Sinatra School Ribbon Cutting
A ribbon-cutting ceremony officially commemorating the opening of the new Frank Sinatra School of the Arts (FSSA) building took place Monday, September 21 with a host of dignitaries in attendance. The impressive glass and steel building, replacing the school's former home in the Queens Atrium Building in Long Island City, opened to students September 9.
Among those gathered in front of the school's main entrance for the 9 a.m. celebration were New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, Assemblymembers Mike Gianaris, Margaret Markey and Catherine Nolan, state Senator George Onorato, former City Council Speaker Peter Vallone Sr., Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr., Congressmember Carolyn Maloney, and the hostess and emcee of the event, FSSA Principal Donna Finn.
Finn began the ceremony by introducing honored guests and founders of the school, Tony Bennett and his wife, Susan Benedetto. Finn thanked the couple for their support of the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, a high school, which offers studio courses in instrumental and vocal music, fine art, dance, drama, and film and media arts and which, she said, "has ensured the growth of high quality, sequential and competitive education in arts and academics". She also thanked the staff of Exploring the Arts (ETA), the charitable organization founded by Bennett and Benedetto which established FSSA, and ETA Executive Director Cheri Walsh, as well as Karin Anderson, ETA Program and Development Coordinator.
She then thanked the staff of the school for creating one of the most comprehensive arts programs in America. She acknowledged student Class President Alex Wender and the fact that he represented the more than 700 students who have graduated from FSSA, the 720 currently in attendance and those yet to come. "It's life changing for many of our students," she added. Her thanks to Mr. Bennett and Ms. Benedetto inspired a long and enthusiastic standing ovation.
She also thanked Hal Rosenbluth, president of Kaufman Astoria Studios. "The contrast from where we came from and where we are now couldn't be greater. I look forward to getting to know our new neighbors," she said. She thanked New York City's educational leaders as well as the School Construction Authority, and "I.N.C." which helped the
Sinatra school to relocate. She ultimately gave credit to the parents of the students, who, she stressed, "embodied the pioneer spirit", thanking them for all they'd contributed.
Tony Bennett spoke next, declaring, "It's been a long time coming!" First to receive his thanks was Peter Vallone Sr., whom he named as instrumental in making FSSA a reality. Bennett mentioned his special love for Astoria: "We travel all over the world - but my favorite place is Astoria. I grew up there and the finest people in the world live in Astoria." Susan Benedetto, sharing the podium with her husband, exclaimed, "This school would not be here today if it were not for Tony's commitment to this school and his home town of Astoria. The school is named for his friend, Frank Sinatra, whose family members are here today." She then thanked Donna Finn and the dedicated faculty and staff of the city Department of Education. "They shared our vision for a school for kids from all backgrounds. We called upon the city's greatest arts programs to help us and the partnership has been essential," Benedetto declared. She then thanked Klein and Polshek Partnership Architects. "Chancellor Klein helped us secure [the firm] and build a building beyond our wildest dreams. Thank you to James Polshek, and the entire design team for creating a magnificent building, one that will embrace the surrounding community and inspire the students." She also thanked SCA President Sharon Greenberger for her great job, George Kaufman for his generosity in donating the land and commented that she was especially indebted to Peter Vallone Sr. "He was there from day one, and was instrumental in getting it built." She then acknowledged former Queens Borough President Claire Shulman for helping Vallone, "and all donors who believe in Arts education", she added. Her list included Iris Cantor, George Kaufman, Helen Marshall, and the New York City Council. "This has been a dream come true and it will make many more dreams come true for all the children who will walk through these doors," Benedetto concluded.
Bennett expressed his gratitude for the students. "This won't work unless the students make it happen," he declared. "They're doing such beautiful work I can't believe it. Their future's gonna be so terrific!"
Also in attendance was Nancy Sinatra, who took the stage with her daughter, musician, screenwriter and producer AJ Lambert. "I wish I was a student today," Lambert said, addressing the students present. "You guys are lucky. I'm excited for the future of the school and my grandfather would have been thrilled."
Sinatra related how the school got its name. "When my father was ill, Tony was the last friend to come have an intimate dinner with us." She turned to Bennett. "Was that the night you decided to name the school after him?" He replied in the affirmative. "That night, Frank Sinatra called me his favorite singer," he joked. Sinatra said that she also asked her father that night, "What's left for you to do?" He replied, "I'd like to teach and pass along to young people what I know."
"I'd like to think this school is doing that for him," Sinatra said.
Bennett then introduced Quincy Jones, who referred to himself as not just a producer but also an arranger and an artist. He shared anecdotes about Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, remarking, "Their kinship is monumental. They are two of my favorite people. I love these people and I love these students here." He then shared a Frank Sinatra aphorism: "Live every day like it's your last, and someday you'll be right."
Klein took over the podium to exclaim, "It doesn't get any better than this!" He continued, "Some people ask me, why do you do this job? I do it for days like this and kids like that. I want to thank all public officials for their support of public education." He added that FSSA is now recognized as one of the greatest public high schools in the country. He declared, "It's wonderful to have a building commensurate with the school- it gives the students such pride." He particularly thanked Kaufman for his great generosity as well as the SCA, "But mostly Tony and Susan," he said. "In my neighborhood we'd call them mensches—people from the community of value who give back to the community. I love this community. I've eaten more pizza in Astoria than anywhere else. The lesson embodied in the life of Tony Bennett is of kids who grow up not being given everything, but who can do big things if they dream big, work hard and care about the right things."
Peter Vallone Sr. commented: "Some people say that money is the root of all evil, but in this case, money is the root of all good - but it can't do what people can do - in particular Tony Bennett." He added, "Susan was there every day, making sure the money came through." He quoted Frank Sinatra about Bennett: "Tony has the best heights [referring to his vocal range], but also he has got the best character I've ever seen in any human being."
State Senator George Onorato called the event "a very exciting day for all of us, and particularly for the students who will have the opportunity to thrive and pursue their education at this wonderful academic institution". He added, "One thing is clear. Tony Bennett may claim that he left his heart in San Francisco, but we all know that his heart is right here at home in his native Astoria. Without Tony's vision, and the vision of Susan Benedetto, we wouldn't have had the opportunity today to witness a dream come true: the completion of a very special school dedicated to the arts and named in memory of another legendary entertainer. Old Blue Eyes would be proud. It is especially fitting that this school for the arts is located at the Kaufman Astoria Complex. It's a perfect storm: a school founded by a legend, named after a legend and opening its doors in a site that is home to one of this country's most legendary studios. I am sure that, in the years to come, many students attending the Frank Sinatra School for the Arts will go on to become legends themselves. This school is a great testament to our collective concern for the future of our children, our dedication to education and our commitment to supporting and expanding the arts. It was wonderful to be a part of this very happy occasion."
Marshall, the last to speak, shared a conversation she had with the Bennetts: "Between you and Susan we cracked through the nonsense of not getting arts and music in our schools." She continued, "I graduated from Morris High School, where they introduced me to modern dance and classical music. I know what happens to a young person who really loves what they're doing. All of our children need to have arts. What's happening here we need to replicate around the city. Tony and Susan, you've cracked through it. We are greatly indebted to you, as is the whole city of New York and what you're going to do for the future or our country."
Bennett, Benedetto, Klein, Sinatra and Marshall were then invited to cut the ribbon - the same ribbon that was cut in 2001 at the opening of the original FSSA school in the IDCNY building in Long Island City, according to Finn. She then concluded the ceremonies by pointing out that the corner of 35th Avenue and 35th Street is now named Tony Bennett Plaza.