It’s a show business oddity that accomplished jazz performer Clint Holmes is best known as announcer on Joan Rivers’ ill-fated 1980s talk show and for a hit novelty song in ’73.
“Most people remember it as ‘My name is Michael, I’ve got a nickel,’ Holmes says. “That’s what people remember. It’s called the Playground in My Mind. Sometimes people will buy a CD, and they’ll say, ‘How come My Name Is Michael isn’t on it?’ I go ‘My Name is Michael is on it, but the name of the song is Playground in My Mind. Same song.’”
Holmes, 68, says he definitely won’t be singing his biggest hit — which featured a backup children’s chorus — Friday night at Jazz Roots’ seventh-season opener, “Georgia On My Mind: Celebrating Ray Charles.”
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“No, because Ray Charles never re-recorded it,” Holmes says, laughing.
Born in England, Holmes moved with his parents to upstate New York a few years after World War II.
“My dad was a jazz singer, and my mom was an opera singer. From the very beginning, I had both influences, which ended up in the ’70s when I went out and started to perform. I fell somewhere in all of that,” Holmes says. “I did some theater, which would be closer to my mom’s side, and I did some jazz which would be closer to my dad’s side. But my record happened to be a real straight-up pop record. You could call it a novelty record because it had the kids in it.”
In the early ’70s, Holmes was a good friend of vocalist Roberta Flack. “I remember thinking to myself, that’s what I want to record. I want to record Killing Me Softly, The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. But because of the way things go, that never happened. At least it didn’t happen until later in my life. I would say this about my jazz creds: I’ve always been a jazz singer. And I’ve always had some jazz elements in my show.”
For about 15 years, Holmes has been a mainstay of Las Vegas nightclubs. Three times he has been named the strip’s entertainer of the year.
About two years ago, he met jazz pianist Shelly Berg, dean of the Phillip and Patricia Frost School of Music at University of Miami, and producer Gregg Field of Concord Records.
“They heard me sing,” Holmes says. “They looked at me and said, ‘We thought you were a Vegas guy. We didn’t know you sang jazz.’ I told them half of my roots all my life have been jazz. It’s just that my career path took me to places where I didn’t exclusively sing jazz. Anyone who saw me sing live in the past 15 years has heard that part of my musical influence. What’s happening now is I’m just going more and more toward that direction.”
Berg and Field are currently arranging and producing Holmes’ new CD, which will feature performances with a cappella vocal group Take 6, organist Joey DeFranceso, vocalists Dee Dee Bridgewater and Jane Monheit, the Count Basie Band and sax player Kirk Whalum. Take 6, Whalum and Berg also appear Friday at Jazz Roots.
Through the mid 1980s, Holmes toured as Joan Rivers’ opening act. In 1986, Rivers bailed as Johnny Carson’s permanent Tonight Show guest host for her own talk show on the new Fox network.
Rivers encouraged Holmes to audition as her TV announcer. “She looked at me and [said] ‘Say Joan Rivers!’ So I went ‘Joan Rivers!’ ” Holmes recalls.
“She brought me out to L.A. to audition. The people at Fox didn’t want me. They had someone else in mind. But Joan wanted people around her she could trust. We had worked together long enough, and our relationship was such that she knew I was with her, I was on her side. She fought really hard for me. I almost choke up even now telling this story because at the time I lived in New Jersey. I flew out to L.A. to audition to be an announcer. I did fine. I remember the sweat pouring off my face because I was in a room with Barry Diller and the people who ran Fox, and Joan and [her husband Edgar Rosenberg].
Rivers called Holmes that night in tears. “‘They don’t want you, but I do, so don’t leave. Can you stay for a couple more days? Let me fight this thing out.’ So I stayed a couple more days, and the day before her show went on the air, she called me and said, ‘Get over here to the studio.’ I went over and auditioned again and got it. But I got it because Joan fought for me.”
The show’s ratings tanked, and six months later Fox fired Rivers. Her husband killed himself shortly after.
“I went to the funeral, I went to her home for the wake. I don’t know whether she was more angry or devastated or both, but it was a very, very tough scene,” Holmes says. “I think it made her stronger, made her will stronger. The last time I saw her was maybe a year ago here in Vegas performing. She was 80, but she was on fire. Just on fire. We talked afterward. She was great. She was an amazing woman. … She was one of two or three people in my life that I can’t use any other word except extraordinary. She was kind, she was a tigress, she was brilliant, obviously. Funny, clearly.”
If you go
Jazz Roots’ ‘Georgia On My Mind: Celebrating Ray Charles’ featuring Take 6, Clint Holmes, Nnenna Freelon, Kirk Whalum and Shelly Berg, will be performed 8 p.m. Friday at the John S. and James L. Knight Concert Hall at Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd. Miami. Tickets $25 to $150. Click here for more information and tickets.