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ROBERT HILBURN

Proud Papa Sonny Bono Joins Chastity in Her Singing Debut

January 02, 1988|ROBERT HILBURN

PALM SPRINGS — It was understandable if Sonny Bono was smiling like a proud papa on stage Thursday night at the opening of the Palm Springs Convention Center.

As he sang "The Beat Goes On"--and other songs he made popular two decades ago with Cher--daughter Chastity was with him.

A film student at New York University, Chastity, 18, was making her professional singing debut with her father as part of a "Rockin' the Night Away" concert that was taped for an album and TV special, both due in March. For $125 a ticket, the semiformal, mostly over-40 crowd was served a catered dinner that included breast of capon stuffed with veal and roasted walnuts.

There were such other veteran recording artists on the "oldies" bill as Dion, the Mamas & the Papas, Donovan and Jan & Dean. Still, the moment most of the 2,500 patrons--including Jim and Tammy Bakker at a front-row table--had come to see was surely hometown hero Bono and daughter. Bono operates a restaurant here and is planning to run for mayor this year.

Maybe, some in the room even speculated, this was the start of a new team: Sonny and Chastity.

Stranger things have happened.

The crowd responded warmly as the father and daughter went good-naturedly, if somewhat tentatively, through two old Sonny and Cher tunes: "All I Ever Need Is You" and "The Beat Goes On."

Tears, however, welled in Bono's eyes as he introduced "I Got You Babe," the 1965 tune that was the first Sonny and Cher hit.

"This song has meant so many things to me throughout my life," he said, holding the microphone as his daughter stood by shyly. "When I wrote it, it had this wonderful, incredible feeling . . . because it was like me saying to Cher, you and me, we could do it all . . .

Sonny and Cher did do it all in the pop world in the '60s and early '70s, not only registering a string of hit singles but establishing themselves as perhaps the most colorful and celebrated couple in pop--until a painful (Bono has said) personal and professional split a decade ago.

Cher has continued to enjoy stardom in film and music, but Bono--after stabs at TV and nightclubs--faded from the scene. Though concentrating on operating restaurants in recent years, he has resumed his acting career (he appears in the upcoming John Waters film "Hairspray"), and some in the audience also wondered if he was hoping now to try and "do it all" once more in pop with his daughter.

As the band began slowly playing "I Got You Babe," Chastity stepped forward to sing Cher's verse in a voice that lacks her mother's command but reflects some of Cher's phrasing and tonal quality.

They say we're young

and we don't know

we won't find out until we grow ...

Then Bono joined with his part, pronouncing each word emphatically:

Well, I don't know if that's all true

because you got me and I got you ... babe.

It was a surprisingly poignant moment in the rather sterile and glitzy atmosphere of the marathon New Year's Eve concert's opening hour. Friends and relatives flocked around Chastity backstage after the song to congratulate her.

"It was very emotional," Chastity said about singing with her father. "Dad called and asked if I'd be interested in singing with him tonight and I said I'd love to. He knows I write music and that I kind of toy around with singing . . . I also talked to my mom tonight and she sent me some flowers."

Some photographers called Bono over and the pair posed for several minutes, but it was clearly in the spirit of father and daughter--not show-biz partners.

Sonny has no interest or illusions about a father-and-daughter singing team. Sitting backstage later he said, "I don't think so. I wouldn't want to try to attempt a career that way. I would sing with her a couple more times if it would help her get exposure and she wanted a career, but not as a permanent thing--not as an intense goal . . . that sort of thing (the Sonny and Cher success) only happens once and that was a long time ago."

Thursday's show was the second time in recent months that Bono had sung "I Got You Babe." In their first joint appearance in years, Sonny and Cher did an impromptu version of the old hit a few weeks ago on "Late Night With David Letterman."

But the motivation was strictly business. Bono was plugging his restaurant, the New Year's Eve show and his campaign for mayor, while Cher wanted to draw some attention to her new solo album.

"That night was very emotional too," Bono said. "But it was a different emotion . . . a sadness because I was standing there thinking about the great thing that was . Tonight, it was purely pleasure . . . seeing this little creature next to me pouring her heart out . . . it was just love. . . ."

As he spoke, someone signaled that it was time for Bono, who was the evening's emcee, to introduce the next act. "No, no," he said, smiling, "let Chas do it. . . .." He was speaking in a parental way that suggested, "This is her night."

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