by | Sep 17, 2006 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Tony Bennett knows what it’s like to lose a home. When he was 10, his father died, and his family was under duress. He was sent away from Astoria, Queens, the only home he’d known, to live with a relative in upstate New York.

“It hit me very hard,” he told me in an interview this summer. “I was split from my mother and my brother and sister.”

To this day, Bennett said, even though his exile was short-lived, it is the reason he clings so tightly to his hometown. Why he still eats in Astoria restaurants, why he built a high school for the performing arts right there in his old neighborhood. He may be welcome on stages around the world, but the man who sings “I left my heart in San Francisco” really never took it off the old block in New York City.

Most of us know that feeling of home, that warm, comforting sensation that says, at the end of a long day, “Ahhh, this is mine.” Most of us cherish it.

But most of us cannot imagine what it would be like to live without it. Yet every night in our city, thousands of men and women go to sleep on concrete, or under a bridge, or on the filthy floor of an abandoned house. Homeless.

Tony Bennett is coming to Detroit, on Sept. 27, to help fight that problem. From Broadway to Motown

Hank Azaria grew up only a few miles from Tony Bennett’s old neighborhood. His parents were Greek immigrants who found a home in this country. Azaria, at an early age, was a terrific mimic, and in time became famous for voicing Simpsons’ characters like Apu, Moe the bartender and Police Chief Wiggum.

Azaria is good at making people laugh. Really good. If you saw him prancing in “The Birdcage” or flexing muscles in “Along Came Polly” or riding a make-believe horse in Broadway’s “Spamalot,” you know it’s true.

But he is also a terrific serious actor. I got to know Azaria when he starred in “Tuesdays With Morrie.” I came to know him as more than just a funny guy.

When I told him about the event on Sept. 27, he wanted to help. But he had a film to shoot in London. I thanked him anyhow.

Then a few weeks ago, I got a phone call. Azaria said his film had been pushed back. Did we still need help in Detroit?

He is coming, on Sept. 27, to make things better for our homeless. From the South to the North

Joe Dumars was raised in the heat, but he has adopted the snow. The native son of Natchitoches, La., is a Detroiter now, through and through.

Over the years, we’ve heard stories of how Joe’s truck-driving father worked 10-hour days to create a home for his wife and children. Dumars, the Pistons’ president of basketball operations, absorbed his father’s work ethic to create a good home for his own family. He always has appreciated his good fortune. He will be there, on Sept. 27, to help those who haven’t been so lucky.

Clearly, this is a pitch. But one I hope you’ll feel is worthwhile. On Sept. 27, at the Fox Theatre, at 7:30 p.m., Tony Bennett, Hank Azaria, Joe Dumars – along with WJR’s Ken Brown – will join me for an evening to benefit our homeless. The occasion of the night is the release of my new book, “For One More Day.” But book launches are usually cocktails and theme parties. I’ve had them before. Outside of boosting my ego, they don’t really help anyone – except the caterers.

Instead, Bennett, Azaria, Dumars and Brown will share stories, songs, movie clips and conversation with me. It will be a rare chance to see the human, personal side of these remarkable men. And all profits benefit S.A.Y. Detroit, the charity we began to help Detroit’s homeless during the Super Bowl, and Volunteer Impact, which organizes volunteer projects at shelters.

Tickets are $40 – and that includes an autographed copy of “For One More Day.”

They can be ordered by calling 248-433-1515 or by going to

The night will begin with a man who was once homeless telling how he found his way back. Our hope is that by the end of the night, we’ll be closer to making a few more stories like that happen. Please join us.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).


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New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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