Singer Ron Hawking has been entertaining the world his way since before he could talk. The multi-faceted artist, who makes his home in suburban Barrington Hills, is quick to point out his love of music and performing was born in him; he appeared on TV shows while in grammar school, won talent shows decades before “American Idol” and fronted his own bands throughout high school and college.
A successful singing career soon followed, and his interest in acting led him to study at Second City and the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York, which led to a lucrative career as a commercial voice-over artist. Thirty years later, Hawking still stands in the spotlight before an orchestra, making music the only way he knows how.
Music always tugged at his heart and his tuxedoed shirt sleeves, especially the big-band sounds made famous by Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby … you get the picture. When Sinatra passed away in 1998, Hawking — who had begun creating the musical tribute “His Way: The Man and His Music” to pay homage to Ol’ Blue Eyes nearly a year earlier — was ready to take his show to the public arena. He did so quite successfully, with critically acclaimed runs in Chicago and in San Francisco.
With original orchestrations by the late trombonist Bill Rogers (who toured with Sinatra for years), the show is Hawking’s way of presenting the music made famous by Sinatra — the Great American Songbook of Harold Arlen, the Gershwins, Cole Porter and more. It is not a Sinatra impersonation, by any measure. And that’s the point.
‘His Way — Sinatra’s Centennial Celebration’
Starring Ron Hawking
When: 7:30 p.m. May 30
Where: Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress
“If I want to hear Frank Sinatra’s voice, I’ll listen to a Frank Sinatra album,” Hawking said with a chuckle. “I do not do an impression of Frank; I’m not trying to be Sinatra. Those shoes are enormous to fill. Why would I think I could replace him? But as messenger, I could deliver his music in my own voice and deliver some laughs, and let people enjoy Frank’s brand of entertainment once again.”
“To me Sinatra was the genuine article,” Hawking continued. “He was a living, breathing work of art. Like all works of art they become more valuable, more treasured as time goes by. He could interpret a lyric and a melody, especially the lyric, like no other artist. He had the best composers to work with. He was a perfectionist. He wanted it done a certain way and done that way every time.”
To celebrate the centennial of Sinatra’s birthday, coming up in December, Hawking is bringing “His Way” to the Auditorium Theatre on May 30. It will be Hawking’s debut at the legendary venue, something he does not take lightly.
“It’s such a big deal for me to working at the Auditorium,” said the 50-year-old Hawking, who can count Carnegie Hall among the iconic stages on which he has performed. “For a local boy, to take the show to these heights!”
Though much of the conversation centers on Sinatra, Hawking notes it was another legendary entertainer who influenced his career even more so.
“My real inspiration was Sammy Davis Jr.,” he says. “He was a singer, musician, did impressions, made people laugh. He was an actor, too.”
Hawking also credits his father (“mom and dad had good singing voices”), who played trombone in the Navy, sang barbershop later in life, and also worked as a professional photographer, with sparking the impressionist in him.
“I never wanted to be an impressionist,” Hawking said. “But I watched my dad do impressions when I was a young kid. I listened to him and realized I could manipulate my voice like he did. … The earliest impression I did was Louis Armstrong. I was sitting in the back seat of the car as a kid when my family was going to Amling’s and I just went into this singing impression of Armstrong. I can do dozens and dozens of voices. And voices I don’t even know I can do yet. [Laughs].”
Hawking’s skills as an impressionist keep him busy as a voice-over artist for industrial films and commercials. It’s Hawking’s voice that television viewers hear as Jimmy Durante (Frosted Mini Wheats), Louis Armstrong (Citizen Watches), Louis Prima (Progresso Soups) and Nat King Cole (Hershey’s Chocolates).
Still, all roads lead back to Hawking’s affection for the music of a golden age, and the man who interpreted it as no other.
“I’ve done [‘His Way’] over 1,000 times,” Hawking said. “I will never get tired of singing this music.”