Pat Benatar, the iconic 80s singer know for hits like "Heartbreaker" and "Love is a Battlfield," kick started her music career in Richmond.
On May 4, 1975, Benatar performed her final performance in Richmond at Thomas Jefferson High School. Dressed in a white satin pant suit, she sang two hours of songs for an appreciative audience. Benatar was preparing to move to New York, where she hoped to become a star.
Two years earlier, Benatar moved to Richmond with her husband Dennis Benatar, then in the Army. While she was always singing and dancing, she hadn’t done so professionally for several years. When she arrived in Richmond, she signed up for her first gig at a local Holiday Inn. Next, a performance at the Roaring Twenties, a restaurant with musical entertainment. There, she met Phil Coxon, a pianist, and they decided to do a duo act.
Soon, the duo had expanded to eight more musicians and they called themselves Coxon’s Army. The band’s popularity grew and led to a live TV performance and a single record for Benatar.
Benatar explained to a Times-Dispatch reporter how Phil Coxon motivated her to kick start her musical career, “Phil has done a lot for me. He has been the driving force,” she said. “I’m a Capricorn, so I’ll just go ahead gung-ho.” She also described Coxon as “the next great composer of our time."
Her husband Dennis, who had worked as a professional theater technician, also encouraged her to follow her music career. In 1975, Dennis began studying business law so that he could aid his wife’s management, “when the time [came].”
Benatar said she had gotten more experience during her short time in Richmond than ever before. She felt the most valuable experience came from performing gigs at clubs, “to fight the food, the waiters and the booze to get the audience’s attention.” To do this, you have to “grab” the audience she said, “Take on a full room, then a section, then a table and then an individual. As soon as you do that, you’re o.k. But some nights it doesn’t work.”
It was hard to leave Richmond for Benatar. She was going to miss her fellow musicians and the people she met that had become her family.
In New York, Benatar had a few performances lined up to start—a one-night performance at New York’s Reno Sweeney and Catch a Rising Star. She also had her eyes on an audition for a Broadway musical.
She closed her show at Thomas Jefferson High School by telling that audience, “Singing—it’s the only thing I want to do. And it’s all I’m going to do. Once you try, there is no turning back. I want to succeed badly enough that I really think I can. Even though the odds are 1,000 to one against me, it won’t stop me.”