The Sound Of Giving – Alex Donner
By Ava Roosevelt
Seldom does philanthropy sound so exhilarating. The dapper Alex Donner has mixed a career in music with a serious commitment to philanthropy for more than a quarter of a century and inspired many not only to dance but also to give.
Alex Donner has been dubbed “the best entertainment provider in the east… if not in the country” by The New York Times and other esteemed critics. His music and voice, reminiscent of Frank Sinatra days, have become a permanent fixture among discerning socialites and demanding young brides. His company, Alex Donner Entertainment, has built a reputation for elegant music that “makes the party swing” while being able to converse with your partner without losing your voice.
A long list of luminaries has enjoyed the four Alex Donner Orchestras over the years including the Inaugurations of Presidents George H.W. Bush and Donald Trump; Rudolf Giuliani; Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes; the Rockefeller family; Itzhak Perlman; Kevin Klein; Lou Dobbs; Susan Lucci; Queen Noor of Jordan; the King and Queen of Sweden; Mario Cuomo, among others.
Ava: How did you get started in the music business?
Alex: Besides singing in school and church choirs, as a kid in New York my dad took me out to jazz clubs and Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts. Later on, I did a college year abroad in Paris and sang in the Metro while there. At first I was ignored, but soon after, they were throwing a lot of money at me. I realized that there was nothing I loved to do more than sing and began to take it seriously. I returned to Princeton and studied music and sang with a band there. My first job out of college was as the bandleader at the legendary El Morocco in New York. Then it was on to Fordham Law School and eventually working at the Roy Cohn law firm.
Ava: So I guess you saw people at their worst as a lawyer and their best as a bandleader?
Alex: Exactly right. I used to joke that it was a package deal: engagement parties as a bandleader, creating pre-nups as a lawyer, weddings as a bandleader and divorces as a lawyer.
Ava: How did you transition to full-time music?
Alex: Studio 54 was a client and Steve Rubell, its owner, occasionally hired me when he needed a live band like for Mick Jagger’s birthday party. I then played a wedding in Jaipur, India, for an heiress who had been a client for years. It was one of the first destination weddings and included a week of events sponsored by the Maharajah, including polo matches. I even played elephant polo! The subsequent publicity led to being pictured in Town & Country leading the band in a turban and footage on Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous. When I returned, the law firm started getting too many calls for my band and so I left.
Ava: How has your music changed over the years?
Alex: Most people want the music they grew up with at their parties. So for most young weddings now, we play contemporary hits. For a more senior clientele, it’s often Swing, Motown and Classic Rock. Our repertoire ranges from Shakira to Sinatra, Beyonce to Irving Berlin, and Gershwin to Gaga. Recently we were honored to play Yo-Yo Ma’s daughter’s wedding. As you can imagine, playing in front of Yo-Yo Ma was quite unnerving; he turned out to be a super nice guy who embraced me when it was over.
Ava: Do you remember one of the first weddings you played?
Alex: Of course I do. It was your own wedding to the late William Donner Roosevelt, my first cousin, at the Wee Burn Country Club in Darien with the whole family gathered. It was a very special moment in our lives. We loved Bill and seeing him joyous made us all very happy.
Ava: Do you perform for a lot of charitable galas?
Alex: Yes, we have done close to a thousand. Highlights include the Costume Institute in New York; in France, a ball at the Palace of Versailles; the Chicago Lyric Opera; the Newport Preservation Ball, and Doris Duke’s Rough Point mansion, also in Newport. Others include the Kennedy Center, The Plaza Hotel, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum and the New York Botanical Gardens. In Palm Beach, we have performed at the Breakers, the Norton Museum of Art, and the Heart, Cancer and The Preservation Foundation benefits to name a few.
Ava: Any other involvement in philanthropy besides performing for charitable galas?
Alex: It started early on with my parents. They taught me by their example to give at least 10 percent of the money you make and 20 percent of your time to charity.
I have been a board member of the William H. Donner and Donner Canadian Foundations for more than 25 years. I am most proud of our pioneering work in Arts Management; in Animal Rescue and Animal and Veterans legislation; and reform of the U.S. legal system.
Ava: What other grants are you currently working on?
Alex: One particular new interest of mine is measuring the dangers of the worldwide addiction to nonstop wireless and disseminating those results. Though wireless is here to stay, there is mounting evidence that it is extremely harmful when used on a continuing basis.
Ava: Since you are in music professionally, have you ever done any grants in that area?
Alex: Yes, about 10 years ago, I put together a one-time benefit for musicians and singers of New Orleans who were victims of Hurricane Katrina to rebuild their houses and start playing music again. By performing over the years at a reduced fee for many charity balls, I had built up a number of IOUs from the chairwomen of those galas and they joined our committee. Our family foundations provided seed money, and I got my musician friends from New Orleans to perform for free. We had a wonderful party in New York and raised a net $200,000. When we flew down to New Orleans to present the check, the local jazz musicians put on an impromptu jam session for us. I joined them on stage and sang, “Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans?” I was very proud.
Women Are At The Forefront In The Fight Against Alzheimer’s
By Michael Campea
Thirty years ago, as a newly minted Ph.D. at Rockefeller University in New York, Dr. Roberta Diaz Brinton started noticing the disproportionate impact of Alzheimer’s disease on women. Now she is a leading neuroscientist and director of the Center for Innovation in Brain Science at the University of Arizona Health Sciences. She believes women are key to discovering new treatments for Alzheimer’s and is studying how major physical transitions – puberty, pregnancy and menopause – may affect important connections in the brain.
The Need For Women-Focused Research
“Tackling Alzheimer’s requires a new vision,” said Maria Carrillo, Ph.D., chief science officer at the Alzheimer’s Association. “Research showed us how women experience heart disease differently from men. Now doctors adjust blood thinner dosages and prescribe low-dose aspirin depending on a person’s sex, particularly for older women who have already had a heart attack. We envision parallels in future Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis and treatment.”
Women are at the epicenter of Alzheimer’s. They make up nearly two-thirds of the more than 5 million Americans living with the disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association 2016 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures. Alzheimer’s places a heavier burden on women at work and at home, often forcing them to make unwanted choices about their careers, relationships and other life decisions. Today, a woman in her 60s is nearly twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s as breast cancer within her lifetime.
Women also are more likely to be caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s. There are 2.5 times more women than men providing 24-hour care for someone with the disease. Nearly 19 percent of women Alzheimer’s caregivers had to quit work either to become a caregiver or because their caregiving duties became too burdensome.
Why More Women Than Men?
It is unclear why women are disproportionately affected by Alzheimer’s. Women generally live longer than men, but mounting evidence suggests that longevity alone may not account for the unequal Alzheimer’s burden women face.
“We know the link between sex and Alzheimer’s is complex, and likely due to multiple factors, such as the interplay between hormones and genetic risk for the disease. By learning more about these factors, we have an opportunity to translate them into better ways to treat, prevent and diagnose Alzheimer’s,” said Carrillo.
In May 2015, the Alzheimer’s Association hosted a think tank, which was co-chaired by Brinton, to map out a research agenda to increase understanding of how Alzheimer’s develops and progresses differently between the sexes. As a result, the Alzheimer’s Association – the leading non-profit funder of Alzheimer’s and dementia research – launched its first-ever Sex and Gender in Alzheimer’s (SAGA) research grants. The effort provides $2.2 million to nine projects.
As a SAGA-funded researcher, Brinton is investigating the influence of estrogen loss and Alzheimer’s genetic risk on brain health. It’s suggested these factors increase a woman’s susceptibility to the disease. Other SAGA projects are exploring controllable lifestyle habits and behaviors that may influence a woman’s risk for developing Alzheimer’s, such as education, exercise, diet, stress, and sleep.
“With the results from SAGA-funded projects, we could open a whole new world in terms of how we treat people with dementia in the doctor’s office,” said Carrillo.
How To Get Involved
One way you can get involved is by joining the Alzheimer’s Association’s My Brain movement, which calls on a million women to use their amazing brains to help wipe out the disease. For details, visit alz.org/mybrain.
International Opulence is a proud supporter of the Alzheimer’s Association and the annual Rita Hayworth Luncheon in Palm Beach.
Bringing People Together Without a Voice
By Jana Soeldner Danger
Shari Coe and her husband Mark have made it their mission to promote better understanding of people with special needs. People like their son Justin.
During her pregnancy, Shari bought a book to record the developmental milestones of her son’s life. But it quickly became apparent that Justin’s life was going to be different from the lives of other children. The book became a reminder of all the things Justin couldn’t do, and she put it away on a closet shelf.
The Coes’ daughter, Breana, was born 14 months after Justin and developed normally. When Justin reached school age, the Coes searched for a program that would meet his special needs and allow their two children to attend school together.
They found the answer at Keshet, a program that provides educational, recreational, vocational and social programs for children with special challenges, while integrating them with “typically” developing individuals.
Prior to attending Keshet, none of Breana’s friends had known a child with special needs. Sometimes she was embarrassed by him. That changed. “She realized we weren’t alone, that we had a community,” Shari says. “She became a proud sister.”
As Justin progressed, Shari got the milestones book down from the shelf. She started to fill it out. Life had become hopeful again. Today, Justin is a happy 23-year-old with a job he enjoys. He cannot speak, but thanks to technology, he can communicate with those around him. He carries an iPad and types out what he’s thinking. “He can have a full conversation with it,” Shari says. “He has lots to say. We just have to listen differently.”
Justin loves people. “What makes him unique is his loving heart,” Shari says. “Everyone remembers him. He brings people together without a voice.”
Partnership of Hope Fundraiser on Fisher Island
On December 11, the Coes will host a Partnership of Hope fundraiser at the Beach Club on Fisher Island. It will benefit four organizations that work with special needs individuals: Keshet, Best Buddies, the Dan Marino Foundation, and the University of Miami Center for Autism and Related Disabilities. South Florida Opulence is proud to cover the event and support the Coe family’s mission.
A limited edition of autographed prints of Romeo Revisited by Edwina Sandys, the world renowned artist and granddaughter of Sir Winston Churchill, are available for purchase. 10 percent of the proceeds of the prints purchased on this website will benefit A Safe Haven for Newborns*, the charity benefactor of the South Florida Opulence 2013 MegaYacht Gala. Romeo Revisited is the painting featured on the Winter 2013 cover of South Florida Opulence. To purchase, go to www.EdwinaSandys.com and enter the code “Introduced by South Florida Opulence Magazine.” *For more information about A Safe Haven for Newborns, go to www.asafehavenfornewborns.com<
The World’s Greatest Collector Car Auctions™ Attracts Nearly 55,000 Attendees Despite Weather Concerns, Reports Strong Sales Signifying that Collector Car Market is on Steady Incline
Barrett-Jackson, The World’s Greatest Collector Car Auctions™, announced today that it generated more than $21 million in gross sales of rare, high-end collectible vehicles, exotics, customs, classics, hot rods and resto- mods, during its 11th Annual Palm Beach auction, held April 4-6, 2013 at the South Florida Fairgrounds.
Despite severe thunderstorms, more than 55,000 car fans were in attendance to witness the comprehensive lineup of cars at the renowned auction and lifestyle experience. It was clear from the cheers of the standing-room only crowd and the final sales prices that the collector car market is continuing at a steady incline and that Barrett-Jackson retains its stronghold within the hobby.
In fact, certain market segment sales were on-par with those from pre-recession 2007. Specifically, American muscle car sales were strong overall, as exampled by Lot #713 Chevrolet Chevelle SS LS6 2-Door Coupe selling for $148,500, Lot #713.1 1969 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 2-Door Coupe selling for $165,000 and Lot #739 2010 Chevrolet Camaro Custom 2 Door Coupe, which was built by Hendrick Motorsports for country superstar Brad Paisley. Several late European Sports Cars also crossed the block and did exceptionally well. In an effort to attract new collectors to the hobby, Barrett-Jackson also offered by design, an introductory auction on Thursday, for those who still wanted to get a piece of the action with a quality lineup of cars.
Adding to the excitement was the attendance of several celebrities and VIPs, many of who sold personal vehicles at Barrett-Jackson Palm Beach. Pop sensation Rob Van Winkle, formerly known as “Vanilla Ice”, was seen enjoying himself inside the auction tent, alongside actor James Marsden, Charles Walsh, Partner in the Chicago Bulls and White Sox sports teams. Ford Motor Company’s Chief Operating Officer Mark Fields, American Le Mans Series driver Ron Fellows and NHRA Top Fuel Champion Joe Amato also enjoyed watching cars cross the auction block. In addition to selling a car, Indianapolis Colts’ wide receiver Reggie Wayne was seen actively bidding with his family standing by his side.
In addition, former General Motors’ Vice President and current Chief Executive Officer of Hendrick Automotive Group Jim Perkins enjoyed watching the event, as did Wayne Huizenga Jr., businessman and former owner of the Miami Dolphins, Florida Marlins, Florida Panthers and the current owner of Rybovich Super Yacht Marina and Refit. Huizenga shared an emotional moment with his wife Fonda on stage, as the couple sold Lot #768 1968 Shelby GT500 E Continuation Fastback for $148,500, which was a cherished anniversary gift Fonda had given to her husband years earlier.
Barrett-Jackson also helped raise more than $1.8 million for local and national charitable organizations. Six charitable vehicles were sold during the auction, including the 2009 Ford F-150 King Ranch Super Crew Pickup (Lot #3006) once owned by former President George W. Bush. The truck sold for $350,000, with proceeds benefitting the National Guard Youth Foundation.
“We’re grateful for the opportunity to help raise money for these wonderful charitable organizations and we are so proud of the contributions by our sponsors, fans, bidders, consignors and other supporters,” said Barrett-Jackson President, Steve Davis. “We’re now looking ahead to our next auction, the inaugural Hot August Nights Auction Presented by Barrett-Jackson and we couldn’t be more excited.”