By Kent Leithold- Ah…music. Those sweet 5 letters that – when combined – I love so much. The first singing voice I remember hearing as a child was Petula Clark. Downtown, written and given to Petula by Tony Hatch, was the song sung by her that will forever be THAT song, that helped to shape my musical likes and ear for music. It jumped up the charts in the USA and quickly became a runaway number 1 hit – launching the love affair the American’s have had with Petula ever since. Downtown won a Grammy in 1964.
I was very fortunate to have grown up in a household where music was always the center of attention. Records were played on the huge console stereo and 8 Track tapes played endlessly. My musical tastes were shaped by the music my parents and grandparents enjoyed. Petula, Burt Bacharach, Nat King Cole, Sonny and Cher, Andy Williams, Dean Martin and others, were never too far from my listening ear. How I love this music. My first loves were these artists and all of their music that fills my head and surrounds my memories and dreams to this day.
Petula Clark graced the stage at the fabulous Coach House in San Juan Capistrano recently with her latest tour. I had no idea what to expect. I just HAD to see her again. 85 years young and still touring! A new CD, “Living For Today” just released. She did not let the packed house of adoring fans down. The audience was made up of all ages – there were 15 year old kids as well as grandparents clutching their 50 year old record albums of hers. We do not have that many of these icons still around. You could have cut the buzz created by everyone as she took the stage. The applause was deafening. She gave us all of her hits, songs from the new CD and she sprinkled in lots of interesting behind the scenes stories. I particularly loved the story of the song, This Is My Song. It was written by Charlie Chaplin – yes, the silent movie star who also composed the hit Smile. The song was written for the movie – “A Countess From Hong Kong”. The movie was not a hit, but Petulas’ recording of the song WAS a huge hit. She told about going over to Charlie Chaplins’ for lunch, knocking on his door and how very, very short he actually was when the door was opened. An interesting anecdote from Petula, since I was astonished by how short and tiny she was in person!
Very animated, she worked the entire stage as she shook hands and posed for pictures between numbers. It was one of those nights I can say I will never forget. She is such a Pro. Numerous top 40 hits over the years have not slowed her down. It has been said that Petula has charted in the top 40 somewhere, sometime with 159 recordings, stage (including Broadway) performances, two Hollywood big screen musicals (Finians’s Rainbow and Goodbye Mr. Chips), television specials, appearances and nightclub shows all over the world shower her Resume. A true seasoned professional. An entertainer since she was a child. What a night. What a legend.