Frank Sinatra may have seemed like he had the world on a string, but there’s plenty the world doesn’t know about the famous crooner.
Julie Budd will share some stories about the man she respectfully calls “Mr. Sinatra” during a performance of Remembering Mr. Sinatra at the RRazz Room at the Prince Theater at 5 p.m. on May 7.
Budd, who was first discovered at 12 while on summer vacation, performed with Sinatra for a string of shows at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas in the 1970s, when she was just 16.
She remembers her agent calling her about it.
“There I was, living in Brooklyn, N.Y., and I get this phone call — it’s an amazing thing to happen to a kid, right?” Budd recalled, the accent from her hometown still apparent. “I couldn’t believe it. I said, ‘Out of all the people he could have chosen, he chose me!’ It’s that kind of feeling and I was very, very grateful.”
In the show at the RRazz Room, she’ll provide a look at what performing with Sinatra was really like — and what he was really like.
The legend is different from the person, she noted.
“The first thing that comes to mind — and I know that it’s going to sound funny to say — but the word ‘loneliness’ comes up,” said Budd, who has also performed with legends like Carol Burnett and appeared on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson and The Merv Griffin Show.
“When people are that big, there’s an isolation that comes up with that,” she added. “He was a much nicer person than what people gave him credit for, and a lot of the reason people didn’t recognize that was because there was not that kind of opportunity to get to know that side of him. He very much kept to himself, and that comes with being that big.”
As she was so young when she performed with him, she believes he might have seen some of himself in her, as he also started performing in his teens.
“We had a wonderful, wonderful relationship,” she said. “People thought of him as this swingin’ guy and the Rat Pack, but I don’t really think that there was that much of an insight to that other side of him.”
In their time performing together, as well as after, she learned a lot about him — from his musical taste and talent at choosing performers to his work during the civil rights movement.
It was one of the ways that Sinatra showed who he was, Budd said.
“The thing that I liked about him was that he didn’t go around tooting his own horn about it; he just did it. And I thought that was a very fine sign of his character,” she said. “It showed up in his music. If you listen to the Sinatra recordings, you’re going to find the honesty in his work. Whether you liked where he was in his life at that time or you didn’t, he always showed up as authentically himself.”
They talked about music, and he even gave Budd a mission that she has carried out with her the rest of her career.
One day, as they were preparing for a show, Sinatra showed up to the hotel early, which he never did. As he came “flying in,” he saw Budd doing something backstage that caught him off-guard: her homework.
“I could probably take credit for saying that I’m the only act that Frank Sinatra ever worked with that had to do her homework,” she laughed.
He sat with her, and they started talking about what it is to be a musical performer and balancing performing “doing the music you want to do when clearly it is not always in vogue with what the music industry is pushing at that time.”
She had a particular affinity, as he did, for the Great American Songbook.
“I’ll never forget what he said to me,” she said. “He said, ‘Julie, you have to continue to do these songs because you’re the young generation; you’re the new generation and if you don’t do these songs, they will die. They’ll die with my generation. Nobody will know they existed.’ And he said, ‘I don’t know anybody your age who has the maturity to perform these songs the way you do.’
“I was really, really taken when he said that to me because that was an enormous thing for him to say to me,” Budd continued. “He had worked with every fine musical act in the industry, and he said to me, ‘Listen, you have to continue to do this work,’ and I kept his word. And for the next 35, 40 years, I’ve been doing just that.”
Her career in the music industry wasn’t exactly what her parents wanted her to do, she said with a laugh, noting her parents weren’t really “show business people.”
In fact, when she was discovered during a Catskills hotel talent show, her parents didn’t know that she had snuck down to a different part of the resort to find a music producer she knew was staying there.
She knocked on his door and asked him to come see her perform. That man, Herb Bernstein, has since been her musical director.
Budd, who was inducted into the Brooklyn Jewish Hall of Fame in 2015, remains close with the people she grew up with.
“Brooklyn was like a shtetl,” she said. “You knew everybody.”
Many people in her community were descendants — or even children — of Holocaust survivors and told her stories.
“It colors your sensibilities,” she said. “It changes your view of things as you’re growing up and yet the bonds of who you are and your family, there’s a great respect and appreciation for all of this and the wisdom and the brilliance of what you come from.”
She’s looking forward to the RRazz Room performance and getting to sing some of her favorite songs like “All the Way.”
“I hope people will come out and see this show because I think it’s more than just doing the songs — it’s a little peek into somebody’s heart that produced a lot,” she said. “Even in Frank Sinatra’s passing, he’s still giving a lot to the audience.”
Tickets are available at princetheater.org/therrazzroom.
Contact: [email protected]; 215-832-0740