John Davidson brings music to Lenox


LENOX -- Singer, actor and TV personality John Davidson has enjoyed a rich and varied 50-year career on stage and television, wowing crowds from Broadway to Las Vegas. At 72, he still flashes the winning smile that charmed viewers as host of "Hollywood Squares," "That's Incredible" and Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show."

At 7 p.m. Friday, in his warm baritone voice, he will sing at a benefit concert for Lenox Library. He wants to support the community he has embraced since moving from Florida a year ago with Rhonda, his artist wife of 30 years.

"I've played Broadway, major Las Vegas showrooms and concerts all over the country," he said. "But I love to find a way to do an intimate show and tell personal stories and funny jokes and stories about celebrities.

"I'm a one man band. I sing with my guitar and play drum with my right foot and tambourine with my left foot."

Alongside folk, country and pop tunes, half the show will come from his own original material, songs "designed to inspire, make you laugh, touch you in some way," he said.

He sings about being a Baptist preacher's son; keeping romance in a marriage; getting older; having children; and "crazy people who go on cruise ships."

Davidson started his career in New York before heading to Los Angeles. Then he realized he could live anywhere -- including a boat.

"I owned a 96-foot diesel trawler for 17 years, a classic built in ‘28," he said. "We maintained it ourselves, painting and varnishing and scraping the bottom."

He has always moved around. He recently spent nine months living with his wife in an RV while he played the Wizard in the national tour of the hit musical, "Wicked."

"Fortunately I have an incredible wife who likes to travel," he said. "That's kept our marriage together."

At age 50 he sailed for nine months from Los Angeles through the Panama Canal to Miami. At 60, he built a house in the heart of Mexico, then moved to Florida to be near a daughter.

But, having grown up in West Bridgewater until he was 13, he missed the change of seasons.

"I like the New England mentality and gentility," he said. "Lenox is just a storybook town. I hope I never move again."

Seeking another adventure at 70, he decided to ride his bicycle cross-country. On a test ride to Maine, he halted at Portsmouth, N.H.

"Two hundred thirteen miles after six days of riding in the rain, my legs and my butt were killing me. I was burnt out," he said.

Biking is a lot of work, he added, so now he will ride around the Berkshires.

Friday's concert will let him bring together his new music, his new hometown and his longtime love of books. In a long career he has talked with many writers.

Once, while hosting a daytime talk show and interviewing celebrities, politicians and authors, he took a course in speed reading "to be able to fumble through the book interviews," he recalled.

Still an enthusiastic reader, he devours mysteries, espionage novels and travel adventures.

"I like to read and I read fast -- sometimes too fast," he said. "I have to slow myself down and enjoy the words."

Since he doesn't see the point of hauling boxes of books around with him just to have them sit on a shelf, he joined Lenox Library -- the first library he has joined since High School.

"It is a great inspiration to me," he said.

Then he offered the library his support.

The library offers visual arts in the gallery, performing arts and lectures as well as literary arts, said library director Sharon Hawkes, with programs by Tanglewood musicians, bestselling authors and distinguished scholars.

"We believe that you can communicate in so many different ways," she said, "and the arts is part of that."

As a nonprofit, the library gets half the annual budget of $500,000 from the town.

"And then we raise the rest," she said.

She spoke warmly of the generosity and talent she has found in and around Lenox to support the library.

"It's amazing the kind of people that walk in the door here either as visitors or second-home owners or residents," she said. "It is really fascinating the caliber of people that want to come into a little more personal space than a stage and auditorium."

So she was delighted when Davidson walked through the door and offered to perform.

Davidson has gone from being a highly recognizable television face to life as a regular person in the Berkshires.

"When I smile, people recognize me," he said. "I must have spent a career smiling."

If you go...

What: Concert with John Davidson

When: Friday, Aug. 8 at 7 p.m.

Where: Lenox Library, 18 Main St.

Admission: Suggested donation $15, or $25 for a family

Information: (413) 637-2630


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