In 1996, Jimmy Walker, the chairman and founder of Celebrity Fight Night (tickets from $1,500, tables from $15,000, JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort & Spa), approached Canadian musician, record producer, composer, songwriter and arranger David Foster at a Grammy Award afterparty and requested his involvement with his fundraiser to support Barrow Neurological Institute, name-dropping its headlining athlete. Foster, a legend in his own right who was nominated for seven awards that very night, recalls thinking, “Nobody wants to say no to Muhammad Ali.” Needless to say, Foster became the event’s music director right away and has retained the title since, using his star power to attract other A-listers, including Celine Dion, Rod Stewart and Michael Bublé.
Today, between his Intimate Evening With David Foster tour dates, Foster can be found “ensconced” in New York, working on four musicals, including one about Betty Boop, one that’s a scripted one-man show, and one based on the best-seller Lucky Us. Plus, he still steers The David Foster Foundation, which has helped families of children who need organ transplants for 30 years. He attributes part of its enormous success to the incredible relationships stemming from CFN. (Foster introduced Andrea Bocelli to Walker, and Bocelli’s wife, Veronica, has since spearheaded the Italian version of CFN.) “A lot of the same people attend all three events,” Foster says, and adds, “All three organizations learn from each other.”
This year’s event, which marks the 25th anniversary of CFN, will start off on Friday night with a tease of his touring show, incorporating storytelling and song, followed by a surprise-laden Saturday set. Foster says he cannot yet confirm who will share his stage or even attend—except “staples,” including country music stars Reba McEntire and Brooks & Dunn—but Foster’s fiancee, actress and singer Katharine McPhee, will definitely be absent: for good reason. “She’s opening the Broadway show Waitress in London in March,” he says, and adds, “but she has been [to CFN] before.” Regardless, there will be no shortage of love in the room. As Foster says, “With Ali being such a big force, it’s almost like he’s still there. We feel his presence.”