I have sung for presidents, I have sung for the troops, I have sung in some of the finest halls and opera houses in this country. Yet, I remember being a little girl in Brooklyn, singing from stoop to stoop, dreaming of these days. It is so unbelievable to me, and it is so wonderful to be lucky enough to live your dream.
Our special guest is Julie Budd. Thank you so much for joining us.
It’s my pleasure. Thank you for having me.
I think most stories are best from the beginning. Tell us, what was life like growing up?
Well, life was pretty good. I mean, I lived in Brooklyn. I have two sisters. We lived with our parents and our grandparents, and we had a very traditional home and lots of friends in Brooklyn. And I went to school with all my friends and I had a pretty – I can say I had a pretty normal life but I was always pulled toward music so I don’t really think my parents were surprised when I went into music, although my mother wanted me to be a doctor and my father wanted me to be a lawyer.
The pull to music early on, was it a specific style of music?
You know, I liked everything. I just, I just heard the magic in everything, whether it was Elvis or the Beatles or, you know, whoever it was. I mean, you know, Simon and Garfunkel and, you know, Neil Diamond – like, whoever it was, I was pulled. But I loved show music. I loved big bands. I loved big bands. I loved all the original Broadway cast albums. My mother and father, every Saturday night would go out to a Broadway show and my mother always brought me back the original cast album and I got hooked. And it’s really because of my mother.
Were there cast albums that you liked in particular?
Yeah. There was one that I thought was the most perfect musical ever written – ever written! And I think it was My Fair Lady. And I thought Julie Andrews, I thought Julie Andrews was like over the top magnificent. And I wanted to be her in the worst way, I wanted to be Julie Andrews.
Tell us about some of the singers that influenced you the most.
Well, the first singer was Julie Andrews because my voice, when I was a little girl – I really, I mean, I don’t think I had much of a belt voice in those days. I mean, I think it was something that I developed, a chest voice. I really had a very high, almost a coloratura. It could have been. I know I was a high soprano but I could have been a coloratura. And I was able to sing with Julie Andrews as a child. And I remember when my father used to come home from work at 7 o’clock every night, uh, while he ate his dinner I did a concert for him (laughs). Isn’t that funny how I remember that? And, um, I was able to sing in anything that, in any key that Julie Andrews sang in. So she was like my favorite singer in the world. And then, of course, my mother had the Judy Garland albums. I remember when I was like eight or nine years old there was an album, Judy Garland Live at Carnegie Hall, and that was played, like, over and over and over in my house. And I loved that album, not because I liked Garland but because I loved that the audience was going crazy. You know, it was a live album. So I was always used to hearing studio albums and when I heard something with a live audience – I swear that’s was when I knew this was going to be my world.
What about the first show you ever saw, can you remember that?
The first Broadway show? The first Broadway show I ever saw was Fiddler on the Roof. And I went with my sister, Jill, and we took the subway into Manhattan. And she’s my older sister so they entrusted her with me on the subway. And I was, like, 10 years old and my sister, Jill, was about – I don’t know, going on 14. Maybe she was 14 already and so, you know, she was like the grown-up sister. She took me into Manhattan and we got off on 42nd Street, and we walked to the West side and over toward the theater district and we saw Herschel Bernardi in Fiddler on the Roof. And I – the opening. I’ll never forget the opening! I don’t know if you know the show that well but the opening, the bottle dance – you know, the bottle dance, the Russian kick bottle dance? When I saw that, I swear I thought I was going to levitate (laughs). I thought that was the greatest thing I ever saw (laughs).
Tell us about Herb Bernstein.
Herb Bernstein? In fact, I’m waiting for Herbie, I’m waiting for Herbie now. He’s on his way over here to rehearse with me. I met Herbie Bernstein when I was 12 and I was staying at a hotel up in the Catskill Mountains called Tamarack Lodge. And Herbie – there were two sides of Tamarack. There was the hotel side and that’s where me and my family were staying and I was in camp, day camp, there. And then there was another side of Tamarack called Homestead, and that was the bungalow colonies, and Herbie’s family was in Homestead. And that was a good distance from the hotel. I mean, you had to walk on this sort of trail in a very woodsy, in order to get to Homestead. And Herbie was at Homestead. And I cut camp – renegade that I was, I was 12 years old – and I found out that there was a talent show. And I put my name on a list and they said that in the afternoon you had to audition. So I go down to the nightclub – and everybody thinks I’m in camp – and I auditioned and they accepted me. And that night, I was in the talent show and I won. And the MC was a guy by the name of Vic Minnow. And he was a great guy. He was a great guy. He was, like, the social directed and the MC. You know, those guys did everything. And the musical directed was a very, very well-known musician, very, very gifted musician by the name of Milton Lear. He was a wonderful musician and he accompanied me. I had no music, you know, and he just pulled it off the top, you know? And I sang Moon River and Who Can I Turn To? I was not your ordinary 12-year old (laughs) and I won. And I won. And when I, when I went backstage, Vic Minnow told me there was this man by the name of Herb Bernstein who was staying at Homestead on the weekends – he used to come up on the weekends; all the men came up on the weekends – that he had produced Laura Nero and the Four Seasons and Dusty Springfield and John Denver and Tina Turner, and he was working with this new singer. I said ‘Who is the new singer?’ He said ‘A new singer. She’s sort of a Broadway singer. Her name is Lainie Kazan.’ And I said ‘Oh, cool. That’s great.’ So he said ‘Well, why don’t you come and sing next week, um, in the finals and get Herb Bernstein to come down and listen to you?’ I said ‘OK.’ So I tracked Herbie down. Don’t ask me how I did this at 12 years old. I went all the way to Homestead by myself the next day. It was a weekend on a Sunday. And I went to Homestead on that trail all by myself and I knocked on Herbie’s door and I told him he had to come listen to me sing the next week. And then the next week I did it again to make sure he was there. And I sang and I won the contest again. And I went backstage and Herbie was standing right there in the wings. And from that day on, we’ve been working together. It’s a crazy story, I know, but it’s true. Believe me, it’s a true one.
Tell us about the different ways you and Herb Bernstein have worked together.
Well, in the beginning it was very different because I was a little girl. I only, I was only surviving on my instincts. Herbie had experience. He was a well-known orchestrator and producer, and he knew what he was doing. And he had to educate me on how to work professionally in this industry. He was recording Merv Griffin at the time and he brought me down to the studio and – where they were recording Merv – and on the break he brought me up to Merv Griffin and he said ‘Merv, I want you to hear this little girl sing.’ And Merv said ‘Oh, Herbie please. Another kid that sings at weddings and bar mitzvahs? Please, Herbie, let’s just do the session.’ Herbie said ‘No, no, no’ (laughs). Herbie said to Merv, he said ‘Merv, you really have to hear this kid sing.’ So I – Merv started playing and I sang Chasing Rainbows. Now what’s kind of interesting about that is I was 12 and I knew the song (laughs). You know what I mean? (Laughs) It was that I was very musically sophisticated and I really owe that to my mom. Merv just looked. He just played a few bars and he looked at Herbie and Herbie looked at Merv, and then Herbie said ‘Go ahead, sweetie. Go, go. Go sit in the control room and I’ll see you in a little bit.’ And Herbie and Merv started to talk. Well, two days later – two days, two days later! – now, keep in mind, I had never done anything professionally before – two days later, I wound up on Merv’s show. Right? It was, it was like a whirlwind. My life, my life changed overnight. Television can change your life overnight. I mean, more than anything in the world, television can change your life. And it was amazing. I mean, they got, they got me into shape in 48 hours (laughs). And I, and I wound up doing his show. And, you know, in the old days everything was live. When I did the Ed Sullivan shows, they were live. Everything was live in the old days. Sometimes they would tape them live and show them later but you were live. There I was, my life was beginning. Merv started me. Herbie and Merv. And that’s, and that’s kind of how Herbie, that’s kind of how Herbie and I always worked. Your question was how do you and Herbie work. Herbie and I work very, very simply. We get together, if it feels right we do it and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. At this point we’ve just done so many shows over the years, that we have a kind of shorthand. I mean, we’ve written shows on the phone. We’re very in sync. But in the beginning, to answer your question, in the beginning I was the student and I – I like to think of myself as the perpetual student. I like to think of myself as someone who always remains the student. But in those days I was the first grade student and I was taking my cues from Herb. And I was very fortunate that I was with someone who was very smart, musically, and had a very, very good ear for what I needed.
What does it mean to be an eternal student?
I think that people who think they know it all or think they have it all covered – those people – or think ‘hey, I don’t have to vocalize’ and ‘hey’ you know, ‘ I got this down.’ I don’t know, people like that, I think they just become hacks. I think that you have to always be on top of your game. I think you always have to be the student. I think you always have to be studying. I think you always have to be listening. I think you always have to question yourself. I think it’s a, it’s a funny balance between you have to question yourself and you have to trust yourself. It’s a very strange balance but you have to find that balance. And I think that you have to keep your mouth shut and your eyes open, watch and learn and listen at all stages, at all stages of your career. And I teach now as well, you know. I, I do master classes. I go all over and I teach master classes, and I also have a few private students here in New York. And I find that if you’re not listening you cannot be a good teacher. And if you’re not a good student yourself, and if you’re not curious, and if you’re not a person who is, um, detail-oriented, I just don’t think you can be a good teacher. You have to have that sensitivity and that kind of discipline and devotion to be a good teacher. That’s just, you know, my feeling. I, I just don’t think that people that think they have it all covered remain very good artists. I think you always have to be listening and studying.
Tell us about the first time you headlined. What was going through your head?
It was a very small engagement and it was actually before I came to New York. My first big headlining engagement – headlining, you know, big, big-time headlining engagement – was here in New York at the Copacabana. As a matter of fact, when I was 16 Jules Podell, who was the owner of the Copa, threw me my Sweet 16 party and he and his wife were very, very sweet to me. And they gave me a beautiful – if you can believe this (laughs) – they gave me a beautiful diamond pin when I was 16 years old. It was 24 karat gold encrusted, two-carat perfectly white diamond. I mean, geez (laughs), I was 16, you know? I still have this pin and every time I look at it, I can’t believe they were kind enough to give it to me for my Sweet 16. There was a big cake and they had the press there and – you know, it was my Sweet 16. And he made me promise him that on my 18th birthday, that I would open at the Copa, and I certainly did. That was my first really, really, really, really big public engagement. And there I was. But you know, it was hard to really enjoy it as ‘Oooh!’ you know, ‘My first engagement, let’s go out and have fun!’ There was a tremendous amount of responsibility attached to that. It was the #1 venue, maybe in the country – maybe in the United States – and there I was. And, actually, I wasn’t quite 18. I was still 17. It was, it was a couple of weeks before my 18th birthday, actually. And somehow, I don’t know how he did it but Mr. Podell got the powers that be to allow me to open up in New York, because there’s child labor laws. You can’t be performing in a venue that sells alcohol openly like that if you’re under 18. And somehow, he pulled strings and there I was. It really wasn’t my 18th birthday the day that I opened there and, yet, I was told it was perfectly legal. I’m allowed to do it. I have some sort of waiver. It was close enough to my 18th birthday and they let me do it. And so I’m on record, actually, as being the youngest performer to ever premier an engagement in an adult nightclub in New York City. I was the youngest performer to ever debut in New York. But, like I said, it was exciting but it was very, very hard. You know, I was a pretty serious kid and I was very aware that the, the perks that I was getting for being discovered so young. But they drew out a lot of responsibility and I was, I was up to the challenge. But I was a very steady…and that along with this privilege came a lot of responsibility. And I had to take care of my voice and I had to learn the show and I had to speak to the press and I had to deal with audiences and I had to do two and three shows a night. A lot of people don’t realize that at the Copa on Friday and Saturday night you had three shows and you had to do complete shows. There were no days off. You really had to take careof your voice. You had two shows on Sunday night. It was, it was a grueling first experience, I have to tell you. But it was exciting but it was grueling.
You’ve worked with so many artists.
Yeah, I was lucky.
You opened and worked with Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Bill Cosby, Joan Rivers, George Burns, Liberace – just to name a few. Could you pick a favorite?
It’s, it’s tough to say. I could say right off the top of my head the four favorite people that I loved personally – personally – who I really loved. The first person was Liberace. He became a dear, dear, dear, dear friend of mine for 17 years. In fact, I’m still very dear friends with his choreographer and director. The second person that I loved, loved, loved – I loved Jim Nabors a lot. I loved him. He was really great to me. I loved him. Jim Nabors and Danny Thomas. Danny Thomas was like the best friend you could ever have in the world. He was the most loyal, true, best friend, bar none, that you could ever, ever have in the world. And I learned more from Danny Thomas in one day than people could learn in a hundred years. He was a great, great person. And then I loved Carol Burnett. She was, really taught me a lot about how to be on top, how to be a pro and how to be a real person when you’re on top – how to conduct yourself. She was always a real lady, a real lady. And she knew how to run her business. She knew how to get things done but she always knew how to do it like a real lady and I always admired that. And she’s a real example of how to be the eternal student. You know, every day, before we went to work, she did a yoga class, a stretch yoga class. And she was always a very finely tuned instrument. I really loved that about her. I loved that about her. And, you know, I really liked Frank. I liked Frank a lot but I didn’t have the relationship with him that I had with Liberace or Danny Thomas, and I didn’t have the opportunity to get to know him as well. I did the Jim Nabors show a lot and I got to know Jim. And I spent a lot of time with him and had a great affection for him, a real affection for him. I admired Frank a lot but, you know, Frank was kind of a complicated person and, although he was amazing to me – he was fantastic to me – and I really did like him. And if I had spent more time with him, you know, over the years, maybe I would have had better affection for him than I have for, you know, some of these other guys. But Frank was really terrific to me. You know when I think about it, I have to say – I mean, God, he could have used anybody in the world and he chose to use me. And I had some really great moments with him and wonderful times with him, very, very meaningful times with him, too. But I don’t think I had the relationship with anybody the way I did with Liberace. I was really close to him.
Someone we have to mention is the late, great Marvin Hamlisch. He’s no longer with us but his music lives on.
Oh God, do you know – I have to tell you something. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about Marvin. It’s almost spooky. I mean, he’s, like, always here with me. It was a little bit over a year ago. Marvin died in the month of August. I would say August, September, October – yeah, it’s about a year and two months. It feels like yesterday. Ahh, I cannot tell you how … how hurt I was when he died. I cannot tell you how it just pained me so. I still walk around with it. I still can’t believe it even happened, you know?
Tell us about the song, Roses and Rainbows.
Well, Marvin wrote that for me and he wrote it with Carole Bayer Sager. He had another song – it was from a film called The Devil and Max Devlin and I co-starred along with Bill Cosby and Elliot Gould. And I had the lead in the movie and it was me – there were other people in the film but I happened to have the biggest lead part along with Elliot and Bill. It was about a girl singer. You know, she ran away from home, she wants to become famous, she goes to California, she’s from New York, blah, blah, blah. And Marvin was chosen to do the compositions for this film. And, uh, he had another song in the film – he had Roses and Rainbows that he wrote with Carole – and then he had another song called Any Fool Can See and he wrote that with Allee Willis. And that was a great song, too. But Roses and Rainbows, they used that as the big closing credit song for the film. And Marvin wrote that for me. We recorded here it New York and it just turned out to be one of those great moments in the film. It was a really great song. It sort of got lost because the film was sort of an OK film. You know, it was cute and everything but it never broke out as, you know, like a major film. But the song, it was interesting, the song had kind of a cult following. And I re-recorded it. In the old days, when I did it with Marvin, we did it on A&M Records. I think we first did it for Disney Records and then we re-recorded it for A&M. I don’t know. And then, years later, because it had such a cult following, my fans kept saying, you know, Roses and Rainbows, Roses and Rainbows and they couldn’t track down where the masters were after all those years so I re-recorded it and I put it on my CD called The New Classics. So it’s available on The New Classics on Amazon. But it was just one of those great songs. And it was funny because all roads kind of went back to Marvin, you know? Then I wound up doing a play called They’re Playing Our Song and that was Marvin (laughs), you know? And then I wound up working with a lot of symphonies and then Marvin called me years later, and asked me to go on tour with him to do a “few” symphonies. I said ‘OK, I’ll do a few symphonies with you.’ And then we wound up working together for seven years (laughs) you know? He called me over a weekend, ‘You want to work with me?’ ‘Oh, yeah, alright’ you know? So we went and did some of these symphonies together. We wound up doing the Kennedy Center and the Baltimore Symphony and the Dallas Symphony and, you know, the National Symphony Orchestra, which we did at the Kennedy Center. And, I don’t know – Marvin and I were kind of like peanut butter and jelly. We knew how to do it together, you know? We kind of had a very – we knew how to fall into it kind of the way that I know how to fall into it with Herb, you know? Sometimes that just happens with people. We wound up working together for seven more years. So, I mean, I must have known Marvin for, like, 30 years. And then, when I got that phone call that he passed … I gotta tell you something. I still can’t believe it. I still think ‘Oh, Marvin’s going to call and we’re going to do another show together.’ you know? When people leave your life so untimely. You know, Marvin was not an old man. He was 67, 68 years old, you know? So, it’s kind of a shocking thing to hear.
Moving to the present, you’re performing at the Laurie Beechman Theatre in New York City. Have you performed there before?
Actually, I did a tribute there years and years ago when Anthony Newley had passed. His lovely lady made a beautiful tribute to him there and his mother, God bless her, she was there, too. And I performed there, at the Laurie Beechman for the Anthony Newley tribute. But it’s the Laurie Beechman Theatre and she was a magnificent artist, you know that. So I’m sort of very proud that there’s going to be a tribute in my honor there. And Richard Skipper, who is so brilliant, my God, he’s going to host the event. It’s kind of an Inside the Actor’s Studio kind of an afternoon. And I’ll also sing a few songs. We’ll take questions and answers from the audience. People will be able to ask me anything they want to ask me. There’ll be film clips. We’ll talk about what it’s like to grow up in the industry and how to hang on in this industry for all these years. There will be a raffle. All of the proceeds are going to go to St. Jude Children’s Hospital. And I chose that because of my love for Danny Thomas. You know, he was the founder of that hospital. And then we’ll go upstairs and we’ll have a meet-and-greet with all of the people in the audience, you know? We’ll sign some CDs and spend some time with people. It’s going to be a really lovely afternoon and an opportunity for people who show up to really talk to me in person, ask me questions, get to know me, speak to me on a one-on-one basis, and I think that’s what we’re really trying to do there, you know? Let me just say it, please. I’m sorry – let me just say the event is October 20th at 1 in the afternoon. It’s an early start. It’s 1 o’clock in the afternoon. You can go there and have brunch, you can be part of the event. It could really be a nice afternoon for you – and it’s on a Sunday and that’s always nice.
Very nice. You’re definitely a woman who has lived her dreams. What’s the best thing about being Julie Budd?
Oh my goodness. I think the best thing about Julie Budd was her parents (laughs). I had the most wonderful parents. That’s sort of the backbone of everything in my life. It’s my family, my parents. Unfortunately, inthe last five years I lost both my parents and that’s just (sighs) devastating. But I carry them with me wherever I go, and whenever I don’t know what to do, I close my eyes and hear their voice and I pray it guides me – and it does. And then I have two wonderful sisters. I’m one of three girls, so I have two wonderful sisters. They’re just the most fantastic girls in the world and they have great kids, so … And I have a wonderful man in my life and he has a wonderful family, so I’m blessed. I think the best thing about Julie Budd is that she comes from good folks and whatever she ever wanted to do with her life, or in her life, she had the confidence and the wherewithal to go forward and do it, but with all the good stuff that goes with you in life – that you need to take with you to have that strength and to know what to do. I knew right from wrong. And I was in a crazy business at a young age but, because I came from really good folks, I always knew how to survive and what to do. And I pray that I did it right and that I continue to.
For my last question – who is Julie Budd?
I’m a person just like anybody else in this world. I’ve been very, very fortunate to have an extraordinary and beautiful life. And I pray that we’ll all be well and that the country will function well, and that everybody will have a peaceful life. And who is Julie Budd? I think Julie Budd is somebody that just wishes the best for everybody, and hopes for the best, and works as hard as she can, and thinks of herself as being just like everybody else. And I don’t like show people that think that they’re so special. I don’t like anybody that thinks that they’re so special. I think everybody is special. You just have to love people, stay close to your family, and that’s who Julie Budd is.
Well, I can tell you this interview has been areal pleasure.
Oh, that’s so nice of you. Thank you! You’ve been a pleasure to talk to. I wish you all the best, too. I hope all is well and thanks for having me on your show.
It’s my pleasure.
TRANSCRIBED BY GAYLE BRAZDA.