If there was anything that delighted Jack Benny more than making people laugh, it was making them enjoy his gift of music.
There are varying reports about how good a violinist Benny really was. For the untrained, and even average, ear, he was likely more than good enough.
Benny loved playing the violin in concert with professional orchestras. Perhaps there was some psychological thing going on about compensating for disappointing his parents as a child by not becoming a classical musician. Whatever the reason, Benny did a tremendous amount of good for the music arts with his charity violin concerts, raising millions to keep orchestras and old concert halls/theatres in existence.
Just as he had played the pinnacle of the vaudeville venues, the Palace, in the 1920s and ‘30s, he appeared in the mecca of serious music—Carnegie Hall. The concert with Isaac Stern and others was taped and broadcast twice on CBS.
Here’s a short story from the Associated Press from April 4, 1961. I pass it on mainly because of the punch line at the end, which was cut by some papers for space. There’s no byline on this but I suspect it’s by Robert Holton, who wrote another story for the AP on the event with the same date and includes some of the same quotes. The photo is the best version I can find that accompanied the story. The cute headline comes from the Norwalk Hour version.
39-year-old Violinist Stars at Carnegie Hall
NEW YORK—(AP)-Jack Benny of the receding hairline and screeching fiddle plays a pretty good long-hair violin.
That's the opinion a Carnegie Hall audience of 2.700 expressed via applause last night after the comedian paused between witticisms and performed a duet with violinist Isaac Stern.
When the last strains of the first movement of Bach's Concerto in D Minor for Two Violins died away, the audience signaled its appreciation and Eugene Ormandy, conductor of the Philadelphia Symphony, shook Benny's hand.
To Benny, who has appeared in the tradition-steeped hall before, it was a special night.
He was honored for his efforts in raising funds to support, symphony orchestras throughout the country and was described by Stern as "a man who has done much . . . in the cause of good music."
"This is the finest compliment I believe I have ever received in my life," Benny replied.
Benny's concerts in 18 cities have raised more than $2,000,000, with music and musicians the principal beneficiaries
The performance last night, in which Roberta Peters, Van Cliburn, and Benny Goodman and his sextet also appeared, was video-taped for public viewing Sept. 27 over the CBS television network.
At a rehearsal earlier in the day, Benny and Stern engaged often in tongue-in-cheek palaver.
During a break in the music, Stern said to Benny: "I wish you'd play C-sharp."
"Where?" Benny asked, deadpan.
"Where it's written," Stern advised.