Memories of Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra kept alive

Tribute concerts for each 20th Century star play Saturday at Stranahan, Valentine

  • Sinatra-Tribute-jpg

    Mark Randisi will bring the sounds of Frank Sinatra to the Valentine.

  • Mark Randisi will bring the sounds of Frank Sinatra to the Valentine.
    Mark Randisi will bring the sounds of Frank Sinatra to the Valentine.

    The Chairman of the Board and the King will be in town Saturday, at least in spirit.

    Frank — Ol’ Blue Eyes — and Elvis the Pelvis.

    Sinatra and Presley.

    Though neither star would qualify for sainthood, these towering icons of American popular music will be brought to life on All Soul’s Day 2013 in live performances by tribute artists.

    Singer Kraig Parker will take over the Stranahan Theater for an 8 p.m. apotheosis of all things Presley, a highlight of the Toledo Symphony’s KeyBank Pops Series. Parker will bring his Royal Tribute Band and conductor Mark English, then team up with symphony musicians for an evening full of music.

    At the same time at the Valentine Theatre, the curtain will rise on singer Mark Randisi, here to conjure the stylistic essence of Sinatra.

    PEACH WEEKENDER: Find more things to do, restaurants to try, and music to hear this weekend

    Backing Randisi, and recreating the Sinatra sound with arrangements traced to Nelson Riddle, Quincy Jones, and Billy May, will be the Toledo Jazz Orchestra, led by Ron Kischuk.

    It’s a marketer’s nightmare, something neither the Toledo Symphony nor the Valentine realized when contracts were inked.

    For fans of classic pop and rock and roll, it’s a big dilemma as well.

    Despite the generation gap between fan bases for Sinatra and Presley during their lifetimes, today countless folks still love the musical magic conjured by both Frank and Elvis. If only they could magically float between the two venues.

    The good news for both presenters, of course, is that there are plenty of fans for both shows.

    Parker, a native of Irving, Texas, never saw Presley live, but he grew up listening to the rock and roll singer’s hits. He even looked like the baby-faced phenom, complete with thick, wavy brunette hair.

    So it was a natural progression when, about 16 years ago, Parker decided to try his own take on The King for an office party. He loved to sing and had dabbled in other musical ventures.

    The King lives on through the voice of Kraig Parker.
    The King lives on through the voice of Kraig Parker.

    Maybe it was the spangled jumpsuit and the real pompadour. Maybe it was talent mixed with luck.

    “It just went unbelievably well,” Parker told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal newspaper a few years ago of his emergence. “Everybody loved it. Then all these people I knew were pushing me to do Elvis.”

    Joining an already sizable array of Elvis impersonators, Parker rapidly climbed to the top, gaining bookings at state fairs, then larger venues in a broadening market. A real vote of confidence came when some of Presley’s original backup musicians, including the Jordanaires, Stamps Quartet, and Sweet Inspirations joined his act.

    His Toledo program is a generous array of hits from Presley’s tempestuous two-decade career, which took off in 1956 (Toledo booked him for two shows on Nov. 22, Thanksgiving Day, that year.) and soared until the King‘s sudden death in August, 1977.

    Randisi’s story is a bit more rags-to-riches, in fact, a bit like the Hollywood dream of discovery and fame.

    “I was a commercial painter in Detroit, working on big buildings and factories,” Randisi told The Blade. He’d grown up listening to his dad’s records of Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. One of his grandfathers had been an opera singer in Italy, before moving to the New World. According to his grandson, he even sang with famed tenor Enrico Caruso in New York.

    But for the newest generation in the Italian-American family, singing began when karaoke arrived in the United States.

    “I used to do it just for laughs,” Randisi said. “I’d be in a bar after work, having a few beers, in my paint-stained work clothes, and I’d end up singing ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ or ’Summer Wind.’ They were about the last things you’d think I’d sing.”

    Randisi’s karaoke tapes inspired a much more ambitious vision in Joseph Vicari, a rising Detroit restaurateur. It was 1998 and Vicari was opening a new branch of his successful Andiamo chain in Bloomfield Hills.

    “He heard tapes of mine and called me up. He wanted me to be the entertainment there. He told me to go find a piano player,” said Randisi, adding, “I was stunned and shocked.”

    Andiamo means "let’s go' in Italian, and go Randisi did.

    “I started working there. I knew three or four songs. Now, I know a few hundred. I got a following, then started opening for celebrities,“ said Randisi, dropping names like Don Rickles and Joan Rivers.

    “It’s a crazy ride, a crazy business. I wound up in Vegas, Barcelona, Madrid. I’ve been backed by a 75-piece Russian orchestra.

    “I grew to love the music so much. I hooked up with world class musicians, musicians who’d worked with these great stars.”

    Kischuk, a renowned Detroit jazz performer, educator, and music director of the Toledo Jazz Orchestra, has played a big role in Randisi’s singing career. So did David Van DePitte, Marvin Gaye’s famed arranger, who created charts for Mark before his death in 2009.

    “I listen to Frank a lot. Those songs are like poetry, a story. You think of the story when you’re performing,” he said.

    But Randisi also has high praise for Presley, who’ll be remembered musically across town Saturday. “Elvis was in a class by himself, like Frank.”

    Indeed, the two superstars of 20th Century pop music actually did perform together once in a 1960s tribute show. Sinatra (1915-1998) presented a TV special on ABC honoring Elvis, who had just returned to civilian life after three years in the U.S. Army.

    The pair, both in tuxes and looking slightly uncomfortable, pulled off a duet in which Sinatra sang “Love Me Tender,” and Presley crooned “Witchcraft.”

    Tickets for A Tribute to Elvis are $30-$55 (some sections are sold out) at 419-246-8000 or

    Tickets for Sinatra Returns are $22-$32 at or 419-242-2787.