A special event is coming to the Newport Classical Recital Hall at the Emmanuel Church on Friday, April 28. The concert “For Mike” is a benefit for the Mike Renzi Musicianship Award scholarship at the University of Rhode Island. The award is given annually to a URI student who is a Rhode Island resident majoring in Music. Click here for tickets.

The award honors Renzi, an Emmy Award-winning performer and inductee into the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame, who passed away at age 80 in 2021. Born in Providence, Renzi was an accomplished pianist who played with many of the great vocalists of the 20th and 21st centuries.

“Mike could play the gamut of classical through Gershwin, the songbook, and all kinds of jazz. He played under singers for most of his career, and of course, he did the music for Sesame Street,” says Cathy Del Nero, who is organizing the event. “He also won seven Emmys for his soap opera music,” she adds.

Del Nero wanted a famous pianist to headline the fundraiser and is thrilled to welcome Russ Kassoff, “a big name in New York City,” she notes. Kassoff is known for his work with “A List” performers including Frank Sinatra and Liza Minelli. He’s also played with Tony Bennett, Mel Torme, Carly Simon, Luciano Pavarotti and Rod Stewart.

Russ Kassoff (Photo: Craig Collins)

“He’s a riot; he knows a lot of stories, and he was fortunate to play with Sinatra at a young age. Sinatra fell in love with him and made that comment, ‘you’re the best.’  That introduced him to the Rat Pack, with whom he played on and off for 11 years,” says Del Niro.

“He later joined Liza Minelli, and she also fell completely in love with Russ’s playing and wanted him to play with her, so he had another 18 years playing as her pianist and her musical director. Russ has an incredible encyclopedic knowledge of jazz; he can talk about various musicians and pieces of music with such intelligence,” adds Del Nero.

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Del Niro is committed to the fundraising aspect of the show. “100% of every ticket is going to the Mike Renzi Musicianship Award,” she says.  “I went to Richard Sardella, I went to Mike’s family, Greendale Vineyards and others, who donated money and goods to support the expenses for the show.”

Expect a night of timeless classics and entertaining stories in honor of Renzi and in support of a great cause. Click here for tickets and to learn more about the show.  

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