|Photo: Craig Sotres|
What is the truest barometer of success in the music business?
Is it a gold album? Well, the living legend known as Engelbert Humperdinck has 64 of those. Is it a platinum album? Engelbert has 23. Although these numbers are certainly stunning, the greatest sign of Engelbert’s enduring presence in the international spotlight is the fact that on a snowy and slushy New England night last weekend, fans packed the Chevalier Theatre in Medford, MA to see the man – now 86 and still touring in 2023 – sing the songs that defined his record-breaking career and deliver newer selections that prove that he is far from taking his final bow.
For 90 captivating minutes, Engelbert held the audience in the palm of his hand as he delivered the big hits (this writer’s personal favorites from the evening: 1981’s “Maybe This Time” and his 1967 breakthrough hit, “Release Me”), a batch of perfectly selected covers (including Gamble and Huff’s “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” the George Jackson/Bob Seger hit “Old Time Rock and Roll” and Jennifer Rush’s “The Power of Love”) and even a rousing rendition of his recently released Country Line Dance version of Barry White’s “You’re The First, The Last, My Everything,” which got a good chunk of the crowd dancing in the aisles. (Always the ladies’ man, Engelbert received plenty of fawning attention from female fans throughout his set – even if their grandchildren may have been a touch embarrassed had they been there.)
Time catches up with all of us, and Engelbert is no exception. Although his voice occasionally showed the effects of decades on stage (and whose voice wouldn’t after 60 years on the road?), he addressed the passage of time with admirable aplomb throughout his show. After cheekily grabbing his knee while dancing around earlier in the set, he unveiled a moving performance of Toby Keith’s “Don’t Let The Old Man In” and took a moment to speak about the 2021 passing of his wife of 56 years, Patricia Healey. To put a poignant cap on the evening’s festivities, Engelbert encored with Matt Monro’s “If I Never Sing Another Song,” his voice soaring as he brilliantly encapsulated this current phrase of his long and storied life:
In my heyday, young girls wrote to me
Everybody seemed to have time to devote to me
Everyone I saw all swore they knew me
Once upon a song
Main attraction, couldn't buy a seat
The celebrity celebrities were dying to meet
I've had every accolade bestowed on me
And so you see
If I never sing another song
It shouldn't bother me
I've had my share of fame
You know my name
If I never sing another song
Or take another bow
I would get by
But I'm not sure how.
And now, a glimpse behind the curtain:
While such a passionate show would leave any singer exhausted, Engelbert gave an equally memorable performance backstage after the show, holding court for a small gathering of friends and admirers (including yours truly) in a relaxed setting. For nearly an hour, Engelbert – a soft-spoken English gentleman of the highest possible order – joked, shared tales from his past and chatted without giving the slightest sense that he’d rather be anywhere else. Without betraying any off-the-record confidences, I can attest to the fact that he is a tremendous storyteller and a deeply funny and charming man.
As a final note, it was amazing to see the Chevalier Theatre show begin with a video presentation of the intro from the 1982 An Evening with Engelbert concert film from the Hilton in Las Vegas. That was around the time that I (thanks for my grandmother’s record collection) was first introduced to the man – then in his forties, blonde, tan and on top of the world. Forty-one years later, he remains the man on the marquee – much older now but still the king of the stage. What a gift.