By DAVID PEPIN
The featured performer for this yearâs Summerâs End concert can boast of having spent the past 15 years working with a music legendâŠand having received his big break in show business from a boxing legend.
John Pagano, a Providence native whose repertoire ranges from pop chestnuts to rhythm and blues, will be performing with the R.I. Philharmonic at the townâs annual concert, to be held Friday, Sept. 2, at Eldredge Field. Rain date for the show is Saturday, Sept. 3.
Pagano, who began his career in the â80s as an R&B singer, has been a featured vocalist since 1997 with Burt Bacharach, the pianist and songwriter responsible for many entries in the canon of pop music standards over the past 50 years. Along with two female singers and an 11-piece orchestra (including his brother Vinny, its drummer), they have toured throughout much of the world, most recently a six-date swing through Italy.
âThe girls cover many of his hits, and I do all the male songs,â says Pagano, who usually performs âThis Guyâs In Love with You,â âWhat the World Needs Now (Is Love Sweet Love),â âRaindrops Keep Falling on My Head,â âAny Day Nowâ and âGod Give Me Strength.â
Now living in southern California, Pagano returns roughly every three months to visit his family, and tries to work in a shown or two while heâs in the area.
Before meeting Bacharach, and before recording a CD on MCA, however, came his âdiscoveryâ by that noted musical talent scoutâŠMike Tyson (yes, the former world heavyweight champion).
âI played in a band called Xpo around Albany with my brother. Mike trained about a half-hour away, and he came and saw us and took a liking to my band and my voice. He said I ought to sing the national anthem at one of his fights,â Pagano remembers.
In 1989, Pagano stood in the center of the ring as the Las Vegas Hilton and sang âThe Star-Spangled Bannerâ prior to Tysonâs successful title defense against Frank Bruno.
In the audience that night was an assistant to Irving Azoff, one of the recording industryâs giants, then chairman of MCA records.
âShe saw me in the elevator on my way to the afterparty, and I met Azoff two days later,â Pagano says. While he had been discussing a record deal with Warner Brothers at the time, he ended up signing with MCA, which led to his first encounter with Bacharach and his then-wife, songwriter Carole Bayer Sager.
âAzoff took me over to see him because he was looking for material for my album, but Burt didnât have anything that fit,â says Pagano.
The MCA CD, he recalls, was âvery of the times, uptempo,â on which Bacharachâs more ballad-oriented tunes wouldâve been out of place. âI was the only white guy in MCAâs R&B division.â
Plans for a second CD never materialized, but in 1997, âI received a call from Burt out of the blue. He was getting ready to tour, but had never toured with a male vocalist before. I told him I was surprised he remembered me, and he said he had never forgotten my voice.â