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Perhaps one of the most gifted musicians to emerge from the birthplace of jazz, New Orleans-born pianist-crooner-songwriter Harry Connick, Jr. displayed his genius as a child, but first made a splash in the late 1980s with his retro Big Band sound and velvety crooning of his song "It Had to Be You," which was featured in the hit romantic comedy "When Harry Met Sally" (1989). But it soon became apparent that Connick had a cornucopia of musical styles and talents to offer. He often credited his childhood exposure to New Orleans' diverse musical traditions - from Dixieland marching bands to jazz clubs to the plethora of local blues, soul and R&B royalty like Allan Toussaint and Lee Dorsey - for making him into the artist he eventually became. Throughout the years, he churned out numerous Grammy-worthy albums and songs, while displaying a fine grasp of acting as a creepy serial killer with a passion for women's panties in "Copycat" (1995) and on the sitcom "Will & Grace" (NBC, 1998-2006), starring as the unfaithful husband of the unlucky-in-love, Grace. Though he spent the second half of his life in New York, New Orleans' favorite son remained closely tied to the community, both through his musical...
Perhaps one of the most gifted musicians to emerge from the birthplace of jazz, New Orleans-born pianist-crooner-songwriter Harry Connick, Jr. displayed his genius as a child, but first made a splash in the late 1980s with his retro Big Band sound and velvety crooning of his song "It Had to Be You," which was featured in the hit romantic comedy "When Harry Met Sally" (1989). But it soon became apparent that Connick had a cornucopia of musical styles and talents to offer. He often credited his childhood exposure to New Orleans' diverse musical traditions - from Dixieland marching bands to jazz clubs to the plethora of local blues, soul and R&B royalty like Allan Toussaint and Lee Dorsey - for making him into the artist he eventually became. Throughout the years, he churned out numerous Grammy-worthy albums and songs, while displaying a fine grasp of acting as a creepy serial killer with a passion for women's panties in "Copycat" (1995) and on the sitcom "Will & Grace" (NBC, 1998-2006), starring as the unfaithful husband of the unlucky-in-love, Grace. Though he spent the second half of his life in New York, New Orleans' favorite son remained closely tied to the community, both through his musical reflections and his outreach efforts to help the troubled city with ongoing housing woes and post-Hurricane Katrina destruction.
Born on Sept. 11, 1967, in New Orleans, LA, Connick was raised by his father, Harry Sr., the district attorney for New Orleans from 1977-2003, and his mother, a lawyer and latter Louisiana Supreme Court justice. Because his family also owned a record story, Connick was exposed to all kinds of music right from the start. In fact, when he was only three, Connick began learning the piano. By six years old, he was performing in front of audiences in jazz clubs on New Orleans' famed Bourbon Street. When he was nine, Connick performed Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3 with the New Orleans Symphony Orchestra, and at 10 he laid down some Dixieland with a local jazz group at a recording studio. Typically reaching career highpoints about a decade earlier than even the most talented competitors, Connick recorded his first solo album when he was 11. Sadly, he lost one of his great musical supporters at the age of 13 when his mother died of cancer. But he nonetheless plowed ahead full force, becoming a young protégé of renowned pianists Ellis Marsalis - patriarch of Marsalis jazz family - and piano virtuoso James Booker at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, Louisiana's premier youth arts training center.
Connick moved to New York City after high school, studying briefly at Hunter College and the Manhattan School of Music. Within a year of his arrival, he landed a deal with Columbia Records, releasing a self-titled album of unaccompanied jazz standards in 1987 and following it up with 20 (1988), which introduced already-raving critics to his velvety vocal stylings. Connick's early albums and his constant gigging around New York jazz clubs quickly earned him a reputation among jazz players and critics. But it was not until director Rob Reiner asked the young talent to compose a soundtrack for his comedy, "When Harry Met Sally" in 1989 that Connick's mass appeal became apparent. The big band-backed collection of pop jazz standards like "It Had to Be You" hit double platinum status, earning him a Grammy for Best Male Jazz Vocalist and turning him into an unlikely retro-styled superstar, oft-compared to Frank Sinatra (who referred to him charmingly as "the kid").
Continuing in the hyper-warp speed tradition of his career, in 1990 and at the age of 22 - he released a jazz trio album, Lofty's Roach Souffle for the esoteric club crowd and also delivered croon-loving audiences a second album of standards for which he earned a second Grammy. Before heading out on a two-year tour, Connick found time to break into acting, appearing in the World War II drama, "Memphis Belle" (1990). Connick continued to release an album a year throughout the decade, pleasing pop audiences with albums like When My Heart Finds Christmas (1993), To See You (1997), and Come by Me (1998), while broadening his scope with funk albums She (1994) and Star Turtle (1995), as well as a more cerebral recording of solo piano recordings, 25 (1992). He made several contributions to soundtracks, including the Academy Award-nominated "Promise You'll Remember Me" from "The Godfather III" (1991) and "(I Could Only) Whisper Your Name" from "The Mask" (1994). And if life could not seem to get any better for the crooner on the rise, he met and fell in love with Victoria's Secret supermodel, Jill Goodacre. To the envy of men around the world, Connick tied the knot with his glamorous wife on April 16, 1994 and their union would remain one of the few successful musician/model couplings to go the distance.
Selling more than 20 million albums by any age - let alone the age of 38 - would seem to reflect a remarkably full resume for any musician. Connick, however, did so while simultaneously juggling increasingly high-profile acting roles in film and on television. His acting debut in "Memphis Belle" was followed up with a starring role in "Little Man Tate" (1991). He dashed his good-boy image playing a panty-collecting serial killer obsessed with the agoraphobic Sigourney Weaver in "Copycat" (1995) and was relegated to the background in the successful blockbuster, "Independence Day" (1995). He was bumped up to leading role status with the unfortunate flop "Hope Floats" (1998) co-starring Sandra Bullock, before finding television comedy success with his four-year long recurring role as Grace Adler's (Debra Messing) boyfriend-turned-husband on "Will & Grace."
Broadway seemed a natural next step for multi-talented musician Connick, and in 2000 he wrote the score for the Broadway musical "Thou Shalt Not," earning his first Tony nomination. He appeared opposite Glenn Close in a television adaptation of "South Pacific" the following year, in addition to releasing the Grammy-winning Songs I Heard. An instrumental album, another Christmas album, and more crooning followed in quick succession in 2003-04, followed by a pairing with fellow hometown hero Branford Marsalis in 2005. Several of his life concerts and TV specials were released on DVD, including "The New York Big Band Concert" (1995), the "Harry for the Holidays" TV special (2003), and "A Duo Occasion" (2005), featuring duets with Connick and Branford Marsalis taped at the Ottawa Jazz Festival.
Back to acting, Connick narrated the 2001 film "My Dog Skip" and NBC's animated Christmas special "The Happy Elf" (2005); the latter based on a song from an earlier Christmas album. The same year, he returned to Broadway to star in a revival of the 1950s hit "The Pajama Game," for which he received sparkling reviews and Tony buzz. He continued to appear regularly in film throughout his myriad of other commitments, usually in lesser-seen features like the psychological thriller "Bug" (2007), the comedic drama "P.S. I Love You" (2007) and the romantic comedy "New in Town" (2009), starring Renee Zellweger as a high-powered consultant who moves from Miami to rural Minnesota to oversee the restructuring of a manufacturing plant. But her life changes when she meets and eventually falls in love with a handsome local (Connick) who teaches her that there is more to life than promotions and high fashion.
Besides being a gifted and multi-faceted talent, Connick stood out above the sea of top entertainers due to his graciousness, generosity and humility. Throughout his career, Connick was actively involved in charity, supporting cancer-related causes like the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade, for which he helped raise over $2 million. He has also went to great lengths to express gratitude towards the city of New Orleans, claiming that he would have been nothing without its special community and cultural richness. In 1993, Connick and his father founded The Krewe of Orpheus, the first Mardi Gras parade group to allow members of any color or gender to participate. In 1999, he began a partnership with Habitat for Humanity, announcing an initiative to combat substandard housing with a symbolic jazz funeral for a dilapidated house.
Most noteworthy, in the fall of 2005, when Hurricane Katrina toppled levies and buried New Orleans under water, he was on the scene days before even the National Guard arrived - a feat not lost on television viewers at home, as he waded through water at great personal risk. He appeared on "The Today Show" (NBC, 1952- ) and CNN for several days in row, baffled and frustrated that he was able to drive right into town and literally give victims the shirt off his back, yet no government agencies seemed able to land a helicopter and bring water and supplies. "NBC Nightly News" made him into a special correspondent. Connick's voice grew hoarse, as day after day, he called out to television audiences that people were desperate and dying, repeating over and over again "these are good people."
On September 2nd, Connick helped organize a live NBC broadcast telethon, enlisting the talents of Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Kanye West and others to generate over $50 million dollars for relief agencies. He was made honorary chair of Habitat for Humanity's long-term building plan called "Operation Home Delivery." And in December, he and Branford Marsalis unveiled plans for "Musician's Village" - a Habitat program designed to build affordable housing for musicians who had lost their homes. Connick also participated in several hurricane relief fund-raising benefit albums in 2005. In 2007, he brought post-Katrina New Orleans into the spotlight again with his tribute to the city and people he loved, with the album, Oh, My NOLA. Proceeds from the gospel-tinged single "All These People" went towards the Musician's Village project. Instead of wallowing in anger and sadness, the vibrant album celebrated the true spirit of the city he loved. Meanwhile, he continued churning out music and performing, releasing the third in the Connick on Piano series, Chanson du Vieux Carré (2007), from which the song "Ash Wednesday" earned two Grammy nominations. Connick was also a featured singer at the Concert of Hope after Pope Benedict XVI's mass at Yankee Stadium in 2008, which he followed with another Christmas album, What a Night! (2008).
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"He's the consummate piano-playing/jazz-singing/band-leading/song-writing/clothes wearing/record-making/movie-acting/good-looking showman of his generation ... Still in his 20s, he's gone from child prodigy to superstar without ever mussing up a strand of his well-oiled hair, without getting so much as a piece of lint on his perfectly tailored suits. And still, you just can't hate him." --Wayne Robins in New York Newsday, March 23, 1992.
Connick's problems began as he was about to go through the metal detector for a TWA flight for New Orleans at 6:30 pm.
He approached a guard and said he had a gun in a bag he was going to carry onto the plane. He told the guard he had gotten it as a Christmas gift from his sister and had forgotten it was in that bag, police said.
The guard called a Port Authority cop, who placed the singer under arrest.
"He was very cooperative throughout the process," said Port Authority spokeswoman Gwen Williams. "He was not trying to pull a fast one, he was declaring the gun was there."
The gun was not licensed, according to police and the Queens district attorney's office. --From New York Post December 28, 1992.
In a January 14, 1993 story in the New York Post, it was revealed that Connick had previously been nabbed at JFK airport on his way to California, toting a hunting rifle and an unlicensed semiautomatic pistol. At that time, an unidentified Port Authority police sergeant decided to let him go and the incident was hushed up. Connick's lawyer, Ned Rosenthal, refused to comment on the alleged incident.
On his atttitude concerning sex in the movies: "(During the filming of "Little Man Tate") I was pressured into it, and I won't do it again. I didn't touch her. I didn't kiss her. But I was in bed with her, and that's just not proper to me.
"At that time I was forced to mention my morals on a public level. I was trying to figure everything out. I said, 'Gee whiz, as innocent as it looked, I don't know if that's right or wrong.'
"Now it's fine. Sandy (Bullock) and I have a kissing scene in 'Hope Floats', which I thought was suggestive, interesting and satisfying. But I'm not planning on any great sex scenes. I'm not into that. I don't enjoy watching that stuff." --Harry Connick Jr to Daily News, May 21, 1998.
"People call me old-fashioned. I think that's a compliment. It means 'certain qualities that were fashioned in times of old.' But it sounds like 'out of touch and not trendy.' I like to think of myself as contemporary and futuristic." --Connick to Daily News, May 21, 1998.
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