While still in school, Connick began taking classes at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts with pianist Ellis Marsalis, father of famous jazz musicians Wynton and Branford. He also got tips from prominent pianist James Booker, a family friend who often stopped by the Connick home.
In 1989, Connick got his big break: a month-long engagement at the Algonquin Hotel. The show attracted a great deal of press attention, particularly after legendary singer Tony Bennett saw a performance and proclaimed, ‘Connick could be the next Frank Sinatra.’ Connick was then approached by director Rob Reiner to record an album of bluesy standards for the soundtrack to his 1989 romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally. The movie, starring Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan, became a smash hit, fueling double-platinum album sales for Connick’s soundtrack, which also garnered Connick his first Grammy Award. By 1990, Connick had three albums on Billboard’s pop chart.
As he continued to release bestselling album after bestselling album, Connick developed a persona in the media as something of a throwback, a modern-day heartthrob to match the romantic crooners of a bygone era. Connick’s thick drawl, Southern manners (he doesn’t smoke or drink) and slicked-back hair became his calling cards.
Despite these successful forays onto stage and screen, Connick remained focused primarily on his music, releasing a steady stream of new albums full of jazz, funk, pop and Christmas songs. After Hurricane Katrina laid waste to his hometown in 2005, Connick returned to New Orleans and teamed up with Branford Marsalis and Habitat for Humanity to build homes and a new community center, the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music.
Over the course of his career, Connick has sold more than 25 million records and appeared in nearly two dozen films. ‘Everything I do is part of my passion,’ he said, explaining his diverse talents. ‘I do the things I like to do. It s sort of a bigger version of having more than one hobby. I love to play piano, sing, and act. I love to do all those things.’