“My father always loved the holidays. He used to take us to see the Macy’s Parade and the lighting of the Rockefeller Christmas Tree, and we’d watch the Rose Parade on TV — but never in my wildest dreams did I think I would do any of these events, let alone all of them,” Roker let us know.
In fact, he told us that the holidays mean more to him every year — especially since his beloved dad passed away. “It was an odd, poignant holiday, the first one where he wasn’t there. That becomes a reason to appreciate the occasion and the family and friends you’re celebrating with that much more,” noted Al. “Those times you think, ‘Oh, maybe I won’t go home this year,’ you have to remember, you never know who might be missing. Not to be macabre, but maybe you’ll be the one who isn’t around next year.”
SOUNDS OF THE SEASON: Holiday time is hectic time for Mannheim Steamroller’s Chip Davis, starting today with the Macy’s Parade — his third appearance at the event in three years. Davis himself is being seen with one of his performance groups on a float — even as two more Mannheim Steamroller companies are embarking on two Christmas tours that will cover some 94 cities.
He’ll hit QVC Sunday, then go down to Universal Studios in Orlando, where “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” — a 20-minute outdoor symphonic version — is playing ’til the end of the year, with Chip conducting. “They built a venue to try it, and 25,000 people showed up to the first concert. Then they tried eight concerts, and 25,000 people showed up for each one,” he tells us. And thus began a new holiday tradition.
Davis has just come from Las Vegas, where he oversaw the launch of a new Mannheim Steamroller holiday show at the Venetian Hotel.
That’s five Mannheim Steamroller groups performing — the most composer-arranger-producer-musician Davis has had going at once.
It’s quite a feat for someone who recalls being “pretty much an outcast” when he was trying to get started in the recording business back in the ’70s. None of the big record companies knew what to do with him, so Davis did something revolutionary then, common practice now — he started his own label.
“It turned out to be the greatest asset I had,” he says brightly. “Everyone said, ‘That will never work.'” In 1984, when Mannheim Steamroller’s first holiday album was released, “the traditional view was that artists turned to making Christmas records when they were out of ideas.” Now, Mannheim Steamroller is synonymous with the festive time of year, and Davis has sold more than 40 million albums.
He hasn’t toured since the 2008 automobile accident and subsequent surgery that left him with limited feeling and mobility in his right arm, but keeps up a ferocious schedule this time of year nonetheless. As for what he’s most thankful for, Davis says he savors the time he spends with his three children, ages 21, 16 and 13.
SPEAKING OF THANKS: As friends and families gather to celebrate this Thanksgiving, here are some extra notes of thanks gathered from celebrities over the last few years — in answer to our question of who they’d like to thank besides their families:
John Stamos — “I’d like to be able thank some of the older guys like Don Rickles and the Rat Pack for being such great mentors to me. Don Rickles is one of my best friends, one of the great living geniuses, a legend. I learned so much from him and the other guys in show business who gave so much to the audience. Not like today when comics come on and get off fast.”
Swoosie Kurtz – “I’m thankful for all the amazing people in this world who give time and energy helping children who are abused and neglected to feel loved and wanted. I salute them and I thank them.”
Holland Taylor– I could speak of a lot of people on the personal level, but outside of that, it didn’t take much thinking to answer this. I thought of who has changed my life and changed the quality of life in our country – and that is Oprah Winfrey. In 20 years the world will be different because of her. She knows education is how the world will change, not politics.”
Ellen Burstyn — “I’ll always thank Lee Strasberg. He was such an incredible, probably the most important, influence on my life.”
Genie Francis — “Barbara Bass — she was my studio teacher when I was a young woman, a nice Jewish mother. I spent three hours a day with her. She was one of the only people who was capable of not losing sight of who I was. Just about everybody else seemed to let that slip by in the midst of the fame. She had an ability to separate me from that, to see just me, to take care of me as if I was her own daughter. She was there for all the trials and tribulations. Without her loving guidance, I don’t what I would have done. I thought I lived to make money and be a celebrity. She opened my mind to the possibility that I was worthwhile for myself. I was damn lucky to have her.”
Nikki Blonsky — “I’d like to thank God for another year with my wonderful family.”