The most notable parent-and-child duets in recent years have been pieced together half-posthumously in the studio, with talented engineers providing much of the magic. Think of Nat and Natalie, or Hank and Hank Jr.
But with Sunday’s airing of “Evening at Pops” on PBS, fans of the popular music of two distinct generations will get a rare chance to see a father and daughter equally famous in their separate heydays team up live and on stage.
In a tape of a well-publicized Boston concert in May, Broadway legend John Raitt, 75, and best-selling pop-blues favorite Bonnie Raitt, 42, go public with the kind of dueting heretofore limited mostly to private sessions in the elder Raitt’s indoor swimming pool. They’re backed on the show by the Boston Pops Orchestra, with Bonnie’s six-piece touring band also in tow.
Bonnie Raitt and John Raitt with the Boston Pops 1992
Bonnie Raitt and John Raitt with the Boston Pops 1992
Bonnie Raitt-Angel From Montgomery
Bonnie Raitt – Nick Of Time – Evening with The Boston Pops 1992
John and Bonnie Raitt sing Its wonderful
Broadway Melodies 1994. John & Bonnie Raitt. David Letterman
Over The Rainbow Mandy Patinkin w Tony Randall 1994. & John and Bonnie Raitt OKLAHOMA
Will the Sun Ever Shine Again
“I guess we’re a unique father-and-daughter team,” says the senior Raitt, considering the novelty. “In fact, I think Natalie Cole and Bonnie talked about that, and Natalie said how blessed Bonnie was because I’m still living and her father isn’t.
“The Boston Pops about two years ago contacted my manager and said they’d like to have a concert with Bonnie and her dad. It took me two years to convince her it was her idea,” he adds with a laugh. “That’s what you have to do with Bonnie. She’s very strong.” This isn’t actually the first time the two Raitts have performed together in public. That distinction belongs to a long-forgotten episode of “The Dinah Shore Show” nearly two decades ago, when Bonnie’s career was just starting out and father and daughter engaged in a trio with the series’ host.
But Bonnie has been markedly reluctant to appear with her father often since then–nervous about performing with a full orchestra, and wary that her somewhat earthier style wouldn’t go over with an audience focused on her father’s robust readings of show tunes.
But, taking a meeting in the pool inside John’s Pacific Palisades home, they ironed out an approach for this show, agreeing to separately do one or two songs from their individual repertoires and then three duets: “They Say It’s Wonderful” from “Annie Get Your Gun” (one of John’s earliest stage successes), “Hey There” from “Pajama Game” (he starred in both the movie and on Broadway), and finally–from one of Bonnie’s ’70s albums–“I’m Blowin’ Away.”
“One of the critics in Boston was so impressed he said she might be the next Mary Martin of Broadway if she wanted to be,” says the proud papa–careful to quickly add, “but she doesn’t want to do that.”
The two Raitts also now find themselves unexpected labelmates. Bonnie’s two most recent (and by far most successful) albums are on Capitol Records, the same label that released three LPs by John in the late 1950s. Two of those, “Highlights of Broadway” and “Under Open Skies,” have just been reissued on a single CD, joining the many cast albums already on the market featuring Raitt’s all-American baritone.
“We did that first album when I was doing ‘The Pajama Game’ on Broadway, eight shows a week, in 1955,” he recalls. “In those days, to make an album you did three two-hour sessions–four songs in two hours, that was it. Then I had to go over and do the show at night afterward.” He knows that’s ancient history: “I was with Jackson Browne the other night, and they spent 45 minutes on eight bars. And Bonnie takes sometimes eight months to do an album.”
Best known for originating the leads in “Carousel” and “Annie Get Your Gun,” and also oft-associated with “Oklahoma!” and “Man of La Mancha,” Raitt figures he’s logged more leading-man performances in the musical theater than any other actor. He credits his days as a physical education major at USC and the University of Redlands for setting the course of lifelong fitness that continues to keep body and baritone alike in remarkable shape.
Though the stamina is apparently undiminished, he admits to slowing down a bit, doing only about 20 concert dates a year and having only one musical currently on the docket–an “Annie” revival this month in Reno, in which he’ll finally play Buffalo Bill instead of his trademark Frank Butler. (“I enjoy firsts,” he says of the switch.)
One reason for relaxing a bit, points out the erstwhile vagabond, is his second wife, Rosemary–the childhood sweetheart with whom he was reunited in 1981, after a staggering 41 years and a respective marriage for each between their courtship and wedding day.
“She was from a Spanish land-grant Catholic family, I was Scotch-Presbyterian; on that basis they broke us up in those days, and you listened in those days, too. So this has been a wonderful experience. That’s one reason I don’t want to be that much away from Rosemary, just to make up for those years we were apart.”
Though in decades past he hosted his own network summer variety show, was a star of stage and screen and enjoyed the ears of a theater-savvy nation, Raitt claims not to be too jealous that his Grammy-winning daughter’s notoriety has eclipsed his own–though he jokes of embarrassment when Bonnie insists on picking up the check as the clan’s greater wage-earner.
“I get kids come up and say, ‘Are you by any chance related to Bonnie?’ I say, ‘Well, how many R-a-i-t-t-s can there be? Yes, I’m her father.’ Then they say, ‘Oh yeah, you look like her.’ I say, ‘Thanks a lot.’ ” He adds this last sarcastic grace note in an attempt to seem the curmudgeon, but it’s not much of a show.
“We have a wonderful thing,” he adds. “When I first played ‘Sunday Night at the Palladium,’ a television show like our old ‘Ed Sullivan Show,’ I got a cablegram that read ‘Keep the name flying–the Raitts of Aberdeen, Devonshire and Dundee.’ So every time I send a wire to Bonnie, we say, ‘Keep the name flying.’ We have quite a mutual admiration society.”