PIQUA — John Tesh would have loved an opportunity to study music when he was younger. It just wasn’t in the cards.
Even though he eventually went on to a career in music and entertainment, financial constraints growing up meant he had to find a different way to make it happen.
The versatile entertainer recalled his early days in the entertainment field during a recent phone interview with Aim Media Midwest. He said he’s thrilled to be part of Edison State Community College’s 20th Anniversary Holiday Evening at Edison State where he’ll perform his Grand Piano Christmas.
“It’s huge for me,” said Tesh, who is the featured performer for the Nov. 29 event on Edison’s Piqua campus. “I wanted to go to music school when I was a kid – I played trumpet and piano — and my parents couldn’t afford it, so I went to NC State and studied textile chemistry. If there had been a scholarship program for me (back then) I think I would have been able to get eight or nine years of my life back.”
Proceeds from the evening will benefit local students through scholarship opportunities — something Tesh would love to see more of.
“My wife and I set up a scholarship for students at USC … so I’m a big fan of movements like this,” he said.
The 65-year-old musician/composer and radio/TV host has won six Emmys, been nominated for two Grammy awards and sold more than 8 million albums in a career that started as a news anchor and reporter in the early 1970s. The co-anchor of Entertainment Tonight from 1986-1996, Tesh continues to perform concerts around the world and has hosted his Intelligence for Your Life radio show for more than a decade, and Intelligence for Your Life TV with his wife Connie Sellecca since 2014.
“I love being busy. It’s all connected and it’s all focused on encouraging people,” he explained. “Our mantra is if it doesn’t move you forward in your life or cause you to make a difference in someone else’s life, then we won’t create it.”
Tesh said his Grand Piano Christmas show will blend music with a message of perseverance.
“For years we’ve been doing the big amphitheaters and performing arts centers for 5-10,000 people, but for the last six to eight months we’ve been doing 400-500 seat venues and doing more of a ‘storytellers’ type event,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff that’s happened for me over 65 years — some of the bizarre things that have happened to me in my career, including being homeless, and just sort of a journey through my musical experiences where I couldn’t get signed by a record label and I was selling cassettes out of my garage … and then to 2 1/2 years ago when I had Stage 3 cancer and went through a journey that paralyzed my work life and personal life and I didn’t even want to play music. (So it’s a story of how) I came out of that four to five months ago … and that story of persevering through challenges.
“Musically, it’s really me and a piano and I’m bringing a sax/flute player, too,” he continued. “We use those two instruments to bring more of an acoustic feel to the Christmas songs. We’ve done it with a big orchestra, but it’s an incredibly intimate feeling for a smaller crowd.”
Looking back on an almost 50-year career, Tesh said he couldn’t predict the path he ended up taking, but it all makes sense to him now.
“When I was a kid I dreamt of being on stage with a piano and an orchestra, but it seemed so impossible. Subconsciously, I was thinking I need something to back me up so I can survive and that ended up being my first radio job in 1973,” he explained. “If you looked at me as a kid, I was always putting on little shows for kids on the street. Recording things … like my sister’s dates. Back in the day our parents would kick us out of the house and say ‘Don’t come back until the street lights come on’ and we would have to entertain ourselves. So when I look back on it, it seems easy to see how this happened.”
The fact that he took a somewhat unconventional path from “there to here” has made it all the more rewarding.
“Nowadays, people have YouTube and Instagram and people can show their talents that way. For me, I was a skinny, unpopular kid in junior high, and in high school, I played in a rock band. That was my only way to have any social interaction at all. So when the Dave Clark 5 and the Doors came out and both had organ players, I got a Magnus Chord organ and that’s how I got started,” he said. “Music has always been a way for me to express myself when I didn’t have the crutch of being invited to a party.”
Turns out it’s been quite an exciting party, and now that he’s recovered from his cancer scare, Tesh has no plans of sitting idle.
“I don’t know what’s next. I definitely get attracted by shiny things,” he joked. “I’ve always wanted to write a Broadway show about something, but at this point it might end up being a musical about a senior home. I was on ‘Conan O’Brien’ about 10 years ago and he said, ‘Hey listen, if the guy who read celebrity birthdays on ET can sell millions of albums playing piano, it’s time to get the clarinet out of the closet.’ So I guess anything can happen.”
The 20th anniversary Holiday Evening at Edison State begins with hor de’ oeuvres and wine at 6:30 p.m., followed by the concert at 8 p.m.
For tickets or to obtain more information about Edison’s Holiday Evening, visit edisonohio.edu/holidayevening
To learn more about John Tesh, go to tesh.com