Before magician Malcolm Puckering became a regular at the famous Magic Castle in Hollywood or a semifinalist on "America's Got Talent," he was a percussionist in several school bands at Baldwin High School in Roosevelt, N.Y.
"I was in orchestra, jazz ensemble, marching bands, all of that," said Puckering, who performs as Puck. "Being in those bands really brought me out of my shell and taught me how to express myself."
More than 40 years later, Puckering is lending his talent to help raise money for another crop of budding musicians: the students at Hilton Head Island High School.
Puckering is one in a trio of comedians and magicians lending their talents to a "Magic for Music" benefit Nov. 23 night to help raise money for the Hilton Head band. General admission tickets are $25.
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Comedian and magician Kerry Pollock and South Carolina native and illusionist Gary Maurer also are slated to perform, organizers said.
Puckering, a New York native who now resides in central Florida, said a chance viewing of a carnival magic show sparked his interest in the craft at age 6.
"My father took me to a carnival, and they had a magician there who used me as his assistant and ... I've been doing magic ever since," Puckering said by phone from Los Angeles.
Over 40 years, Puckering crafted an act focused mainly on illusion, or "manipulation" as he calls it, and began performing at magic clubs and conventions, corporate outings and aboard cruise ships before capturing the attention of those running the Magic Castle in Hollywood.
The private club, housed in a century-old Victorian mansion, is considered by many to be the nation's premiere venue for magic and is regularly packed with attentive but discerning audiences.
"You have to be a member or know a member to even get in to see a show at the Magic Castle, so the audiences there really know their stuff," Puckering said. "I first performed there about 11 or 12 years ago, and those are still some of the best audiences I've ever worked for. They are always so receptive."
A tape of Puckering's act found its way into the hands of the producers of NBC's "America's Got Talent," who invited Puck to appear on the talent show earlier this year.
He made it all the way to show's semifinal round before being eliminated in early September.
Given the role music and the arts continues to play in his life, Puckering said he was honored to be asked to perform at the Hilton Head benefit this week.
"Arts and music education is dying in our schools right now, and we should do everything we can to save that," Puckering said.
John Biddle, owner of the Hilton Head Comedy Club and organizer of the event, said landing a magician of Puckering's caliber was a major coup for the benefit, which he hopes will raise lots of money for the high school's band.
"We should be doing everything we can to get kids interested in the performing arts," Biddle said. "Whether they play music or dance or whatever it is, the creative and performing arts really allow children to express themselves."