Performing has been a part of Johnny Bash's life since he was a child growing up in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. Since then, Bash has parlayed that into a decade's long career as a singer and entertainer at a variety of Chicago area venues. Bash is set to perform his Drew's on Halsted ( Drew's ) premiere show Thursday, Oct. 3.
"My parents got the inkling that I was a possible performer because I often had a costume of some sort on, really any hero with a cape," said Bash. "In kindergarten, my teacher chose me to be the conductor of the kazoo orchestra performance for our families. At age 14, I tried out for my first play and continued doing theater through high school. I was also in church choir and my high school a capella choir."
Bash continued his school successes as a performer by auditioning for then Sullivan, Illinois Little Theatre On The Square when he was 15. Producer Guy Little cast him in Critic's Choice as precocious son John and then in Tom Sawyer as the title character, Life with Father as the son John and in The Sound of Music as son Freidrich. He was also in the University of Illinois Faculty Players production of Critics Choice again playing John.
Bash said that what drew him to performing music and being in theater productions was his desire for attention and because he had a lot of fun doing it.
"I think it came naturally and also was the result of being the youngest of four trying to gain attention," said Bash. "Along the way some seasoned actors told me to go for it."
During Bash's sophomore year at Eastern Illinois University, he realized college was not for him at the time and immediately got a draft notice for the Vietnam War. He then joined the U.S. Navy to avoid being in combat situations.
"When we arrived by bus at the Great Lakes Recruit Training Command boot camp, they asked who wanted to audition for the Blue Jackets Choir and Drum and Bugle Corp and I did for the choir," said Bash. "I was accepted, which saved me from doing 'duty of any sort. I bunked with fellow choir members and corps members, so we were all musicians. We performed at Navy graduations and at various institutions around the area. It was very rewarding.
Following Bash's Vietnam War service, he moved to Chicago. Shortly after the move, Bash met Everett Clark, who became his vocal coach. Clark was known as the voice of The Shadow on the radio.
"Everett had a booming bass voice and was a very nice man who worked with me on scales and songs," said Bash. "He also was my acting coach. His studio in the Fine Arts Building was like being on the movie set from yesteryear. He put me in a solo, short play about a young man dealing with the Vietnam War and I performed it for different organizations."
Bash said Clark was the person who "set me back on my performing path" while doing other jobs to pay the bills.
For a semester, Bash studied acting and voice at Columbia College. He explained that, to him at the time, this was the closest thing to the movie and television show Fame. Bash studied music with Bill Russo and theater where he did short scenes and one-act plays including The Lover by Harold Pinter. In the film department, Bash acted in a scene from Equus as part of the first time class at Columbia called Acting for Film. His teacher was actor/director/producer/writer Joe Mantegna.
When asked what it was like to be an out gay performer when many were still in the closet, Bash said, "I have always felt included. Each world I have been in has the most supportive people. It is about you and your art and all that you bring to it, no matter who you are. Many 'out' venues have been a training ground and ground breaking for so many artists in Chicago, gay and otherwise including Gentry and Drew's amongst many famous ones."
During this time, Bash met his now longtime partner, David Aaron.
"We were working together at a popular restaurant and cabaret, Le Pub, and at the Waterfront restaurant on Rush St. and became fast friends," said Bash. "Both of us came from traditional theater backgrounds and realized we had things in common."
Bash and Aaron officially became a couple and later won a trip to Greece from Yanni when he was promoting his latest album at a Chicago record store.
"David is half-Greek and was raised by his mother's Greek family," said Bash. "It was an incredible trip for both of us."
The couple, who are Chicago Cabaret Professionals members, created Music Express Chicago ( MEC ), an extension of Bash's DJ work at the Chicago gay dance club The Bistro. MEC provided music soundtracks for dance companies, fashion shows, industrial presentations and clubs. They were also videographers for special events, fashion shows and plays. Bash also did theatrical sound design for five years.
Aaron has been promoting Bash's events since they have been together and they created Salon Cabaret Soiree for private in home concerts. He is also a professional dancer, voice-over actor and emcee. Additionally, he is a group fitness instructor at Fourth Presbyterian Church for the Center for Life & Learning.
As for his recently revived singing career, Bash said the highlights have been "working with a host of great musicians. It has also been a thrill to record my first CD, Something New in My Life, with the best producers in the business and 13 exceptional musicians in some of the top recording studios in the Chicago area. I am currently working toward my second CD."
Other highlights include performing this past summer in a concert series, In the Park, at Three Oaks Dewey Cannon Park in Michigan with the New York City musician and arranger David Lahm and at the Chicago Human Rhythm Project opening night event at Jazz Showcase singing an A capella jazz version of Nature Boy with tap dancer Dani Borak.
Bash is also looking forward to performing at Drew's with guests Carla Gordon, Bill Demise and music director Mark Burnell. He said Drew's Entertainment Director Russ Goeltenbodt and Drew's Producer Denise Tomasello have been instrumental in bringing live music and cabaret back to Boystown and he is excited to be among those performers.
When they are not working, Bash and Aaron spend most of their free time with their rescue dog Max, who also travels with them everywhere. They are also animal and human rights activists and speak out on environmental issues.
To RSVP to Bash's upcoming performance on Thursday, Oct. 3, 7:30-9:30 p.m., at Drew's, 3201 N. Halsted St., visit drewsonhalsted.com/events/ .