Diana AcetiÂ said she couldn’t believe it when two years ago she spoke to the Queen of Soul personally on the telephone.
“They said, ‘Oh Diana, Aretha Franklin is on the phone for you,’” she remembered, “And I said, ‘You’re kidding!’”
Aceti is director of development and public relations for the Ross School, and was more than happy to take Franklin’s call from Detroit in 2006 when the legendary songstress happily agreed to give a benefit concert for the school’s scholarship fund. Franklin is apparently enamored of the East Hampton private school founded 15 years ago by Courtney Sale Ross. She donated her time in 2006, and will be giving another concert coming up this August 25.
The concert is the last of a series of events held at Ross this summer to benefit the school, which now runs from pre-nursery through grade 12. This will mark the second year Ross is holding such a series on its grounds. The concerts last year, which included Prince, James Taylor, Billy Joel and the Dave Matthews Band, were run through a separate entity, Bulldog Entertainment Group, a for-profit corporation.
This year the school has organized and produced the events themselves, while having Empire Entertainment act as a consultant and overseer. Aceti explained that in this way the philosophies of the school can most truly be represented throughout the series.
“We realized that Ross knows how to do Ross best,” she said.
Another advantage is that the full net proceeds from each event will go directly to its respective Ross department. For the first time according to Aceti, there will be a summer benefit for just the Ross theater department, one for the Ross School CafÃ©, and one for the wellness program. The concerts go toward the scholarship fund. For the second time, an Aretha Franklin Scholarship will be awarded to a current Ross student with an interest in the performing arts.
The first concert, which will kick off the summer “@Ross” series on the afternoon of August 9,will feature teen sensations The Jonas Brothers.. The intimate setting of the upper campus Great Hall is an unusual space for the pop stars, who have been selling out stadiums across the country to play for their “tween” fans.
Their tickets, at $1500, are the most expensive of the Ross events, but according to Aceti this is just to cover the cost of putting them on. “We wanted something healthy and good from the kids,” she said. A portion of all ticket prices are tax deductible.
Next on the schedule is a musical review given by such Broadway stars as three-time Tony nominee Kelli O’Hara, currently of South Pacific, Tony winner Laura Benanti of Gypsy, and Daphne Rubin-Vega from the original cast of Rent. The event will be held on the night of August 18 and will benefit the Ross School theater program. Tickets are $500.
Two days later Ross will be hosting a day dedicated to well-being, in collaboration with the Urban Zen Foundation founded by Donna Karan, who will be in attendance. The day, which begins at 1:30 p.m. and goes until 7:30 p.m., involves a series of lectures and hands-on activities with well known experts. Tickets are $750, and all proceeds go to the Ross wellness department.
On August 22, the school will host a night of cuisine and wine, a four hour culinary experience featuring seven different acclaimed chefs. Tickets range from $850 to $1000, and proceeds will go towards the commencement of a dining program on the Ross lower campus in Bridgehampton.
Aretha Franklin will bring the series to a close the next night. She reportedly could not wait to come back, and apparently loved that at the last concert she could see all of the children in the audience dancing and singing along.
A few acts that had previously been scheduled to appear were dropped from the list of summer events. Aceti assured that those performances will not disappear. “We decided that because there are so many events out here during the summer, it would make sense to spread some of them out over the year,” she explained.
The B52s, who were slated to play August 2, may instead play at next year’s Starlight Ball, although this is not confirmed. The comedy event that had been scheduled may take place in the fall. Said Aceti, “We will release the dates as soon as they are confirmed.”