Whether he's Jack or David he's back gracing his home town stage with entertainment that's top of the range
When Jack Grace was a kid that was his "inside" name.
"I grew up with my grandparents, my grandfather called all his grandsons Jack but the minute I reached our letterbox I went to being David, my birth name."
These days he's back to being Jack in honour of his koro and after his recent homecoming Jack's sitting up there with Rotorua's top-line entertainers.
A fortnight ago his show, 8 Scott Ave – the Musical, drew an estimated thousand punters to its Blue Baths venue, a lot of seat juggling went on to fit so many in.
Written by Jack, it's the story of growing up in the avenue the show's name carries.
He played key character bookie Uncle Jimmy, alongside leading local entertainers Chrissy Knapp, Russell Harrison, Rewa Ututaonga, Bobby Mihi Howard and up and coming youngster Hunter Geary.
The show's tagline was: "As a whānau we didn't have much but when we sang we had everything." What else needs to be said?
Whether Jack or David, this is a man who's been around music since birth, his talent was recognised when, at 15, he joined Consolidated Traders wild game processing plant.
"I was this snotty-nosed kid chucked in with all these hardened freezing workers, it was a place where you had to grow up fast.
"I hadn't been there long when one of my colleagues heard me singing along to the radio and asked me to join the band he was in, it was called My Father's Moustache, the late Dave Howe, a farrier, (Our People, April 30, 2010) founded it.
"We were just a little gig band, there were a lot of very good bands around here at that time, we didn't compare with them."
Jack (that's the name we'll call him by) sheets his musical success back to two of his Rotorua Intermediate teachers Nari Ngati (Our People, April 18, 2015) and her brother Derek Morrison.
"Those two were really responsible for starting me on my serious music journey that 45 years later I'm still on, I owe so much to them. Miss Ngati, we always called our teachers Miss, said there were two kids in her class who'd succeed. They were [author] Alan Duff (Our People, May 23, 2015) and me."
Succeed Jack has, but until last year his talents have been based elsewhere. Regardless, this place has always been the home he left at 17 with girlfriend Jeana Brooke. Together they headed for Australia.
"I was doing gigs all over the place before scoring a job as entertainment manager at the upmarket Magnetic Island resort, it was pretty much like that TV programme Fantasy Island."
Jack and Jeana - now a midwife - married in Townsville, the first of their four daughters was born there.
The whānau returned to New Zealand, settling in Auckland. That's where Jack broke into the big time, but still as David Grace.
"I saw a newspaper clipping promoting this TVNZ competition Stars In Their Eyes, I thought 'oooh, I'll take a crack at this' and blow me, won it singing Simon and Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Waters.
"One of the judging panel was Elaine Hegan of the Hegan Entertainment Agency, she signed me up and suddenly I was performing with singers like Billy T James, Ray Woolf, Jackie Clarke, Taisha, Tina Cross.
"Elaine really taught me the art of performing, how to dress, she said 'one thing you must never do is perform without a tie', I still find that hard to shake off.
"She also taught me to stay in my lane, sing the songs right for my voice. I was doing Cole Porter, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis Jnr-type numbers at a time others were concentrating on Stevie Wonder and Luther Vandross.
"That crooner-style brought out the Māori in me, I was one of the first Māori to be singing those guys songs at this level."
Sky City embraced him. "It was at the time the America's Cup was on in Auckland, the entertainment scene was huge, that's where I really established myself as a serious New Zealand performer."
From Sky City, he was appointed entertainment manager at Auckland's Sheraton.
"I was also doing a lot of entertaining there, stayed for a lot of years."
Ten years after winning Stars he was similarly successful with the Ian Fraser-hosted Showcase. There was also a short stint back in Oz.
"By then our daughters were growing up, we settled in Pukekohe for their education, it was a good move, they'll all teachers now."
Jack continued to perform around the Auckland area but Raglan beckoned. "We used to go there for holidays with the kids, I'd do a bit of surfing, I'm one of those guys who gets in the way of everybody else. I had the longest board possible, I'm a clumsy surfer.
"I thought Raglan would be a great place to retire to because of the surfing, but my music career wouldn't let me."
He became vice-president, then president, of the Hamilton Jazz Society.
"By crikey, that was really good for me, it kept me busy."
Jeana was continuing with her midwifery when the couple got wind of a subdivision near Puhoi that attracted them.
"The developer went bust, we got a good deal on a section and headed up there like the Beverly Hillbillies with everything packed onto a trailer, I dropped music, dropped everything to build our house."
But the house wasn't home, Rotorua was. Jack had barely set foot back on his tangata whenua (homeland) when 2019 Lakeside director Rewa Ututaonga nabbed him for the on-stage line-up.
"I realised my brand was still alive in me."
But tragedy was to strike. His trainee teacher son-in-law, Whitinga Harris, urgently needed cancer treatment that came with a $100,000 price tag. It didn't take Jack long to raise it via community events "from here to Christchurch, unfortunately, it was too late, the money's now in trust for his two sons."
On the back of Harris' death, Jack realised writing 8 Scott Ave was something he needed to do. "I'd started thinking about it five years ago."
Next on the Grace agenda is a move into a permanent home, they're presently renting the principal's cottage at Whakarewarewa School.
The first thing to move with them will be the kowhai they call their "whānau tree of hope".
"We planted it years ago in a bag of potting mix, we've dragged it everywhere, it's now in a big industrial bag and has grown a circumference of about 2m.
"For the first time, it will be rooted in soil, to us it indicates we have completed the full circle of our lives, leaving here then finally coming back forever."
JACK (DAVID) GRACE
Education: Owhata Primary School, Rotorua Intermediate, Lakes High School
Whānau: Wife Jeana, daughters Sarah (Auckland), Holly (Rotorua), Elle, (Auckland), Ruby (Northland). "About" 13 mokopuna (grandchildren)
Iwi Affiliations: Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Porou
Interests: Whānau, music, art "I paint pop art, my next project's to run an art library where people can borrow paintings like they do library books." Designs and prints T-shirts
On his life: "I feel responsible to honour the gifts I've been given."
On Rotorua: "It's my beautiful home town."
Personal philosophy: "Stand on the shoulders of giants to see where you are going."