Frank Sinatra was the king of the Las Vegas Strip in the 1950s and ’60s, and the Sands Hotel and Casino was his playground.
Sinatra brought glamour to the dusty Western city when he made the Sands his performance home in 1953. His entourage, called the Rat Pack, included hip entertainers of the time like Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr., as well as Hollywood stars such as Marilyn Monroe and Lauren Bacall. The celebrities socialized at the hotel and made it a hot spot that brought in the high rollers –wealthy gamblers who would routinely leave substantial fortunes in the casino’s coffers.
No other Vegas showroom expressed the cultural moment of late ’50s and early ’60s as much as the Sands hotel, partly because it featured the very best in entertainment, said chart-topping Canadian jazz singer Micah Barnes.
“Frank Sinatra himself was involved in the hotel, a part owner. When that Rat Pack phenomenon happened, it coalesced different elements in Vegas and suddenly the centre of the entertainment world was moved to the Sands hotel,” said Barnes, who’s created a show in tribute to that classic Vegas era.
Barnes’s upcoming show, Micah Barnes at the Sands, will take the audience back to the days of the high rollers playing all night until the sun rose over the Vegas Strip, Barnes said. Directed by Thom Alison, the show features Barnes and his special guests, Billy-Newton Davis and Charlotte Moore.
The premiere of Micah Barnes at the Sands, at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre in Toronto on May 14, will benefit the JCC’s Music Scholarship and Innovation Fund. Barnes, who teaches at the JCC’s Summer Institute for Creative Adults, said the fund is absolutely necessary, as talented and creative people aren’t always born into families who can afford music lessons for their children.
“I know, myself, I was very lucky, because I had an arts-oriented family and I was willing to work jobs to pay for lessons,” Barnes said. His father, Milton Barnes, was a composer and conductor; his mother, Lilly Barnes, is a writer; and his brother, Daniel Barnes, is a drummer. “Not everyone has support. That way the JCC can make a difference for young people music-wise,” Barnes added.
About 600 people participate in the JCC’s music programs annually. The fund was launched when Harriet Wichin, who’s now the JCC’s executive director, was the conductor of the JCC’s community choir. Each year, the choir raised money to buy her a gift.
“About five years ago, they said, ‘We’d like to do something more. We’d like to make scholarships available for people who’d like to study music and we’ll do it in your honour,’ ” she said.
“The first year, they raised $800, then a little more, and we started to give money to children in the Suzuki strings program who needed help. It just grew from there. There were young people who would designate the fund as one of their bar mitzvah giving opportunities, because music had touched their lives, and we started to realize we could really make a difference in the world by making music in general more accessible to more people.”
Along with providing assistance for individuals, the fund also subsidizes several of the JCC’s music programs, such as opera appreciation for seniors, making them more affordable for all.
“We’ve helped people learn about music, attend lectures, attend concerts, study an instrument, play in the klezmer ensemble, play in the adult Suzuki ensemble,” Wichin said. “It’s had a wonderful impact that’s grown so far beyond that initial gift that the choir started to thank me.”
For tickets to Micah Barnes at the Sands, at the JCC’s Al Green Theatre at 7:30 p.m. on May 14, visit tickets.harthouse.ca, or call 416-978-8849.