Julie Budd: A conversation about the classics
Published Thursday, 05-Nov-2009 in issue 1141
Gay & Lesbian Times: You grew up in Brooklyn. You must be loving autumn in New York?
Julie Budd: I am. I live for spring and summer and fall. Then I run to Florida with all the Jews. What can I tell you – me and my whole family, all of my old aunts and all of my old uncles – we run to Florida. The first snow flake its Jet Blue!
GLT: Well between that and your performances you must rack up a lot of Blue points. Speaking of which, you’ve worked with several symphonies around the world, but isn’t this going to be your first performance with the San Diego Symphony?
JB: That’s absolutely right! And no, I’ve never had the pleasure of working with your orchestra. I’ve heard that they are like one of the number one symphonies in the country. You must love it. It’s gotta be the highlight of the community.
GLT: It is indeed one of the many things that makes San Diego such a great place to live!
JB: I’ll tell you what else I really like about the San Diego Symphony, and I haven’t even played note one with them yet. Everyone who I’ve dealt with to pull it all together, you know to design the evenings and make it right, they’ve all been top notch. They’re just a delight. You know? You never know darling, I could become your resident girl singer.
GLT: Well, that would be just wonderful! You could get away from those New York winters.
JB: I would love it out there. I could get myself a little shack on the beach.
GLT: Then you’d be working with Marvin Hamlisch much more than you already have?
JB: Yes, I would. You know, I’ve known Marvin since I was a kid. He’s such a joy to work with.
GLT: What is it about Marvin that you like so much?
JB: Well first of all, he’s great at everything he does. Whether Marvin is writing for film, and I’ve had that experience with him, or whether he’s writing for stage, I’ve had that experience with him, or whether he’s writing a singular song or whether he’s doing something at the Pops, or just a concert or stand alone concert, whatever Marvin does he really is excellent at what he does. A lot of people can not say that. A lot of people are really great at what they do, and terrific and good bye and good luck. Marvin he’s proficient and he’s excellent in every medium he works in. I love him. He’s a very sweet guy. And, Randy he’s really, really witty. He’s just a brilliant guy.
GLT: Speaking of brilliant talent. You began your career at the tender age of 12. Let readers know a little more about that.
JB: I sort of came around in a time when there were a lot of variety shows on television. I think that was really helpful because I was a little girl. I couldn’t perform in night clubs. I couldn’t do a lot of things because child labor laws. Believe it or not, the interesting thing was, I was allowed to work in Las Vegas. Isn’t that wild? Here you have all these states that don’t allow a kid to sing until they’re 18 or 21 because they sold liquor and had liquor licenses. Meanwhile I could go to Nevada and work in Vegas and Reno and Tahoe.
That led to television where I grew up on with Merv Griffin, Johnny Carson, Carol Burnett, Ed Sullivan, Mike Douglas, and all of those wonderful TV shows.
Later on I started to work with a lot of the legends like Frank Sinatra, and Liberace.
Some people go to school, I got to learn from George Burns or Liberace or Frank Sinatra. Those were my teachers. That was my schooling I learned my craft through these wonderful iconic and legendary people. They took me under their wing like I was their kid.
GLT: You’ve had such a multifaceted career – from television and film to stages and symphonies across the world – is there one venue you enjoy most?
JB: I do love the large concert theater. In fact, what I’ll be doing with the symphony that’s kind of the venue to me that’s just heaven. There’s nothing more exciting then singing with an incredible orchestra. I’m still the girl with the band, I just love standing in front of the band and I do the classics with such musical proficiency.
GLT: How do you define a classic?
JB: I think a classic is like that fabulous black dress you buy years ago and you take it out of the closet and you put it on and you say ‘my god this thing looks great on me.’ And it will always be in style. There’s nothing about this that has a date on it. It always looks good it always is right and that’s what a classic is. It’s that piece of music, or that piece of material that whenever you dust it off or you take it out of the closet and you wear it or you perform it or you do it it’s as if it could have been written yesterday. It will always be contemporary it will always be timely it will be relevant. People will always be interested in it because it’s that good. It was that thought process put together. Don’t you think that’s true?
GLT: I agree a classic is definitely timeless. So what about your latest CD The New Classics?
JB: Well classics can have a voice with a lot of different singers, you know a lot of different voices will do it a lot of different ways and it will still stand out. If you look at my other CD’s I’m always tipping my hat to the Gershwins and the the Hammersteins – who wouldn’t? But on my new CD, The New Classics, I was looking at Stephen Schwartz, Marvin Hamlisch, Burt Bacharach, Doug James and Herb Bernstein. I was looking at the younger side of what’s classic.
GLT: It’s been called your best work to date. Where do you go from here?
JB: Thank you. That’s really a label. There was something about the new classics that I felt personally invested in a way that I didn’t in the others.
I have another project I’m working on right now. It’s an iconic tribute. When I’m ready to announce it, you’re gonna be in love with it. I’m also finishing a book I’ve been writing for the last two years, which is a tribute to all of the great classic brilliant legendary performers I’ve worked with. I tell what it was like to know them and grow up with them. It’s kind of seen through the eyes of a 16-year-old.
GLT: You must have many stories about these iconic singers and performers.
JB: They were very interesting people Randy, they really were. People just see the awe inspiring thing about what they’ve done but they were moms and dads like everybody else. It was just interesting that the inside track and what it was like for them and the impact they made. They were folks like everybody else trying to balance their lives and take care of their families. I was on the inside track I happened to be there I happened to know them.
GLT: What a great honor that must be to have been taken under their wing.
JB: It was a great honor Randy. It was a fantastic honor that they thought enough of me to invest in me that way. I was a kid living in Brooklyn, who was riding a train on Monday and on Tuesday, I was flying to Vegas to meet Sinatra. Somehow, I made the adjustment.
GLT: How did you make that leap from being that kid in Brooklyn to being close to these amazing performers people only dream about?
JB: I really think the ticket, was the fact that I had the most wonderful parents in the world. I think it all comes down to that. The basic understanding of what reality is: how to handle yourself, how to have character, morality work ethic. My parents were really into work ethic. They never forced me to be in this business. As a matter of fact, they never wanted me to be in this business, I forced them to let me do it. If I was going to do it, they wanted me to have character about it. I think it was my back bone I really mean it Randy.
GLT: That’s awesome to have parents who allow you to pursue that dream.
JB: I was allowed to dream Randy, but everything had a cost. I was expected to behave in a certain way.
GLT: You grew up so fast. Do you think you missed out on a child hood?
JB: I think my life was very unusual. That’s a very good question because in hindsight do you ever really know? I think I had such an extraordinary youth, it was something that just fit me. I was cut out to do this. Somehow in the deepest part of my intelligence even as I child, I knew that that was so. That’s why I pushed my parents to please allow me to do it. Their instinct was to have me wait – go to college, finish college, pursue it later. If I had a kid, I would probably have the same feelings as my mother and father. Who holds the baby and says, ‘What show are we putting her in next week?’ Not from my background anyway. To say the least it was an unusual life and I was cut out for it Randy, I really was.
GLT: Like you said, you never knew anything different. If you didn’t do it than it wouldn’t be your life, right?
JB: That’s a good point, that’s a very sensitive and smart point that no ones ever raised before. You know what is normal for you.
GLT: That’s beautiful I think. Did you think you would be where you are today? Did you ever imagine in your wildest dreams?
JB: It’s an interesting question, you’re just gonna love this. As a kid I thought BIG.
GLT: Good for you I like to hear that.
I really, really did. I had more chutzpah at seven than I do at my age. I really mean it. I did believe it would happen. I never knew how it would really feel.
GLT: How does it feel?
JB: Sometimes you’re so busy doing that you don’t feel. I’m in the middle of a tour now and I’m going to be touring until December. And I’m running all over the place and I’m in the middle of music hell and I’m at fittings for costumes and I’m running for interviews and every other day I’m in an airplane. I don’t know how I feel.
GLT: You can’t stop to think?
JB: Exactly. It’s kind of like when you’re on deadline, and they’re like how do you feel? And you’re like I don’t know I’ll let you know when I finish the last article.
When the dust settles down, and you’re sitting alone in the bedroom and you’re thinking oh my God I got through this tour, it’s fabulous Randy. It’s the greatest life I could imagine for myself. I thank god every day. When you look around and you see the lives and the troubles in the world and you say thank you god for letting me get up and get dressed in the morning and be well and everybody’s ok. And then on top of that he gives you an instrument and you’re allowed to live a very extraordinary life, how can you not be grateful. I think gratitude is the greatest thing you could acknowledge in your life. That makes you rich by the way.
GLT: That’s very true. I’m a firm believer that you don’t need to have money and wealth you just have to be happy about what you have.
JB: I think you’re right. When you have that sense of gratitude in your heart, you’re much more generous to more people. You enjoy giving. You enjoy your days and you don’t walk around with bitterness. When you’re grateful even with small things, or what appears to be small but in reality could be very large things, you’re life is so much richer. You can really enjoy.
GLT: In retrospect, what moments in your career stand out the most?
JB: Oh gosh! I think the first time I went to Vegas. When I met Liberace and when I worked with Frank. Those are the parts. I remember taking the subway from Manhattan into Brooklyn to go to my grandmother’s house and we were having shabbas dinner. I sat down at the table and I said grandma guess what? You know who I’m going to Vegas with? And she was busy stirring the soup and making the fish, I’m telling you and that’s why I turned out ok. I went back to Brooklyn. I remember my grandmother says, ‘Who who are you going to sing your songs with?’ And I said Franks Sinatra. She turned around and says ‘Oy I like him.’
And when I got the Ed Sullivan Show another great moment was, I was with my grandma and I said Grandma I’m gonna be with Ed Sullivan and she turns to me – the only way a Jewish woman in Brooklyn will turn to you – and says, ‘Did you know that Ed Sullivan is Jewish?’ You have to understand, when the old Jewish women like you, everybody was Jewish. They had to be Jewish, and I said, ‘Really grandma?’ And she says to me, ‘Oy! His name isn’t really Ed Sullivan. His name is Soloman. His name is Ed Soloman.’ It was just so typical of my grandmother and knowing she was just so great. The highlights are I would get the Ed Sullivan show and I would run to her and tell her or I’d be running to Vegas and having shabbat dinner two days before. It just made it all so much sweeter.
GLT: It seems like you’ve had balance in your life. You got to perform with the most famous of people, yet you were tied to your home life in Brooklyn.
JB: Even now where I live Randy, when I come home after a tour I’m close to my sisters. I have a beautiful man in my life. When I come home, I don’t talk about show business. My sisters and I, we talk almost three times a day on the phone. I’m in the kitchen and we cook. I think you really need that, Randy, or you’re not going to enjoy the perks. The stress in the business can really kill you if you allow it to. I’ve seen friends of mine who are major names in show business to respect their privacy I would never say who they are. I have seen this business destroy them. You’re never young enough, good enough, tall enough, you’re too Jewish, you’re too short, you’re too tall, you sing too high, you sing too low. I mean you could be a major name and they still treat you like you’re a chorus girl. I’ve seen it destroy people.
GLT: Good for you for keeping that balance.
JB: I wanna survive it. The idea is to be in it for the long haul.
GLT: Is there any venue you want to perform at that you haven’t or any performer you wanted to perform with that you haven’t?
JB: You’re going to laugh when I say this, but my grandmother when I was a little girl, my grandmother is from Europe. She would say to me, ‘You must go to Vienna to see the opera. And you must go to L’Escala and you must go to Italy and you must go to the fine places where the finest classic work is done.’ I know I don’t do that kind of work and I know that probably a singer who sings the classics I sing probably would not perform there, but I would have loved to sing at L’Escala. I think that would be just heaven.
GLT: You’ve had an amazing career. With all the twists and turns, the way things come together, it may just happen one day.
JB: Isn’t it cool that we can see that the twists and turns can throw in the beauty. You know you come very well prepared. You have such a wonderful energy and you’re such a beautiful energy to talk to.
GLT: Well thank you for such a wonderful compliment. I’ve really enjoyed talking with you also. Hopefully we’ll still have this weather for you when you get here.
JB: God knows I’m going to be looking for it.