Lauri Strauss' photo projected on the Carnegie Hall stage wall.
Evelyn Strauss of Sands Point and her family received a standing ovation as they appeared at the podium to speak. Evelyn said that there was no reason for applauding her. She was just lucky to have married Herb Strauss who has been the executive producer for the Lauri Strauss Leukemia Foundation Benefit Concert for the last 18 years and president of the foundation as well. Herb Strauss died of cancer just one day before the concert on Nov. 25 at age 78. While the goal of the concert and foundation is to raise money for research to cure leukemia, Herb Strauss's grandson said the concert was also about celebrating his grandfather's life. Next year's concert will be Nov. 11, a Tuesday, again at Carnegie Hall.
Barry Levitt and Charlotte Rosenblatt, producers with Herb Strauss, spoke and gave awards to medical researchers who were also in attendance. Five years ago bone marrow transplants started to prove successful when a match could be found. This technique was not available to Lauri Strauss, who 23 years ago at the age of 26, died of leukemia. The $3 million the foundation has raised for research has saved lives. On stage, a leukemia survivor and her donor of t-cells met for the first time, again accompanied by a standing ovation. Every year the foundation grants a Victor of the Year and Donor of the Year award. Also honored was Wilbur Armstrong who has regularly donated his platelets for the past 15 years.
The performers often received standing ovations as well after singing the songs of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller accompanied by the New York Pops. Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller were given a Lifetime Achievement Award "in honor of their inspired vision and unswerving commitment to the American Song, Theater, Cinema and the Human Spirit." This was printed in the concert journal. Only Stoller could make the event entitled, "Songs in the Key of Hope," because Leiber had the flu and couldn't fly. For those unfamiliar with these song writers, their first hit was "You Ain't Nothing But a Hound Dog."
While a group of performers, Tal Shifter and Suzuki Strings of Long Island, didn't sing, they played on their violins two Leiber and Stoller songs including Hernando's Hideaway resulting in another standing ovation. Rob Reiner, the host, singing for the first time in public he claimed, belted out Poison Ivy. Several cast members from the Smokey Joe's Café musical, which is based on Leiber and Stoller songs, drew loud applause including Brenda Braxton singing Don Juan. Sally Kellerman sang Love Potion #9. Natalie Cole sang I'm a Woman. Ben King, Chuck Jackson, Victor Trent Cook, BJ Crosby, Chuck Cooper, Chuck Jackson, Eugene Fleming and Corky Hale, Stoller's wife, performed as well and joined together with most of the cast for the last song, Stand By Me.
It's also worth mentioning the introductory performance where Marvin Hamlisch conducted a piece he orchestrated that included several of the Leiber and Stoller songs played by classical violinist Christine Kwak. The "Jump for Leukemia Kids" who raised money for the foundation, performed and four groups of young people were thanked for the money they raised: Port Washington's Guggenheim Elementary School and Weber Middle School, Roslyn High School and PS246 in the Bronx. Maria Giannotti of Salon Commisso was thanked in the journal for promoting "Locks of Love, " a program that donates hair.
One audience member said she had attended 17 of the 18 concerts. She started going after a good friend died of leukemia at age 42. While Lauri Strauss graduated from Schreiber High School, and her parents live in Sands Point, the event attracts people from all over the metropolitan area. Two women from New Jersey come every year because of the great entertainers who donate their time. For those wanting more information or to donate to the LSLF go to their website, LSLF.org.