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DSO Heroes gala raises $1.4 million with help from Randy Newman

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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DETROIT -- Leonard Slatkin has a good friend in Randy Newman.

And so does the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

The veteran singer-songwriter, a member of both the Rock and Roll and Songwriters halls of fame, was the featured performer at the DSO's seventh annual Salute to Heroes Gala and Fundraiser on Saturday night, June 6, at Orchestra Hall, which honored the benefactor Davidson and Gerson families and brought in $1.4 million for the organization's youth programs. Newman proved a worthy hook for that money -- and not just for the music he played.

Newman and DSO music director Slatkin have been friends since childhood, when their families were both active in Hollywood's film music community. "You couldn't make a film without a Slatkin or a Newman around," the DSO's maestro quipped at the beginning of the night. And the two men demonstrated the kind of easy, comfortable camaraderie that comes from a friendship nurtured as youths with picnics and games of catch near the sound stages where their relatives were working.

"He took the good road, I took the bad," the 71-year-old Newman noted, referring to his own career as a Grammy Award-winning pop artist known for his wry humor ("Short People" -- 'nuf said) until he began scoring films, for which he's won two Academy Awards. Newman began his portion of the evening in Hollywood, in fact, playing portions of his scores for "The Natural," "Avalon" and "Maverick." While the music was performed with serious care, Newman took a light tone in talking the the audience, noting -- deliberately -- that "The Natural" was "Barry Levenson's great football movie" (it was baseball) that starred Paul (actually, Robert) Redford." The Jewish-themed "Avalon," he noted, was "a movie no gentile has ever seen."

Newman also played 10 of his songs, both with the DSO and solo, panning his career for hits (the aforementioned "Short People" and "You've Got a Friend in Me" from "Toy Story") and critically loved favorites such as "Birmingham," "Great Nations of Europe," "Political Science" and "Sail Away." He also introduced a brand new song, "She Chose Me," and introduced the moving, post-Katrina "Louisiana" by talking about his family's roots in New Orleans, and how a cousin who lost her home told him that "one think I never want to hear again is your song or see Spike Lee down here again." He paused and noted, "That's pretty good company."

Newman closed the night with an encore of "I Think It's Going to Rain Today" -- throwing Slatkin for a moment by starting out with Billy Joel's "Honesty." Nevertheless, Slatkin told his old friend that, "I'm personally so happy you're here tonight. It means a lot to me" -- and, clearly, not just because of the money Newman helped raise.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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