Musician Bruce Baggett, 78, prepares for a performance. He’ll be playing and singing for his neighbors at Belleair Towers.
LARGO – When you live in a retirement community in Florida you just never know who your neighbor might be – perhaps a famous athlete from the past or a retired world-class entertainer.
The residents of Belleair Towers on Ponce De Leon Boulevard are about to discover one of their neighbors is a star, who will be performing for them April 20. Bruce Baggett will play the piano and sing in a mini-concert in the lobby of the main building.
Baggett, 78, is a former member of the hit singing group, The 4 Lads, and later The Pier Pipers. He’s been living in Belleair Towers for 18 months and has just now decided he might like to entertain again.
Baggett’s pedigree as a musician and performer go well beyond those two pop groups. He holds a master’s degree and a doctorate in music and music education from Columbia University and has performed with many of the top artists in the United States. And he has no trouble remembering them.
“I have appeared on the ‘Ed Sullivan Show,’ ” he said. “I was on the ‘Gary Moore Show’ and the “Perry Como Show.” I was also one of the Ray Charles singers. I was even on the “Jimmy Dean Show” in 1963; it was the first country show in New York City.”
He’s been on tour with Dean and with Al Martino and did a world tour with Harry Belafonte. He’s also performed with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and the Glenn Miller Orchestra.
For Baggett to have agreed to do his show on Saturday was a coup for the residents of Belleair Towers. Raylene Brown, the manager of the independent living facility, said the residents are in for a treat.
“I have heard him play and sing and he’s out of this world,” she said. “He isn’t even going to use a microphone when he sings; his voice is still that powerful.”
Brown said entertainment such as this is important for the residents on many levels.
“We have entertainment two or three times a month,” she said. “It motivates people, it is a gift, and it keeps you young. Music is a universal language and having it is indispensable.”
Having Baggett living in their midst for the past 18 months and only now having him play was for Brown a practical matter.
“He has a hearing problem and recently got new hearing aids,” she said. “Before now he would just sit there and say very little. Now he can hear and he interacts with people and is ready to perform.”
Baggett confirms that.
“This is my first time performing because I have those wonderful hearing aids,” he said. “I can finally understand what people are saying so I should be fine when I sing. I’ll pretend that I’m singing in the living room.”
Baggett and his wife, Ginny, have been married for 50 years. They have two adult children, a daughter in Orlando and a son in Los Angeles. They also have two grandchildren.
His performance on Sunday will be a test for Ginny, he said.
“I’m not going to use a microphone when I sing; I’m going to do it acoustically. So if she can hear me then it will be fine,” he said. “I’m going to do about an hour’s worth of material, I have 11 songs picked out, several from the 4 Lads era.”
When asked if he’s a bit nervous heading into his first performance in a while, he said no.
“I’m not nervous. Recently I was down here at the piano and sang My Way and people said it was great. I don’t even have to look at the music except occasionally when there are chord changes.”
The performance on Saturday afternoon is solely for the residents and invited guests of Belleair Towers. Brown said there just isn’t enough room in the lobby for any more people. But if it is successful, Baggett agreed they will hold another performance in the near future and open up the main dining room, where there is a lot more room and the public will be invited.
In addition to the music on Saturday there also will be a wine tasting and dinner. The music starts at 4:30 p.m.
Will Bruce Baggett consider doing another performance after this one? After talking with him for a while and hearing the excitement in his voice about performing again, you can predict his answer.
“Yeah, I’ll do it again,” he said. “Depending on how it turns out, my voice has never been better. It is good for me to keep the act going up here.”