Claire Voyant's Las Vegas Gossip Column

Displaying keen perception and great insight.  
She's a little bit naughty. She’s a little bit nice.  
She calls ‘em like she sees (and hears) ‘em.  

Claire Voyant  

Note: This is a past column from December 22, 2006
You can find the current column HERE

Las Vegas - December 22, 2006

Ruth Brown would have loved the sendoff Las Vegas gave her. On Sunday, December 17, exactly one month after her death at the age of 78, family, friends and fans gathered at the First Church of Religious Science to celebrate the life of the award-winning blues singer. It was almost a full house, made up of people who knew her for a long time, those who met her after she moved to Las Vegas a number of years ago, or those that only knew her through her music. Among the recognizable (by us) faces in attendance at the Life Center, former Supreme, Mary Wilson; Bubba Knight, onetime Pip and brother of Gladys Knight; Las Vegas Review-Journal's movie critic, Carol Cling; Kelly Clinton; comic Cork Proctor and wife Carolyn Hamilton Proctor; singer and Spectrum member, Cushney Roberts and his wife, Wendy Rountree; Greenspun Circulation employee and music lover/vinyl junkie (that would be records, folks) Randy Carlson; Don Hill, former saxophone player with The Treniers, singer Larry Atello from Tony 'n' Tina's Wedding; Darryl Grant, also a member of Spectrum; Stevie Wonder look-alike and Wanda Dee's husband/manager, Eric Floyd; along with Ink Spots and Platters drummer, Paul Stubblefield. Although she did not attend the celebration, Nevada's Lt. Governor Lorraine Hunt Bono, owner of the Bootlegger Bistro where Ruth Brown gave her last performance, sponsored the printing of the very nice, photo-filled programs handed out to the guests. Stories and memories were shared and, of course, there was music...plenty of music. The lineup of talented performers included Freddie Eckstine, who sang Jelly, Jelly, a Ruth Brown favorite, written and recorded by Freddie's father, the late, great Billy Eckstine; former Platters lead singer Sonny Turner, singing a moving version of You'll Never Walk Alone; Clint Holmes, doing an a cappella version of His Eye Is On the Sparrow, followed by an original song by Clint and Bill Fayne titled I Sing; Clint's musical director and member of the Las Vegas Tenors, Bill Fayne, singing Artie Butler's Here's To Life; energetic Earl Turner, currently entertaining at Palace Station, who did a rousing, hand-clapping interpretation of Amen; Janis Carter, who flew in from out of town just for the occasion, doing This Little Light of Mine in tribute to Brown and the late Doris Troy; and rapper/goddess Wanda Dee doing a dandy job on two of Ruth Brown's hits, If I Can't Sell It, I'll Sit On It, and 1953's (Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean. Accompanying the vocalists were Vincent Falcone (longtime musical director/ accompanist for Frank Sinatra, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme and Diahann Carroll, among others), Bill Fayne (doing double duty as both solo singer and piano player for other performers), Gilo Morgan and TC. Sometimes called "The Girl With the Teardrop in her Voice," it was Ruth Brown's own recording of I Believe I Can Fly that brought the two-hour tribute to a appropriate finale, we think, for a pioneer woman. Credit goes out to Ed Foster and Jillean Williams (widow of blues legend, Joe Williams) for the great job they did putting this celebration of love and remembrance together.

Supposedly, there are no coincidences in life. If that is the case, maybe timing is everything. As we were pulling into a parking space at the First Church of Religious Science to attend Ruth Brown's service, a song called Remember Me, sung by Frankie Laine, came on the radio (we are loyal KJUL listeners). The title alone seemed very appropriate under the circumstances, but what made this even more poignant, is the fact that it was Frankie Laine who gave Ruth Brown the nickname that stuck with her throughout her lifetime. "Miss Rhythm" would have loved the irony of the moment.

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An e-mail from one of our readers wanted information about two onetime Las Vegas , the Westward Ho hotel/casino and entertainer, Dondino. We know, for sure, what the status of the small hotel/casino located on the Strip between Circus-Circus and the Stardust is...its history. The property was closed and demolished, all in the name of progress and exploding property values. The land where the Westward Ho once rested, will, more than likely, be absorbed by Echelon Place, the city-within-a-city-sized multi-use destination that will take over the Stardust land. As for Dondino, the onetime local lounge lizard traded in Vegas for a shot at Branson. After performing in the Missouri tourist community for a few years, the singular-named, Engelbert Humperdinck sound-alike returned to Las Vegas hoping for another shot at fame and fortune. Other than some music-related work he was doing in conjunction with a Southern Nevada church, not much has been seen or heard from the singer.

In a related bit of information, a number of years ago, soon after Dondino returned to Las Vegas, we spotted him and a couple of friends dining in a southeast neighborhood restaurant. As we were leaving the place, a large sedan came roaring into the dining establishment's parking lot, screeched to a stop in front of the restaurant and a man in the front passenger seat jumped out of the car and ran inside the building. A few minutes later, a heap of humanity came flying out of the restaurant's front door. The two people in the middle of this fray were Dondino and the stranger in the sedan. We don't know what the skirmish was all about, but we do know it looked like Dondino was going to get quite a beating...or worse. There was yelling and threatening gestures before the masked stranger (he really wasn't masked, it just sounds more exciting) jumped back into the car and sped off, leaving the singer and curious diners in a cloud of dust. It's all still a mystery but it might explain why we haven't seen Dondino on a local stage.

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Las Vegas' own, Kenny Kerr, will be heading to Palm Springs in early January. The talented comic/singer/female impersonator will be performing at the newly remodeled CopyKatz Showroom & Backstage Bistro (formerly Atlas) at 210 S. Palm Canyon Drive. CopyKatz, owned by Elyse Del Francia-Goodwin, promises to be the desert community's hot new nightspot. During the week, Mr. Boy-lesque will share emcee duties with James "Gypsy" Haake, and on Friday and Saturday nights, he will star in Kenny Kerr After Midnight. For additional information, call (760) 864-9293.

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Trent Carlini's The Musical History of the King will debut at the Sahara on December 29 for an open-end engagement. The Chicago-born entertainer has been a rock 'n' roll fan since he was five-years-old. By age 10, he was playing guitar and he hasn't stopped since. As a teen, Trent was already producing records of his own music. When Elvis Presley died in 1977, Trent changed musical directions, deciding to devote himself to recreating the style of the man that had influenced his life so greatly. In 1988, Trent was chosen to star in the Annual Birthday Tribute to Presley at the Star Plaza Theater in Indiana. Performing with people personally and professionally associated with The King, such as the singing Jordanaires; J.D. Sumner & the Stamps Quartet; drummer D.J. Fontana; guitarist Charlie Hodge; and Joe Esposito, the King's right-hand man and road manager, Trent was a hit! He has returned to headline this show for the past ten years. In 1992, Legends in Concert producer John Stuart saw a video of Trent and flew him to Las Vegas where he was hired to portray Elvis for Stuart's production here. Trent's uncanny resemblance, incredible vocal range and charisma to the stage, kept him performing as the King in the Imperial Palace production until September 1996. He has appeared all over the world, but Carlini's biggest thrill might have been the four years he spent entertaining sell out crowds at the Las Vegas Hilton (formerly the International), on the very stage where Elvis himself performed. Over the years, Trent has been on TV's Entertainment Tonight, NBC's Nightline, Late Night with David Letterman, Oprah, Leeza, ABC's Primetime, the Vicki Lawrence Show and the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, as well as on the Miss Universe Pageant, National Arthritis Telethon and Nashville Network. He has also been featured in numerous worldwide publications, including the National Examiner and Matissimo, Europe¹s number-one fan magazine, and on the cover of Cobietta, Poland's top-selling women's magazine. In The Musical History of the King, Trent takes the audience through a magical journey of Presley's career: from the hip-swiveling '50s, through the army and movie years, the hot-leather years of the '68 Comeback, all the way to the Las Vegas years of the '70s. If you are an Elvis fan, this Sahara offering should be right up your alley. Show times are at 9 p.m. (dark Sundays), with ticket prices starting at $49 plus tax and fee. For reservations, call (702) 737-2515.

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On December 29th, onetime Las Vegas entertainer Lucy (Lucille) Shropshire will make her encore appearance at Don't Tell Mama's cabaret in Manhattan. Conceived and produced by Jim Semmelman (also a former Las Vegan) and George Kramer, this go-round, called All Sides of Love, will include numbers from Broadway and cabaret's greatest songwriters. While living in Nevada, Lucy was a Reno/Tahoe favorite and performed in a number of Southern Nevada revues, including Hot New Orleans Nights in Laughlin and Creole Heat at the now closed Bourbon Street casino. Her tour de force role was as principle singer in the Stardust's lavish spectacular, Enter the Night. Lucy recently did a tour with Ain't Misbehavin', and travels as a supporting singer with Mary Wilson, formerly of the Supremes. If you happen to be in the Big Apple at the end of the month, stop in at Don't Tell Mama for a real treat.

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Robert Allen, the brains behind the Haunted Vegas Tour and Vegas Mob Tour, adds Laughlin to the agenda. As of December 16, visitors and residents of the Laughlin area can now experience the thrill of their own ghostly adventure, thanks to the Haunted Laughlin Tour. Are there restless spirits around the Nevada/Arizona border community? You bet! Now you can take a three-hour bus tour that reveals the spookier side of Nevada's other "Neon City." According to Allen, there are more than 40 ghosts that haunt the boundaries of Laughlin, Nevada, Bullhead City, Arizona and the surrounding Colorado River Recreation Area. Travelers learn about the ghosts of the ill fated Oatman Girls who were captured and tortured by Indians in 1850, and the notorious Red Ghost, whose fiery spirit is seen chasing through the desert at night. Included on the tour is a walk through an old cemetery haunted by a number of ghosts who refuse to leave,

even though they died in the 1860s. One of the highlights of the tour is a stop at the old mining town of Oatman, Arizona. The local inhabitants claim as many as eight ghostly spirits roam Oatman's dark unlit streets nightly. Two of the ghosts are said to be that

of Clark Gable and Carole Lombard who spent their honeymoon in the town in 1939. Another spooky specter takes great joy in playing pranks on the town's nightly visitors. Some shutterbugs have been surprised to find weird ghostly images showing up on their cameras. Large orbs and strange vapor trails on photos are an almost common occurrence. "Making people believers is not our goal", says Allen. "Our goal is to make the Haunted Laughlin experience fun for believers and non-believers alike." Call (702) 737-5540 for additional information on any of the tours.

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If you are reading this early enough, and you happen to be in Las Vegas and/or Henderson today (December 22), you can kill a few birds with the same stone (hey, PETA, I didn't make up this awful saying). Get yourself out to The District at Green Valley Ranch, do a little more Christmas shopping, have dinner or drinks at Lucille's Smokehouse Bar-B-Que (we LOVE their Garden Burger), and give a listen to Paul Xavier. Paul will be performing at Lucille's between 7 and 11 p.m.

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As we draw closer to the end of another year, we have to wonder where Tim McDarrah will be celebrating the upcoming holidays. In case you weren't around here in late 2005 (although it was kind of swept under the rug in this part of the country), McDarrah, the former gossip columnist for the Las Vegas Sun, and editor of the Hot Stuff column at Us Weekly magazine, was arrested by undercover FBI agents in New York City on September 14 for allegedly soliciting sex from a 13 year-old girl on the Internet. We read that he was suspended from Us magazine and faced 5 to 30 years in prison if he were convicted. We have heard nothing since. Where's Waldo? Where's Tim?

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Garold Gardner has been a part-time faculty member in the UNLV Dance Department since the department started. He currently teaches ballet, musical theatre, intro to dance, dance history, dance appreciation and jazz dance at the university. For 15 years, Garold worked as a performer in New York dance companies and on Broadway, where he did three shows with Bob Fosse, as well as worked with Hanya Holm and Agnes DeMille). He has also taught extensively at the Interlochen center for the Arts, Stephens College, Cornish School for the Arts, University of Idaho, as well as at numerous summer workshops. Fifteen years ago, he founded the Garold Gardner Scholarship Foundation. The Foundation was created to assist young dancers, from low-income backgrounds, in achieving their goals to become professional performers. Several of the scholarship recipients have come from UNLV and are well on their way to careers in the theater.

And speaking of "dance" (and we were), at 7 p.m. on December 29th, the Starbright Theatre in Sun City Summerlin will be the site of a special holiday show called Let's Dance! The husband and wife team of Michael Kessler and Melinda Jackson, who have produced, directed, written, choreographed and starred in shows from Broadway to Las Vegas, and in theaters and opera houses around the world, will head up a group of 22 dancers. Critics have hailed the twosome as "showstoppers," "imaginative and wildly humorous," and "a truly gifted and charismatic pair." Let's Dance! tells the tale of a Dancin' Man from the streets of New York whose search to leave his footsteps on "the sands of time" leads him to discover the girl of his dreams. In this humorous and poignant love story, told through song and dance, our heroes travel back together to relive a life of rhythm and rhyme. Check out the M&M American Dance Theatre's clever Web site at Ticket prices are $20 for residents and $25 for non-residents. All ticket sales are check or cash (exact change required). No credit cards accepted. For up-to-date information on Starbright shows, call (702) 240-1301.

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We forgot to mention...To order Sonny Turner's new holiday CD, referred to in last week's column, go to his Web site at


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Claire Voyant's portrait by Charlie Frye