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Sir Paul McCartney makes Astoria stop

Paul McCartney puts on an impromptu show at the Frank Sinatra School of Performing Arts. Photo courtesy MJ KIM/MPL Communications
TimesLedger Newspapers

A buzz swept through Astoria’s cultural campus last week when international pop star Paul McCartney played a surprise concert for 400 students at the Frank Sinatra High School of the Performing Arts.

With school founder Tony Bennett watching from the front row, the former Beatle went through two sets of music, mostly classics, but some from his latest album “New” that was released this week.

The Oct. 9 event was not the surprise it was supposed to be, however, according to the school’s principal Donna Finn.

“First it was leaked by Barbara Walters on her show ‘The View’ and then all the equipment arrived with his name on the side of the crates. I guess you could say the cat was out of the bag,” she said.

The students in the audience enjoyed the show, especially the question and answer segment, but they have grown accustomed to big name stars dropping by. Recent visitors have included Kevin Spacey, Harry Belafonte, Jerry Seinfeld and Alec Baldwin.

“My kids are pretty sophisticated,” Finn said. “Billy Joel was here last spring and the students would be just as excited seeing Martha Graham’s Dance Company or Audra McDonald perform.”

Leaders from the other cultural institutions might have been more excited by McCartney’s performance.

Hoong Yee Krakauer, the executive director at Queens Council on the Arts, attended as a VIP guest and said, “I loved being a teenage girl again in a roomful of high school kids.”

Pete Romano, the vice president of operations at Kaufman Astoria Studios, said, “I thought it was fantastic, I never thought I’d get to see him not just live but across the street from where I work.”

Carl Goodman, the executive director at the Museum of the Moving Image did not attend the concert but said, “It’s just another step in the transformation of the campus. You see big stars like Bill Cosby, Alan Alda was just here. It’s nice to see that people have taken notice of what goes on around here all the time.”

Krakauer pointed out that the QCA moved into the campus in March after leaving its headquarters in Forest Park.

“We took a poll of our artists and the cultural campus in Astoria is where they wanted to be,” Krakauer said.

The world of film, visual art and theater all merge in a one-block radius, she observed.

It wasn’t always this way. Romano grew up a block away and would hang out around the area as a child.

“My folks wouldn’t let me cross 35th Avenue It was devastation, nothing but abandoned buildings,” she said.

City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) grew up a couple of blocks away and said, “If you would have told me back in 1979 that Paul McCartney would play there one day, I’d say you were crazy.

He added, “This is amazing what’s happened here over the years. It’s the envy of any neighborhood — a new day for Astoria and a new day for Queens.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com.

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