Performers at "For the Love of Jimmy" included Lucie Arnaz, Melveen Leed and Jimmy Borges himself.
“For the Love of Jimmy,” that fundraiser for entertainer Jimmy Borges, raised more than $70,000 — surpassing its $50,000 goal — at the gala last Saturday (Jan. 30) at the Westin Moana Surfrider hotel.
And monies are still being tallied.
The evening was an outpouring of love and aloha for Borges, who has stage four terminal lung cancer. He decided live out his life his way — without customary chemotherapy — and the journey has been a mix of good and bad days.
Happily, Borges was in high spirits Saturday, meeting and greeting and being photographed with an array of genuine fans, friends, family and notables, all sharing a common mission: to salute the master of his craft.
The show — in the Banyan Court of the Moana Surfrider, under a sprawling banyan tree and clear skies — was a mixed bag of local performers capped by a Borges fan and friend from way back, Lucie Arnaz, the daughter of one of show biz’s iconic couples, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.
The space, not commonly utilized for shows these days (‘twas the previous home of radio’s “Hawaii Calls,” the Tavana revue, then Tihati Productions’ Polynesian spectacle during Waikiki’s glorious show biz era of the ‘60s to the ‘80s), made celebrants wonder why there haven’t been more events in recent times.
It was a fitting and cordial spot to show Borges how well he is adored and worshipped, and a salute intending to pump up monies to fulfill his last wish: to launch a University of Hawaii scholarship bearing his name, for future vocalists.
So it was a hearty party, a rainbow of aloha and styles to demonstrate how much Borges is adored.
The take-away moment came early on, without warning.
Melveen Leed, who shelved her comedic antics and Hawaiian repertoire this night, opened the evening on a pop-jazz note, beginning with “Poor Butterfly.” She innocently sashayed into a bossa nova mood with “The More I See You,” segueing into “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” which prompted Borges — seated at a front table surrounded by family and supporters — to unexpectedly rise from his seat, head for the corner stage on the veranda of the restaurant area, to chime in with Leed.
Appropriately, “I Wish You Love” was the anthem of this rousing moment. Weak on his feet but his heart filled with celebratory joy, Borges hung onto the veranda rail to share a see-sawing duet with Leed, who played along like a pro, sharing her segment with the honoree. With equal parts glee and concern, Borges had the savvy and the energy to deliver what surely might have been his final performance in a colorful and triumphant 60-year career.
He is 80, but the cancer — affecting his ability to breathe — means he has lost some of the steam steam as a belter.
But with this instance of genuine but unplanned honesty, he and Leed earned cheers and ovations, nullifying a late-in-the-show song Borges was to do. This was the right moment at the right time with the right emotions, and it was thoroughly impromptu, it was totally electrifying. It couldn’t have been scripted any better. For Leed, it was a triumph, too; so many admired her vocal prowess and discipline and charity, sharing her mike time and co-starring in this iconic highlight.
Willie K also adjusted his songlist to pay tribute to jazz and Borges, with a super duper performance emoting Ella Fitzgerald-like scat singing which brought down the house, too. When he indulged in “If I Didn’t Care,” the old Ink Spots classic, he validated his fondness of blues and jazz, mimicking and saluting Nina Simone.
Oh yeah, Willie also was wildly operatic with a powerful “Nessun Dorma.”
Yvonne Elliman, widely associated with her Mary Magdalene connection with the concept album, Broadway musical and film version of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” focused instead on her ‘70s repertoire, sharing sure bets like “If I Can’t Have You” from “Saturday Night Fever” and her Barbara Lewis cover-turned-hit “Hello, Stranger.” For her, nostalgia ruled.
Taimane Gardner, a skilled and animated ukulele whiz, demonstrated her expressive and explosive strumming, a good spot for familiarizing her evolving brand with a local crowd. A former Don Ho “discovery,” she traditionally plays for visitor audiences so this was a nifty notch for her local creds.
Finally, Lucie Arnaz, a songstress of admirable eloquence and charm, capped the evening with a solid roster of American song standards, showing a parallel philosophy of Borges: utilizing songs to tell stories. From “Lulu’s Back in Town” to “The Tender Trap” to “Until Now,” she breezed through a gamut of romantic paths: lasting connections, failures, eternal searches. Not jazzy, but grand and graceful.
And then to punctuate her adoration of the islands — she has been here a number of times over the decades — she dusted off the classic Hawaiian “Na Alii,” revealing she researched its lyrics involving history and propriety, surprising the audience that she knew the Hawaiian lyrics which she delivered in contrasting pace and tempo, first with a the slow version and the show-stopping rapid-fire upbeat version.
The crowd howled delight.
As for the Borges scholarship donations, the funds will fuel the initial $300,000 committed to the Jimmy Borges Endowment Fun, to bolster and solidify a legacy for the ailing jazz singer. He simply wanted to leave something significant for a future generation of needy vocalists, so the plan is to award University of Hawaii scholarships to prospective singers, hopefully for a lifetime.
All “For the Love of Jimmy.”