Tag Archives: Rondi Charleston

Emma Charles’ “Connecticut”: A Musical And Video Homage

Texas has its “yellow rose.” Georgia was on Ray Charles’ mind; Gladys Knight took a midnight train there, and Brook Benton sang about a rainy night.

There are too many California songs to count: “Girls,” “Dreamin’,” “Hotel” — you name it.

But Connecticut?

A quick Google search shows one from 1945, by Judy Garland and Bing Crosby. There’s “Kylie from Connecticut” by Ben Folds, and a couple of others — including (I’m not kidding) “Connecticut’s For F*cking,” by Jesus H Christ and the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

I haven’t heard of any of them.

Hopefully, all of us — in 06880, 90210 and everywhere in between — will soon hear “Connecticut,” by Emma Charles.

It may be the tune that puts us on the musical map.

Emma is certainly on the fast track. The 2015 Staples High School graduate — known then as Emma Ruchefsky — went on to the prestigious Berklee College of Music. She concentrated on performance and songwriting, and studied with Livingston Taylor.

Her first professional gig, as a sophomore, was at Rockwood Music Hall.

After graduating, Emma (whose professional last name, Charles, comes from her mother, Rondi Charleston — she’s a professional singer too) relocated to Los Angeles. She’s recorded and toured nationally. Billboard named her a Best Emerging Artist of 2020.

That initial trip to LA was the impetus for “Connecticut” — the song, the EP of the same name, and the video.

Emma wrote the title tune after a 2-week road trip from Westport west. She took the southern route, and called it “amazing.”

Along the way — and then in California — Emma reflected on her lifetime in the Nutmeg State, and the people she grew up with here. “Connecticut” flowed easily.

The video, meanwhile, began this past Christmas. Home for the holidays, Emma and her parents watched old home videos.

She also toured the town with former Staples classmate Sarah Quagliariello. They videotaped favorite sites.

Emma and her creative director, Msrina Piche, spliced together those old and new tapes, plus footage from Emma’s road trip to create the video.

It’s an allegory for transitioning from the familiar to the unfamiliar, the comfortable to the unknown. She grew up quite happily here, but is eager now for whatever comes next.

Viewers love the video, with its “old-timey” format.

“They say it’s organic — not curated or perfect,” Emma explains. “They like that it’s raw. They see a lot of me in it.”

Four more songs from the “Connecticut” EP rolls out soon. In May and June Emma heads off on a 12-city tour, opening for a band called Shell. The last date is at Joe’s Pub, in New York City.

Many of her Connecticut friends and fans will be there.

No doubt singing along with “Connecticut.”

(For more on Emma Charles — including songs from the “Connecticut” EP — click here.)

Giving The Gift Of Music

The Staples High School music department is the gift that keeps on giving.

Many holiday parties — here, and around the country — include Christmas carols. Most of the time, guests stumble through a few standards. Then it’s back to the wassail and egg nog.

Steve Ruchefsky and Rondi Charleston’s party is not like that. It’s at their lovely Myrtle Avenue home — but it might as well be Carnegie Hall.

Their daughter Emma Charles graduated from Staples High School, and the Berklee College of Music. Last night, she and her friends — all former Orphenians — harmonized on a few beautiful carols.

They did not rehearse. But — thanks to their Westport music education, amazing voices and joy in singing once again with each other — they made a great party even more wondrous.

Click on, and listen below!

The singers are (from left) Emma Charles, Joe Badion, Jack Baylis, Nick  Ribolla, Ian Goodman and Nick Massoud. Midway through, they’re joined by Emma’s uncle. Apologies: My video quality pales in comparison to the their wonderful voices.

Ranky Tanky Gets Down At The Levitt

“06880” does not usually promote Levitt Pavilion concerts. There are too many good ones — rock, jazz, military bands, kids’ shows, you name it — and by now, most people know how to find the shows they like.

But the Levitt does not usually showcase Gullah music. So here’s a little promo for this Saturday’s event (August 4, 8 p.m.).

And — because “06880” is “where Westport meets the world” — there’s a great local connection.

Ranky Tanky is the group you’ll want to hear. They celebrate Gullah culture — the unique evolution of West African slaves shipped to the South Carolina coast to work the low country rice plantations.

Because they were so skillful, the slaves were kept together — not separated, like those from other parts of Africa. The culture they created continues today.

Ranky Tanky celebrates Gullah life through spirituals, poems, children’s songs and lullabies, combining them with fresh, jazz-inflected music. It’s special, unique, and well worth seeing and hearing.

Ranky Tanky, in the low country.

The band is hot. Their first album zoomed to #1 on the Billboard, Amazon and iTunes jazz charts. They’ve headlined the Spoleto Music  Festival, played Carnegie Hall and been featured in Downbeat. Terry Gross interviewed them for “Fresh Air.”

But the world would not have heard about Ranky Tanky without the passion of a local couple.

Last year, Steve Ruchefsky and Rondi Charleston started Resilience Music Alliance. The goal is to empower artists and creators who explore, challenge and celebrate the human condition of (you guessed it) resilience.

At the Spoleto Music Festival, Steve Ruchefsky and Rondi Charleston presented Ranky Tanky with plaques commemorating the #1 performance of the first release on the Westporters’ label, Resilience Music Alliance

Ranky Tanky — the name comes from a Gullah phrase meaning “work it” or “get down” — has performed all over the country, and are booked well into 2019.

During a summer when — thanks to a superb Historical Society exhibit –Westport is  examining its African American past, and our town’s connection to slavery, Saturday’s Levitt Pavilion show is timely and important.

And if all that is not enough to draw you to the Levitt for Ranky Tanky, try this:

Two Christmas Carols

Staples High School’s Candlelight Concert is the music department’s gift to the town.

It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

On Friday night, Steve Ruchefsky and Rondi Charleston threw their annual holiday party, at their beautiful Myrtle Avenue home.

Like many gatherings around Westport, it was a warm, wonderful way to catch up with friends of all ages.

But Steve and Rondi’s party was extra-special. Their daughter Emma — now a student at Berklee College of Music — joined with fellow former Orphenians for a few Christmas songs.

No offense to any other party with carol singers, but — well, take a listen:

 

Thanks to Emma Ruchefsky, Joe Badion, Bailey Claffey, Ian Goodman, Nick Massoud, Nick Ribolla and Sarah Quagliarello for reminding us all why music may be the greatest gift of all.

SPECIAL HOLIDAY BONUS: Last week, Staples’ Audio Production and Theater 3 classes combined to produce a live radio broadcast of “A Christmas Carol.”

It includes all the voices from Charles Dickens’ classic — plus music, clever sound effects, even old-time radio ads for products like Pepsodent.

If you missed it on WWPT-FM, just click here. Instructors Geno Heiter and David Roth, and dozens of students, offer a perfect soundtrack to your holiday.

And so — in the immortal words of Tiny Tim — “A Merry Christmas to us all!”

Joy!

What happens when a bunch of Staples High School Orphenian graduates — now in college — get together for a multi-generational holiday party, at a beautiful, historic Westport home?

Just watch!

I filmed this last night in Rondi Charleston and Steve Ruchefsky’s wonderful parlor. Staples choral director Luke Rosenberg joins in. And yes, that’s Tony Award winner Jim Naughton making an appearance too.

The video quality is not great. But the music way more than makes up for it.

En-joy!

Old Barn Gets New, Progressive Life

Normally, I would not post a story about a political fundraiser — even one whose goals (helping Democrats regain the Senate) I agree with.

But this has a neat little back story that makes it “06880”-worthy. (And yes, I’d do the same if there’s a similar tie-in for a Republican fundraiser.)

Steve Ruchefsky and Rondi Charleston own one of the most visible properties in Westport. Their handsome home — with gorgeous gardens and a wide lawn — sits on the corner of Evergreen and Myrtle Avenues, kitty-corner from Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.

A while ago, Steve and Rondi bought an 1870 barn. It belonged to their next door neighbor Estelle Margolis, and her late husband Manny. The new owners spent nearly 2 years restoring it, then repurposing it as an office for Steve.

It’s enjoying a wonderful new life, while honoring Westport’s historic roots.

rondi-charleston-and-steve-ruchefsky-barn

Manny Margolis was similarly known for his devotion to America’s past and present. An attorney with a lifelong devotion to civil liberties and civil rights, he brought a draft refusal case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court — and won.

As a member of Westport’s Planning and Zoning Commission, Manny was a strong advocate for low and moderate housing regulations.

Manny Margolis was a World War II veteran.

Manny Margolis was a World War II veteran.

He and Estelle — his wife of 52 years — spent years at peace vigils in Westport.  They began during the Vietnam War.  For 6 years they stood together on the Post Road bridge, protesting the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. (Estelle still does.)

Manny was a staunch Democrat. Estelle still is. So, Steve and Rondi say, they’re thrilled to host an event this Sunday (September 18, 4 p.m.) that would have been dear to Manny’s progressive heart.

The fundraiser is for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Senator Jon Tester of Montana — the organization’s chair — will attend; so will Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, and Emily’s List president Stephanie Schriock.

Manny Margolis will be there in spirit.

(For information on Sunday’s fundraiser, email frankiel@dscc.org)


Click here for “06880+”: The easy way to publicize upcoming events, sell items, find or advertise your service, ask questions, etc. It’s the “06880” community bulletin board!

Livingston Taylor: Live In Westport!

Emma Ruchefsky is about to finish her first year at the Berklee College of Music.

Like virtually every student at what may be the hippest college in the country, she loves the education she’s getting — her coursework, her opportunities to perform, her intense exposure to many facets of the music industry.

So it was natural for her parents — Steve Ruchefsky and Rondi Charleston — to offer their Westport home for a reception for accepted students from Fairfield and Westchester Counties.

What made the event special — and what separates Berklee from the rest of the pack — is that a noted stage performance professor came to perform.

That would be Livingston Taylor.

Livingston Taylor, hanging out at the Ruchefskys' house.

Livingston Taylor, hanging out this afternoon in Westport.

The wide-ranging, much-loved singer-songwriter has toured with Linda Ronstadt, Jimmy Buffet and Jethro Tull. But there he was, in an Evergreen Avenue living room earlier today, talking easily but lovingly about the power of music, its potential to change lives, and his passion for the school.

“I love physics, inventions, math and the workings of the planet,” Taylor said. But music holds a special place in his heart.

Addressing the parents in the room — some of whom might wonder about the wisdom of a career in music — he added: “Please understand your children are seen by a benevolent and generous universe. The gods will bless their journey.”

He introduced a trio of current students, who blazed through several American roots tunes.

From left: Steve Ruchefsky, a Berklee trio of American roots musicians, Livingston Taylor, Emma Ruchesfsky and Rondi Charleston.

From left: Steve Ruchefsky, a Berklee trio of American roots musicians, Livingston Taylor, Emma Ruchesfsky and Rondi Charleston.

Livingston Taylor joined them for a couple of numbers. He followed with a solo mini-concert of his own. Then he called on Emma, for a “My Fair Lady” duet.

They finished with his brother James’ classic, “You’ve Got a Friend.”

What a wonderful way to prove the power of music. The draw of Berklee.

And the amazing things that happen, right under our noses, right here in Westport.

Back To The Future At Berklee

The other day, Steve Ruchefsky and Rondi Charleston took their daughter Emma to Berklee College of Music. The former Staples Players star is a 1st-year voice/ piano major, with a songwriting and theater minor.

As they sat in a meeting with the president for new parents, Steve noticed a familiar face: film and TV star Christopher Lloyd (“Back to the Future,” “Addams Family,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”). His stepson is studying guitar at Berklee.

Steve and Rondi introduced themselves as more than fans. They knew he’d gone to Staples High School — where, as a student in 1958, he convinced English teacher Craig Matheson to found an acting troupe. The group soon became Staples Players.

They had a lot to talk about. Steve and Rondi were proud to tell Chris that Players has evolved into a first-rate company, with productions rivaling Broadway. He was thrilled.

Perhaps the rest of Westport will see the founding student/Emmy Award winner soon too — back in the audience, watching the group he helped found.

Rondi Charleston and Chris Lloyd.

Rondi Charleston and Chris Lloyd.

A Memorable Staples-Broadway Connection

Staples Players is in the midst of another this-is-like-Broadway run. “Sweeney Todd” wowed audiences last weekend. Tickets may sell out soon for this weekend’s final shows.

Audience members awed by the teenagers’ performances say to themselves, “If only I had enough talent to get on stage…”

Rondi Charleston at 19 -- the year she auditioned for "Sweeney Todd."

Rondi Charleston at 19 — the year she auditioned for “Sweeney Todd.”

One Westporter does more than just think it. She remembers vividly the day 36 years ago when she auditioned for that very show.

In 1979, Rondi Charleston was a 2nd-year student in Juilliard’s drama department. She was called to audition as an ingenue in the original production of “Sweeney Todd” on Broadway.

Charleston sang for the casting director. The next day she was called back to sing for director Hal Prince, in a big, historic theater.

Prince liked what he heard. She was called back again. This time, Stephen Sondheim was there.

Charleston was not nervous. “I was young and naive,” she laughs.

Charleston made it to one of 3 finalists. Eventually the role — Johanna, a classic Sondheim ingenue — went to someone a bit older and more seasoned.

Rondi Charleston and Emma Ruchefsky.

Rondi Charleston and Emma Ruchefsky.

Charleston is enjoying watching the current Staples Johanna — and not just because she almost played it herself.

One of the double-cast roles is Emma Ruchefsky — Charleston’s daughter.

“Life has come full circle,” the former actor says. “I couldn’t be happier or more thrilled that she is getting the chance to put her stamp on this role. I have so much respect for the work that all these kids do!”

Congrats to Emma, and Rondi — a “stage mother” everyone can love.

(Staples Players performs “Sweeney Todd” this Friday and Saturday, March 20 and 21. For tickets and more information, click on StaplesPlayers.com.)

Johanna (Emma Ruchefsky) and Anthony Hope (Jack Baylis). (Photo/Kerry Long)

Johanna (Emma Ruchefsky) and Anthony Hope (Jack Baylis). (Photo/Kerry Long)

 

A Historic Home Gets New, Loving Life

When Rondi Charleston and her husband Steve Ruchefsky moved to Westport from Manhattan, they thought they’d landed in the friendliest place on earth.

Every time they worked in their garden, sat outside — or simply opened their doors — people waved.

Eventually, the couple realized, it wasn’t them.

They lived at 3 Evergreen Avenue. Their property — smack on the northern corner of Myrtle Avenue — is one of the most visible spots in town.

It’s long been one of the prettiest. Now — following years of renovation, planting and tender loving care — it’s one of the most stunning.

It’s also one of Westport’s most historic homes.

Rondi Charleston's porch and gardens.

Rondi Charleston’s porch and gardens.

Built in 1845 by James W. Jauncey for his brother, Dr. Joseph Jauncey Jr., it was sold a decade later to Jonas H. Phelps, a manufacturer of astronomical instruments. His shop on Richmondville Avenue made the largest telescopes used by the US government. Phelps also built the “town clock” in the steeple of Christ & Holy Trinity Church, across the street.

The house passed on to the Coley family (of Coleytown fame). It remained in their hands for 99 years.

Now Rondi and Steve own it. And — unlike many new owners of older homes — they relish its quirks, and revere its history.

The breezeway opens, and offers a view of Christ & Holy Trinity Church in the distance.

The breezeway opens up. The view is of Christ & Holy Trinity Church in the distance.

They opened the walkway, relocated the driveway and modernized the breezeway. But they retained all its bones. And some may actually be buried in the basement.

When the couple bought the home, that basement had a dirt floor. “It was original, 1845 dust,” Rondi says. They suspected it had been a stop on the Underground Railroad. (The house next door, owned by Estelle Margolis, almost certainly was.)

In a coal bin, Rondi and Steve found old newspaper clippings. A rusty spoon. Other artifacts too. “It was like an archaeological dig,” she says.

In a corner of the low basement — behind a nondescript door — Rondi and Steve created a modern amenity: a wine cellar. But it pays homage to the past: Everything was built from leftovers. The racks are made of old wine cases. The bench is an original from the Westport Country Playhouse. The ancient fireplace mantel holds a horseshoe and farm tools found by the couple.

Steve Ruchefsky and Rondi Charleston in their wine cellar. The bench comes from Westport Country Playhouse.

Steve Ruchefsky and Rondi Charleston in their wine cellar. The red bench comes from Westport Country Playhouse.

The rest of the home is equally cool. A beautiful piano fills a music room where Rondi — a renowned jazz singer who recently returned from a West Coast tour, and who wrote “Signs of Life” inspired, in part, by her cellar — creates music. A shelf holds her Emmy and Peabody Awards, earned as a TV producer/journalist with Diane Sawyer.

Every corner of the house holds surprises. Pocket doors disappear, opening up a breezeway that leads to a garden with a spectacular view of downtown. That garden is what Westporters watched grow — and caused them to wave — in the years it took Rondi and Steve to bring it to fruition.

“This is paradise,” Rondi says. “I don’t know how we got so lucky.”

Countless Westporters — who walk or drive by and admire the ageless, but now handsomely renovated, home — don’t know either.

But we’re very, very happy they did.

(Click here if your browser does not take you directly to Rondi Charleston’s “Signs of Life.”)