Lena Prima’s memories from growing up in Vegas aren’t like most people’s.
With her father, Louis Prima, one of the most renowned big-band leaders in music history, much of Lena’s youth was spent at Vegas’ iconic casinos and lounges of the ‘60s and ‘70s to watch him perform.
“I got to experience the old Vegas, back when everyone dressed in tuxedos and gowns to see a show,” remembers Lena, now an established jazz vocalist in her own right who has performed worldwide. “I watched my father perform big time – I idolized him. The No. 1 thing I learned from him was sharing the love for what he was doing with the audience.”
At her father’s side, Lena was immersed in entertainment royalty, with celebrities like Debbie Reynolds and Frankie Valli often popping by their Vegas abode.
“Tony Bennett actually came to dinner often, because my mom was such a great cook,” Lena recalls with a laugh. “Honestly my dad was such a big, charismatic figure, no one else could top his personality.”
Growing up in an entertainment-driven city with a music legend for a father had no small impact on Lena.
Coming to The Smith Center on September 13 to perform sizzling jazz and swing tunes — including her father’s greatest hits — Lena developed her infectious performance style from observing her father at his best.
“I think people still want that old-school vibe where they get dressed up and go to a live show to hear great music,” she says. “I’m continuing this musical legacy.”
Continuing a Music Legacy in Vegas
Emulating her father, Lena launched her own singing career in Las Vegas at just 19.
Studying music and performance at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, she booked regular nightclub gigs with her own rock ‘n’ roll band.
“I was underage, so I had to come in through the back door,” she remembers.
Lena soon landed success touring as a lounge act – but her career found its real footing when she launched her own show, a musical tribute to her father.
“When I performed, so many people I met had stories about him,” Lena says. “Playing his music helped me learn more about who he was.”
Returning with a Swinging Show
Now living in New Orleans, Lena has evolved to pursuing her own music. This includes her forthcoming sixth album of classic Italian ballads and folk songs, honoring her family’s heritage.
“I learned there was this big, Sicilian immigration that came to New Orleans in the 1800s, and that’s where my father’s family comes from,” she says.
Backed by her multi-piece band at The Smith Center, Lena will perform tunes from her new album, plus many of her father’s hits.
“I really want to sing a lot of great songs that I grew up with,” she says.
Her band features award-winning New Orleans musicians who have cut their teeth on Bourbon Street. These include pianist Larry Sieberth, who arranged all of Queen Latifah’s music for her role as Bessie Smith in HBO bio-pic “Bessie.”
“I’m very excited to perform songs of how I evolved musically,” Lena says.
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