Catholic Crooner Connick discusses new show, family, faith

Harry Connick Jr. is a gifted singer and composer, having sold 28 million albums worldwide and winning multiple Grammy Awards. He is also a successful actor and reality TV judge. On Sept. 12, 2016, he took a new direction in his career, premiering “Harry,” a syndicated talk/variety show filmed in New York. A typical episode might find him crooning favorite hits, interviewing celebrities, cooking, getting a glimpse at different species of exotic animals, exploring the world of cosmetics or learning about physical fitness.

Away from the camera, he’s a committed family man, having been married to his wife, Jill, for 23 years, and with whom he has three daughters. He’s also a practicing Catholic. He grew up in New Orleans, with a Catholic father and Jewish mother, and chose to be baptized at age 14.

Our Sunday Visitor: When you kicked off your show last year, you were quoted as saying, “Everything I love to do, I get to do on this show. I get to sing, I get to write, arrange for the band, I get to meet incredible people, I get to perform.” Five months into your show, was it what you expected?

Harry Connick Jr.: Oddly enough, it turned out to be exactly what I expected. I went in with high hopes that I’d be doing a show I wanted to do, but I knew that there are a lot of people involved, and in these situations it usually doesn’t turn out that way. But, so far, it has.

I’ve loved all the acts we’ve had. I love the variety, and we’re always discovering new things to explore. Ours is an uplifting show; we’re not into politics or heavy social issues. We wanted to create an inspirational show that the whole family could watch.

OSV: In one show, your producers surprised you with an onstage visit from your wife and daughters. Talk about the importance of family in your life.

HC: They’re the No. 1 priority in my life. I love my family. They’re supportive of me, and I of them.

OSV: You have been married for 23 years yet work in an industry notorious for being hard on marriages. What’s the secret to being a successful entertainer and having a successful marriage?

HC: For me, it was marrying the right girl. We met through a mutual friend in 1990. Jill is my best friend, and we’re lucky to have found one another.

OSV: Music can be inspiring and uplifting or degrading. As someone who has worked for many years in the music industry, do you have any concerns about some of the popular music out there today and its effect on young people?

HC: No more concern than I had when I was coming up as a young singer. It does seem like the boundaries are being pushed, but my focus is to do the good I can do in my work. I try to make a positive impact on the world and to create a show which anyone can watch and not worry about the content. We try to stay current, substantive, exciting and even edgy, but very much a show for the whole family.

OSV: You chose to be baptized at age 14 while attending Jesuit High School in New Orleans. What attracted you to the Catholic faith as a teen?

HC: My father’s side of the family is Catholic, so I had a lot of positive exposure to the Church through them. My mother was from New York, and I didn’t know her family as well, and she didn’t practice her faith.

So, I was surrounded by a huge Catholic family, where everyone went to church, and Catholicism was all around me. I felt comfortable with the Catholic faith, so I decided to be baptized.

OSV: Your mother died when you were 13. What impact did that have on you?

HC: It was very hard. Fortunately, I was getting more into my faith, and I found a lot of peace.

OSV: New Orleans has a great Catholic history. Do you have any favorite Catholic churches there or other experiences of Catholicism?

HC: St. Louis Cathedral, where I was married, will always have a special place in my heart.

New Orleans is a cool place. It has a great dichotomy of faith and partying. People party all night long for Mardi Gras, yet get themselves to church the next day for Ash Wednesday.

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OSV: You performed at concerts before Masses in the United States celebrated by Popes Benedict and Francis. Tell me about those experiences.

HC: It was amazing to be invited to play before a papal Mass. It was incredible being around so many terrific people and celebrating something so wonderful. I consider these experiences to be high points of my career. I was so happy to be a part of it.

Jim Graves writes from California.