No strings attached:  Osmo, Erin engaged

Singer Sylvia McNair, an out-of-town guest artist, spilled the beans on New Year’s Eve. From the stage of Orchestra Hall, she told concertgoers that they should be happy the Minnesota Orchestra is back, and that it was playing its first New Year’s Eve program in many years. And, that it was a happy time for music director Osmo Vänskä and concertmaster Erin Keefe because they had announced their engagement. McNair dropped this newsy tidbit at both the 7 and 10 p.m. performances. Otherwise, there was no press release or formal announcement. And no dates or locations for the impending wedding have been disclosed.

Graydon Royce


London calling

Veteran Twin Cities soul singer Alexander O’Neal is big in London and he’s probably about to get bigger. On Wednesday, he entered the London house that is “Celebrity Big Brother.” Among his made-for-TV housemates are gossip king Perez Hilton, former “Baywatch” star Jeremy Jackson and actress Patsy Kensit, who used to be married to British rockers Jim Kerr of Simple Minds and Liam Gallagher of Oasis. The gig seems a bit unusual for O’Neal. “He’s such a private person,” Cynthia Kampa, O’Neal’s partner of 26 years, told I.W. “When you’re on camera 24/7, it’s going to be difficult.” Shy, he’s not. Kampa says his motto is “They have the guts to say something, but they don’t have the guts to hear the reply.” Can’t wait to witness the dialogue between big mouths and the singer known for the hits “Criticize” and “Fake.” To monitor the show for a fee, go to

Jon Bream

Trump that

Donald Trump approached the stage at his private Club Mar-a-Lago on New Year’s Eve and asked if Serena Williams could sing a song with the band. Minneapolis singer Maria Stukey couldn’t turn down her host. The tennis superstar sang “At Last” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” with one of the male singers from the Sultans. “She thanked me for using my mike and hugged me,” Stukey told I.W. Rod Stewart was there, too, but he didn’t sing. There were 600 guests who partied till 1 a.m. For Stukey, her less-than-24-hours, all-expenses-paid trip to West Palm Beach was “surreal.” She sometimes sings with the Boston-based Sultans but her main gig is with BellaDivas in the Twin Cities. “I had little sleep,” Stukey admitted this week, “so I could have been hallucinating.” One thing she knows for sure is that “it’s the most money I’ve ever gotten [paid] for one show.”


Piece of cake

Walker Art Center has been soliciting photos from museum visitors for its Walker People’s Archive (WPA), and Thursday writer/musician Dylan Hicks will host a variety show celebrating selections from the hundreds of visual memories curated by anthropologist Jennifer Stampe. They include a submission from a father who, while admitting that he himself once illegally climbed Claes Oldenburg’s Spoonbridge and Cherry sculpture, “he strongly encourages his son not to follow suit.” Hicks plans several short, interlaced theatrical sketches, a narrated slide show and musical interludes for the free show. For a photo of a fabulous cake replica of an airplane made in 1977 by Walker gallery guide/artist Betty Nelsen meeting its role model, a Braniff jet painted by Alexander Calder, Hicks chose the song “MacArthur’s Park.” He’ll also throw in some original songs, including one about a gallery guard. You can add your own Walker pics online at throughout the year as part of the museum’s 75th anniversary doings.


A change of plans

St. Paul Poet Laureate Carol Connolly’s monthly reading series has been closely associated with St. Paul’s sidewalk poetry endeavor. She hosts a free event with poets, fiction writers and essayists but she passes the hat and turns the collection over to Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk, the award-winning project dreamed up by Marcus Young, St. Paul’s artist in residence. In four years, Connolly has raised $15,000 for the project, which presses original poems into wet cement during sidewalk repairs. But recently Connolly announced a new recipient: Beginning with the Jan. 20 event, donations will go to help fund the folks at the nonprofit Saint Paul Almanac, who publish an annual book of poems, photographs, stories and essays by St. Paul artists.


Jazzed up

The Dakota Jazz Club in downtown Minneapolis was named one of the world’s 163 great jazz venues by DownBeat, the jazz bible. The 30-year-old music institution was one of only four clubs to receive a special spotlight in the February issue of the magazine. The half-page story might have been a make-good for leaving the Dakota off the list last year. The intimate Minneapolis spot was praised for its interior design, acoustics, upscale cuisine and, most important, the quality and diversity of its bookings — presenting the likes of Chick Corea, Cecile McLorin Salvant, Bela Fleck, Lucinda Williams, Tower of Power, Philip Glass and Prince. DownBeat also makes note that the Dakota proprietors are taking over the old Artists’ Quarter in St. Paul and rebranding it as Vieux Carré. Maybe both Twin Cities jazz spots will make next year’s list of great venues.