by Taleen Babayan
New York - Musicians, artists and community leaders from across the globe will gather to pay tribute to one of the world's greatest musicians and entertainers - Charles Aznavour - in a star-studded event to take place at the exquisite Cipriani Wall Street on May 20.
The evening will serve as an opportunity to highlight not only Aznavour's talents, but his decades-long service to Armenia on the eve of the republic's 20th anniversary of independence.
Presenting the award to Aznavour will be the famous actress/singer Liza Minnelli, whose friendship with him dates back almost 50 years. Seeing Aznavour perform on stage for the first time was "magnetic" for Minnelli. "The minute he walked onstage, I stopped breathing," she said.
She commented that one of Aznavour's greatest strengths is his ability to tell stories through his music. Following his performance, Minnelli told herself she wanted to be a storyteller like Aznavour, and when she asked him to be her mentor, he agreed.
"I never did a show without showing it to him first. Ever," she said.
Minnelli noted how important Aznavour's Armenian heritage was for him. "People would say he is a Frenchman, but he would say, " ‘No, I am Armenian,' " she said. "There was such pride in that."
Minnelli spoke of Aznavour's dedication and commitment to Armenia, especially his efforts during the 1988 earthquake that took the lives of more than 25,000 Armenians. "He puts all his passion, time and stubbornness into helping Armenia, and it was spectacular," she said.
Another world-famous singer who was affected by Aznavour's music was Celine Dion, who was introduced to his work by her mother when she was a young girl. "It was an honor and a grand privilege for me to sing with him," said Dion, recalling how she performed with him years later. "Not only is he one of the biggest stars in the history of France, but he's also a very kind and gentle person."
Featured alongside Aznavour in Atom Egoyan's 2002 film Ararat, actor/playwright Eric Bogosian commends him for the attention he has brought to Armenia and to the Armenian Genocide.
"He is one of the most brilliantly focused individuals," said Bogosian, who will serve as master of ceremonies for the gala. "And he has been a gift to people around the world."
As a young student in Beirut, Lebanon, Vartan Gregorian, President of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, fondly recalls listening to Aznavour, describing him as an "artist with a social conscience."
Gregorian noted Aznavour's success in rising to international stardom without forgetting his roots. "He is the embodiment of the best we can have for the world," said Gregorian. "He symbolized for me, that the unique-the Armenian-can be universal without dissolving itself."
As a representative of the Armenian government, UN Ambassador Karen Nazarian cited Aznavour as a "tireless advocate" for Armenia and worldwide recognition of the Armenian Genocide. He noted Aznavour's service to Armenia as "truly commendable."
"For me personally, his image of an exceptional artist and great Armenian is inspirational and empowering," said Ambassador Nazarian.
The Fund for Armenian Relief (FAR) will honor Charles Aznavour for his dedication, service and efforts in Armenia on May 20, 2011 at Cipriani Wall Street, 55 Wall Street, New York City. Reception at 7 pm and dinner and program at 8 pm. Proceeds will benefit programs for the elderly in Armenia. For more information or tickets, please visit www.farusa.org or call 212.889.5150.
The Honorary Committee for FAR's Charles Aznavour Tribute includes Liza Minnelli, Tony Bennett, Celine Dion, Placido Domingo, Atom Egoyan, Arsinee Khanjian, Sir Elton John, Mr. David Furnish, Michael Bloomberg - Mayor of New York City, Charles E. Schumer - US Senator, Eduard Nalbandyan - Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia, Gerard Araud - Ambassador, Permanent Representative of French Republic to UN, Francois Delattre - Ambassador of French Republic to the USA, Edward Djerejian, Tatoul Markarian - Ambassador of the Republic of Armenia to the USA, Karen Nazarian - Ambassador, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Armenia to UN, Vartan Gregorian - President, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Clive Gillinson - Executive and Artistic Director, Carnegie Hall, Reynold Levy - President, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Joseph Polisi - President, Juilliard School, James Wolfensohn - President Emeritus, The World Bank, Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern), Archbishop Demetrios, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, Archbishop Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, Rabbi Arthur Schneier, President of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, Bishop Mark Sisk, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New York.