in over a four-hour period as if they hadn't been out in years. Legend brought his father and brother, each named Ron. Nik Ashford and Valerie Simpson came, along with their trusty aide de camp, Tee Austin. Star Jones arrived in her soft-as-butter brown chinchilla, accompanied by husband Al Reynolds.
Music maven Jerry Inzerillo was there from Kerzner Resorts, and lots of fun people from the music business, including Artemis Records' Daniel Glass, attorney Fred Davis, Sister to Sister magazine's Jamie Foster, Detroit mover and shaker Herb Strather, Luther Ingram Jr., singer Jessica Domain, Tracy Jordan and Jamie Klein of ABKCO Records, Janice "Diddy's mom" Combs, and so on and so forth.
Not only did Denise have a birthday cake for John's brother Ron (an artist) commissioned in the form of palette, she also had a gold gramophone cake made to honor Legend himself. The latter was so breathtakingly real that no one ate it.
I also ran into Kai Milla, wife of Stevie Wonder and burgeoning fashion designer. She's doing a show Monday night at the New Yorker Hotel, with an after-party featuring Stevie.
Kai is serious, ladies and gents. Her designs are hot, and she is in this for the long haul. This is not some frivolous endeavor.
Stevie takes it seriously, too. On Sunday, he's performing at the Super Bowl, then making the Monday night show and party, and heading back to Los Angeles for the Grammys on Wednesday. That's devotion!
Strather is hopeful that Stevie will stop by his own big Super Bowl event in Detroit on Saturday night. That's when Legend and Nelly headline a musical night featuring Motown greats Brenda Holloway, the Four Tops (or the Two Tops and two Substitutes), the Miracles, the Velvelettes, the Contours and Sherrie Payne with an assortment of singers who went out as the Supremes without the original performers.
It should be a hot show, and the worst kept secret is that the aforementioned Stevie Wonder may pop in since he's in town.
PS: The annual Grammy Foundation online auction has just opened at www.ebay.com/grammy. Check it out — there's lots of cool stuff, including a Baldwin grand piano signed by George Benson, Jamie Foxx, Herbie Hancock, Randy Jackson and Olivia Newton-John. If you win something, make sure and tell Dana Tomarken you read about it here first!
Maybe you saw a bunch of nice-looking people dressed up for cold weather and standing in a block-long line last night around 49th and Broadway? They were waiting to get their copy of the new "Sweeney Todd" CD signed by the show's cast and its composer, Stephen Sondheim.
I mean it, the line went on forever. It may still be there.
Inside the Eugene O'Neill Theater, the "Sweeney Todd" cast got a standing O after its Tuesday night show, which was sold out.
Considering it's January and the show opened on Nov. 3, I was a little surprised. But there was electricity in the air.
Since the opening, the show seems to have improved somehow; it was pretty good to begin with. The actors still double as the actual musicians, singing all their parts and playing all the instruments. It's an extraordinary thing to watch as they move about the stage. They are also all attractive. The only thing they don't do is dance.
Last night, Tony winner Brian Dennehy sat in the aisle, fifth row, and almost got a close shave himself from Michael Cerveris as Sweeney Todd. I asked him if he was planning to do another turn on Broadway soon.
"I want to get into a hit TV show and make some money!" Dennehy quipped.
In fact, they should put him in charge of "Law & Order" or "ER." He can do anything.
The new "Sweeney Todd" is a little like German Expressionist theater. It takes some getting used to. But by second viewing, it all seems to make sense.
Cerveris is doing yeoman work as Sweeney, a hugely demanding role for which he will soon be thanked with many awards. Patti Lupone, I predict, will win the Tony Award in June for playing Mrs. Lovett as kind of a '60s biker chick. She's just stunning.
I did ask her and Sondheim if they knew anything — after 25 years of this — about Mr. Lovett.
"He's deceased," Patti said, almost in character.
"That's for Sweeney 2," Sondheim laughed.
P.S.: After dinner, we dipped into The Palm West for a quick bite, thinking no one would be there. Wrong. Broadway legend Chita Rivera was dining at one booth, Lilias White at another, and the entire cast of "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" was testing one another from the menu in a private room.
I have been lucky for the last 20 years to count famed photographer and bestselling children's book author Tana Hoban among my friends. Sadly, Tana passed away last Friday in a nursing home outside Paris after a long illness. She was in her mid-80s, let's say, and leave it at that.
This weekend, her husband of 23 years, John Morris, legendary as the former photo editor of the New York Times and Time magazine, as well as the co-founder of the Magnum Photo Agency, will celebrate her life with family and friends. I will always think of Tana's wild laugh, her big, beautiful eyes, her quick intellect and her deep inner beauty.
I also think of her courage. She married John and started her new life in Paris after the age of 60. Amazing.
But her professional career really started in 1970 when she sold her first children's book, "Shapes and Things," to Macmillan/Greenwillow. She never changed publishers as she authored more than 50 books. Two million copies later, nearly all of them are still in print.
In 1998, she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Society of Media for her photography. She was an inspiration to everyone she knew and met. Her "young" friends in the U.S., and there are many, will never forget her.
At the same time, I can't omit mention of the tragic and all-too-early passing of Wendy Wasserstein. I knew Wendy as a great acquaintance, and someone who would show up and do a favor without question. Twice she participated in memorial readings for my friend, novelist Laurie Colwin, prepared and enthusiastic.
More importantly, Wendy's passing is a huge loss for theater and culture in general and in New York specifically. Her plays were uproariously funny and insightful.
I will never forget the opening night of "Isn't It Romantic?" It was like laugh therapy. My deepest condolences to her family.