Back in the mid-’70s, Stu Weitz thought he might record an album. With his then-wife, he spent a few hours in the studio singing and creating the demo. Afterwards, he says, his wife turned to him, furious. “I’m not living in motels!,” he recalls her saying. “And I said, ‘You’re really jumping the gun here, but I appreciate that you have that much confidence in me!’”
The album never materialized, but nevertheless, Weitz has spent the last 40-odd years entertaining all over the Philadelphia area, singing the songs of his youth at b’nai mitzvah, weddings and other special occasions (and also marrying his second wife, Marci, of now
nearly 30 years). At 72, he doesn’t perform quite as much as he used to, or at the same clubs — he was at Warmdaddy’s before it was Warmdaddy’s — but you can still find him singing Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and old Gershwin tunes at elder-living facilities and at the occasional milestone event. Not that he’d have it any other way.
“I’ve been entertaining since I was 3 years old,” he said.
Weitz was born in Mount Airy, but grew up primarily in the Wyncote/Cheltenham area. There, he learned to play piano and sing from his father, Ted Weitz. Known professionally as Ted White, his father had written songs for Louis Armstrong, among others, and met Ella Fitzgerald when she was just beginning her legendary career. He was also a songwriter, with a radio show on WCAU in addition to a side-gig as a joke-writer, writing Henny Youngman-style one-liners for the Jewish Exponent’s “Borscht Belt” section (since discontinued). This was all in addition to going door to door, selling everything from furniture to cars to second mortgages in installments, a business begun by Weitz’s grandfather.
Meanwhile, in the family basement, he taught Weitz how to keep time with the music, when to enter a song and when to repeat something for effect. Weitz still does a cabaret show in honor of his father’s memory. (Weitz’s sons are both entertainers as well; Adam Weitz is the owner of A Sharp Productions, a local entertainment company that he also performs for).
Weitz was a classmate of Reggie Jackson at Wyncote Elementary and went to high school with Yonatan Netanyahu, the Israeli hero who was felled in the operation to free Jewish hostages at the international airport in Entebbe, Uganda, and whose younger brother is now Israel’s prime minister. At Blue Mountain Camp in Stroudsburg, Weitz played the lead in The Pajama Game and Freddy in My Fair Lady. In college, as he started to sing in doo-wop and other a cappella groups on the steps of Mitten Hall at Temple University, he’d sometimes be joined by Daryl Hall.
Though Weitz has since spent his life in financial planning, it was around those Mitten Hall sessions that he started getting professional gigs, which his parents were pleased with. “They were good with it as long as there was some revenue,” he said.
He’d go down and sing at a club on Front and Chestnut streets, and even though he and his friends didn’t get paid much, they had a lot of good times there. One evening, he’d finished a performance when he was approached by somebody with an idea.
Barbara Dornay, a local booking agent, got him to a bar mitzvah at High Point Racquet Club, and Weitz, though certainly not nervous, admits now that he was not yet sure what the role of a bar mitzvah entertainer was supposed to be; he showed up in a tuxedo and red tie, and Dornay had him lose the tie and run the candle-lighting ceremony. In the decades since, he’s picked up the tricks of the trade; if you’re calling a bride out to dance with her father, make sure she’s not in the bathroom.
He remembers a function where the father was intent on singing a karaoke version of Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful” to his daughter. Weitz had him practice over and over to get it down cold. When the day of the even came, the father got cold feet. “I said, ‘Listen, you’re gonna have to go in the corner, have a little sip of something from the bar. … This is not something you’re ever gonna have a chance to do over again,” he recalls telling the frightened father. “You gotta do this one.” In the end, the father of the bride did what he set out to do, and the whole party was in tears.
Today, Weitz is bringing down the house at senior facilities, still singing Sinatra and still singing Irving Berlin compositions (he takes pride in performing songs by Jewish composers). He’s been leading Shabbat services at Sunrise Senior Living Community near Temple Sinai for 13 years, in addition to regular gigs in support of Variety, a charity for children with disabilities. He’s also performed for groups of people who are all turning 100, which, along with the senior living centers, are some of his favorites.
“Even though I don’thave my parents anymore, I go around to some of these places and hold their hands, and just imagine that it could be my parents in there,” he said. l