Leader of the (wedding) band

Photograph courtesy Hal Prince Music and Entertainment.

If you’ve been to enough weddings in the metro area, odds are you have rocked out with Jay Prince.

As co-owner of Hal Prince Music and Entertainment, and leader of the Jay Prince Band, Prince has been jamming at weddings in the Hudson Valley, New York City and reception halls beyond for more than 30 years. 

Prince, along with his sister Jill Prince, is the second generation to lead the entertainment company, which has been operating in the region since 1964. Today, the company works with professional musicians to offer eight bands, six DJs and four emcees. The company also provides the happy couple with lighting, video screens, props, photo booths — whatever keeps the party going. 

“Everyone is different, so we try to work with the couple’s vision and create something memorable,” Prince says.

Aside from his work in weddings, Prince has been a runner-up vocalist on “Star Search” — a precursor to “American Idol” — and toured with Donna Summer. This fall, he will play a series of shows with New York Yankees legend and classically trained guitarist Bernie Williams. 

From the company’s Westchester office — a Victorian home across the street from the Mount Kisco Diner (there’s a second office in Manhattan) — WAG caught up with the musician to talk about his background and how to keep a wedding moving. 

How did you get into music and playing weddings?

“It was in the early ‘60s that Hal, my Dad, and Anabelle, my mom, started the company. My mom was a singer. She’s 88, still singing. My father passed away seven years ago. He was a trumpet player and a bandleader. They started Hal Prince Orchestras as it was called in the  ’60s, based in Westchester. We’ve been here for over 50 years. 

“Even at 5 years old, I would come on gigs and get to sing a few songs but, when I was 16, I led my first gig.”

How many weddings do you play a year?

“Sometimes we’re doing two or three a weekend. It’s a seasonal business, so the winters can be slow. But it’s very rare to be off on Saturday night. The four big months are May, June, September and October. 

“Beyond that, we also do holiday parties in
December. Year-round there’s corporate gigs, charities, the occasional bar gig, for fun, as Jay Prince & Friends, where I can invite friends down and we get to play the blues and classic rock.” 

What do you enjoy most about playing weddings?

“It’s one of the biggest days of a bride’s and groom’s life, and it’s very exciting to be a part of something like that.”

“We’re also constantly learning new music because every wedding is a little bit different. We take pride in learning the couple’s first dance and parent dances.” 

What type of music do people typically request?

“What I’ve noticed that’s interesting is that a lot of the brides and grooms seem to like the music of their parents. We get Earth, Wind & Fire, the classics. Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Frank Sinatra. It’s timeless.

“For the big songs of today, people ask for Bruno Mars, Ed Sheeran, Rihanna, Taylor Swift, songs from (the band called) Portugal. The Man, Dua Lipa.”

What are some of the things you can do as a band to keep a wedding moving?

“It’s important. We play continuously, so there is always live music going through the entire four hours. There’s never a lull. When you’re eating, it’s background music. When it’s dance music, we keep on going. The continuity of the music will keep the party going, keep the party flowing. “

Are there certain songs that, when you hit a lull, you know will keep the party going?

“They’re the party anthems, classics such as ‘Brown Eyed Girl,’ ‘Sweet Caroline,’ ‘Dancing Queen,’ ‘December, 1963.’ ‘Shout’ is still a big one, people love the ‘you know you make me wanna…’ ‘New York, New York,’ too.” 

How has the wedding industry changed in your time? What trends do you see?

“Combos are big now, where they are having a band and DJ. We go out with an eight- to 10-piece band, and a DJ for an after party or to play alongside the band for certain segments of the party.

“We also have a hybrid, where a DJ from our company plays with live musicians. I don’t know if it’s a trend, since it’s been going on for a while. People want the DJ but they also want that element of a live musician as well.

“I’m also seeing more destination weddings now — brides and grooms that live in the city, but don’t want to get married in the city. They come to Westchester, Connecticut, even further. We’re also playing a lot more in different types of venues, such as vineyards or horse farms.”

For more, visit halprince.com.

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