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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014

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In Music

Eric Benet headlines a benefit concert for Beccee Smith-Kujawa Sept. 18 at the Pabst Theater.

In Music

Smith-Kujawa was a member of the band Gerard.

Benet returns to hometown for a benefit concert


Though his music career still takes him around the country and overseas, Milwaukee native Eric Benet returns to his hometown roughly a half-dozen times a year to relax, visit family and catch up with old friends.

While those items certainly are on the itinerary for Benet's upcoming visit to Milwaukee, the vibe will be somewhat bittersweet.

Backed by his touring band, Benet will headline a concert Sept. 18 at The Pabst Theater that will feature many of his friends and former bandmates from Gerard, a band -- one could almost call it a franchise -- that dominated the club scene in Milwaukee and the Midwest through much of the 1980s and early 1990s.

The reunion, which will feature nearly two dozen of the band's former members, is a benefit for former Gerard singer Beccee Smith-Kujawa, who is battling lung cancer.

Upon hearing of her former roommate / bandmate's illness around Memorial Day, Amy Pierzchalski-Schultz began contacting members of Gerard and planning a reunion to raise money to defray some of Smith-Kujawa's expenses.

"I actually had the idea (for a reunion) a year or two prior (to hearing about Smith-Kujawa's condition)," Pierzchalski-Schultz said. "I'm the type of person who keeps people together or gets people back in touch. I thought a reunion would be fun and a few people said they were interested, but my husband (local bass player Cary Schultz) kind of talked me out of it. He said 'We all know how musicians are. They say they're going to do something and don't follow through.' It's sad but true.

"Once I heard about Beccee, I knew that it was time to do something. She's been so inspirational by her strength and courage. As soon as she called me, I started slamming my e-mail lists, Facebook and MySpace. Beccee performed with so many people. She was the hot blonde chick that people would go see in the '80s -- she's such a great performer. I got a hold of a lot of people and they all were willing to get involved."

The list of performers for the "Reunion for Beccee" concert includes Benet and his sister, Lisa, and local musicians like Greg Gerard (who founded the group with his sister, Chris), Keedy, Tony Roland (Jukebox Heroes), Mike Heidemann (Hot Sauce), Todd Dunst (Beat Krazy, Rhythm Method), Bobby Rouse (Rhythm Method, Light Up), George Nash, Pierzchalski-Schultz (Framing Amy, HippyChicks & the Funk Mob), Ann Kramer, Kevin Sucher (The Heroes), Kevin Baumann (Rhythm Method, Light up), Bill Guralski (Sweet Tarts), Lon Wall (Rhythm Kings), Nancy Gouin (Brian McLaughlin Band), Johnny Johnson (Earth, Wind & Fire), Jill Tate (The Toys), Jai Cherney (HippyChicks & the Funk Mob), Steve Fry (Rhythm Method, Light Up) and Angelo Petropoulos (Sweet Tarts).

"There were a lot of people in that band over the years," Rouse said. "It's pretty amazing, when you think about it.

"It's going to be good to see everybody. A lot of people that used to be in Gerard aren't involved with music anymore. They took the domestic route. But, there are a lot of us out there who have been playing music all these years."

Former members of Gerard have been rehearsing together for several weeks.

Former members of Gerard have been rehearsing together for several weeks.

"The rehearsals have been amazing," Pierzchalski-Schultz said. "We haven't been together in about 18 years, and all of us have gotten better as musicians. It's been a lot of fun."

Benet, who dated Smith-Kujawa, will front a set with his own band and join the reunited group.

"Gerard is the greatest band that there ever was in the Midwest -- at least to us," Benet said during a recent interview with Earl Stokes on Jammin' 98.3.

"In the late '80s and into the '90s, it was like a family. (The reunion) sounded like an opportunity to see everyone again -- it's been years -- and a chance to help Beccee.

"I didn't even have to think twice about making this happen. I don't know who is going to have more fun -- the audience or us and Beccee."

Tickets for the benefit cost $35, $45 and $50 and are available at the Pabst Theater box office. There also is an after-show party at Clear, the lounge in the lobby of the Intercontinental Hotel, 139 E. Kilbourn Ave. Admission is free and a portion of the proceeds will go to Smith-Kujawa.


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