Thursday, June 12, 2014

Melissa Manchester is Loving The Life at The Carlyle


You Gotta Love The Life
Accompanying herself on piano, she will perform a selection of hits spanning her career, along with several songs from her upcoming album. She will be joined on stage by Stephan Oberhoff (keyboard, guitar) and Susan Holder (vocals, percussion).

Performances will take place Tuesday - Friday at 8:45pm; and Saturday at 8:45pm and 10:45pm (See Below for How to Purchase Tickets)

I do love to perform. And I'm ever so grateful that this has turned into a job with a future.
Melissa Manchester

Manchester may be best known for her international hits Looking Through the Eyes of Love and Don’t Cry Out Loud, but her legacy as a songwriter goes back much further. Her songs have been recorded by Barbra Streisand, Dusty Springfield, Alison Krauss, Roberta Flack, Johnny Mathis and more.  She’s performed on the stage alongside Kelsey Grammer in Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd and on the screen alongside Bette Midler in the film For The Boys.
Melissa Manchester has a 40 year career in show business that few could match — writing and performing hit songs for herself and other artists, winning a Grammy Award, writing and acting for the stage, film and television and now teaching a course on songwriting at the University of Southern California.She was born in New York where her father was a bassoonist for the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and her mother was one of the first women to own a sportswear design and manufacturing

I am very excited about today's feature. Melissa Manchester's music is definitely a part of the landscape of my life.
I was very excited to meet her a few years ago when she was presented with a Bistro Award for Lifetime Achievement. I was even more excited to be in her presence and soak in her magic at her opening night at The Carlyle on Tuesday Night. It gets even better! I got to sit down and discuss The Life of Melissa Manchester yesterday.
Today, I celebrate her and her body of "worth".
I began the interview by asking Melissa if she is where she thought she would be at this point in her life.
She guesses that she is! She was hoping that this adventure would just keep unfolding and it has.
What does she know now that she wishes she knew when she first started her career?

She wishes that she had known the inefficiency of holding a grudge, also slowing her mind down to think before making decisions, and to also understand that life is mostly gray and very little black and white.
When people tell you who they are, believe them the first time.
Melissa explains to me that her show is where she lives and breathes. It is her laboratory and it is where she does her work.  
Because it is live, things keep showing up in the moment. There is not a "special" show she does for The Carlyle or a special show she does for a symphony. It is all in the mix of doing her standards that people want to hear from her and also showing people that she has a huge range of appreciation for different types of music.
Tuesday night at The Carlyle, Melissa introduced the audience to songs from her forthcoming album, her twentieth!
It is called You Gotta Love the Life. She was able to not only sing LIVE with her musicians, she also sang to tracks from the album.
It was a lot of fun and a great evening.
How long did it take from being a Harlette to having her first big record deal?

(The Harlettes, aka The Staggering Harlettes, is a trio of backup singers who support Bette Midler during her live musical performances.)
She was finishing up her six month run as one of the original Harlettes when she signed a deal with Bell Records. Eventually, Bell Records became Arista Records. There were many years prior to that Bell Records contract in which she was trying to get a contract with record companies. It was about a seven year journey before she got that record contract.
One thing that I was surprised to learn Tuesday night is that Melissa is a teacher!
She was invited by the head of the new, at the time, brand new Pop division of the Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California. The longest standing cultural institution in Los Angeles, USC Thornton opened its doors in 1884.
She took over an inventive class called Musical Theatre Writing for the Pop Singer/Songwriter.
The class was originally taught by this year's Tony Award winner Jayson Robert Brown.
As he moved on, Melissa was asked to take over. It was incredible.
Melissa helped her students to create a musical. It was a fantastic discipline for these songwriters to shift their minds to write for characters.
She tells her students that they have to stay curious.
They have to keep their minds open. She thinks of her mind as a kind of "pet". She really knows when it is quiet. She recently did a lot of writing for the album. She allows her mind to be quiet and just BE. She thinks of it as a lab space. When her mind is quiet, she just leaves it alone. When some inspiration comes, from a piece of chatter, for instance, (it could be something she over heard someone say), or an idea comes her way, it just "gloms" on to her mind.

When that happens, she knows she has to pay attention to it. It has to be expressed. That's really what it is all about. She still has the same "hunger" as she did when she was just starting out at seventeen.
What motivates her to keep going, to keep striving? 

Melissa believes this is just a spectacular way to live a life. Her version of "normal" is not for everybody. She has an understanding of what it is to be on the road. She KNOWS what it is to entertain on a stage. It is where she does her work. It is where she shares her joy. It is where she has grown. She knows how to use space and how to turn songs into monologues. This version of "normal" really works for her.

Melissa doesn't worry about the "market place" because the market place is in the middle of an industry revolution. it is still being decided what the market place is and what it looks like.
It is now re framed. Melissa has learned that mostly by her students. For instance, this twentieth album, You Gotta Love the Life, was suggested to her by a student that she give crowd funding a try.
Jamie deRoy
Her students would come in with their new cds, shrink wrapped, with photos and credits, and very tidy. She would ask her students, "How did you do this in a six month time frame?" She was thinking they would tell her about different record labels.
They were constantly telling her about crowd funding and that she should do it.
It was explained to Melissa and her tour manager of 31 years, Susan Holder.

Last August, they started a campaign on Indiegogo.
They got enough contributions to go into the studio. They recorded the album at Citrus College which is a fantastic community college in California. Melissa is an artist in residence there.
She wanted to return to how she started making records, which was to have a bunch of musicians in a studio and bring new songs to life and breathe new life into old songs that she has been working on on the stage.
The unexpected part of the whole process of the crowd funding for Melissa was that the fans were just as interested in the process almost as much as she is. This campaign took on life almost as a living entity. For those who contributed enough, they came down to the studio. The studio is a teaching studio at the college. It was a very jolly experience.  
Melissa has collaborated with some of the greatest artists in the music industry. What makes a good collaboration?
tour manager (and fellow entertainer of 31 years!), Susan Holder.
For Melissa, it is when she is fascinated with how someone else's mind works, how they use language, interesting suggestions, and unexpected ideas...that always enthralls Melissa.
What are the deal breakers? "You gotta pick your battles." The only deal breaker for Melissa is if someone is boring. That is really hard. That makes time slow down terribly. 
The greatest lesson that Melissa has learned in her career so far is that, "You can always learn something." When you're very young, you're very sure that you know what you know. The truth is that the longer you are given the gift of walking a path that you love that you show passion for, the interesting thing is that you become softer and stronger at the same time. That is the beginning of the wisdom of life.
Is there a favorite song that Melissa didn't write that she wishes she had? As Time Goes By, Moon River,
with Stephen Oberhoff
You'll Never Walk Alone
, You've Got a Friend, Our Love Is Here To Stay, Everything's Coming Up Roses...
The lowest point in Melissa's career occurred after trying to get onto a record label that was known for its incredible history with certain formidable women. Melissa finally got on to the label and it was a disaster. They shelved her record after a very short amount of time and Melissa was disillusioned. She felt as if pieces of her soul had been shaved off. She had to stop. She had to pull away. Luckily, she had two children to raise. If she didn't have these kids to raise, chances are she would have had a nervous breakdown. She was too busy to notice.
Melissa Manchester and Paul Williams

She let herself BE for a while and she was busy with her kids. She had some wonderful projects to work on. She was writing for Disney animated films at the time. She wrote the score for Lady and the Tramp II  and a song for The Great Mouse Detective,  a 1986 American animated mystery film. Then she started to feel that her soul was bubbling with ideas again. This was over a couple of years. Then, her dear friend Paul Williams, great songwriter suggested she go down to Nashville and collaborate down there.
Her first response was, "Nashville!?!?! Really!?!?!" He said, "Yes.In Los Angeles, people want to know what you've been doing LATELY. In Nashville, they are just glad you showed up." She did. It was a remarkable renaissance for her. Nashville is a fantastic Mecca for songwriters who write the way Melissa enjoys writing which is being in a room with others and discuss ideas. They are so fantastically talented, one more than the next. It gave her a lot of joy and health again.
I asked Melissa to describe the first time she heard one of her songs on the radio. The song was Midnight Blue.She had recorded two albums prior to that and they got a nice gathering of college students following them mostly in the New York State area. Melissa used to perform in coffee houses in the tri-state area.
When Midnight Blue was released, now on Arista, which was a brand new company, there was a major push across the nation,  secondary market college radio stations. Finally, to hear that it was going to be on one of the top radio stations. She finally heard it somewhere on the road.
It was thrilling...for many reasons. It was thrilling because it stemmed from this conversation. Melissa remembers when she and Carole Bayer Sager wrote the song and people were touched by it. She remembers playing a concert for the first time in which the opening notes of the song caused the audience to erupt because they recognized it. That had never happened to her before. It was just wild. "There is a feeling of intense energy behind you and of the audience accepting you and them telling you what your songs meant to them, how it helped to crystallize their own issues
through your songs." That was truly the unexpected part and it continues to be the unexpected part.
When Midnight Blue came out, that was right before "programming" showed up in radio. Disc jockeys still ruled the airwaves, they were still king. Shortly, thereafter, the tone of radio began to change. It became more homogenized and there were more companies dictating what would be on the playlist. The industry is constantly changing.
The point of departure for music is a very level playing field. Anybody can make a record. It can be done in their garage. Anyone can post something on You Tube. The question is, as always is, "Will it stick?" That is ALWAYS the question. For Melissa, she appreciates the various conventions but she just loves what she is doing so much and she just keeps forging ahead even when people say, "We don't like what you do." Melissa knows her purpose. She knows how people respond. She is very grateful for, not only the journey, but also the deep appreciation of the song form.

The Evolution of An Artist
Melissa Manchester started out singing in college coffee houses all over New York state, all over
with Billy Stritch
Connecticut, all over New Jersey. She was a jingle singer. "You learn how to think on your feet as a jingle singer." She signed with Bell Records which eventually became Arista Records.She had quite a bit of success early on which she didn't understand because she was quite young. "When you're very young, not enough wisdom has shown up to re frame things so you understand that these are just 'moments' and that you don't have to attach everything that you are or your sense of self worth to that event.'
There came a time where things were not as successful. Records were not selling as much.She took time away to raise her kids. There was a dismissive period in her life. She would go to the grocery store and the cashier would say, "Oh, do you still sing?" Melissa would say, "Yes, I do..."
with Jim Caruso
That's when the 'inner work' kicks in. "You have to stay fortified with a sense of your self inside regardless of what appearances outside look like." When her kids were old enough, they gave her their blessings to go back on the road and that is what she did. When she did go back on the road, the music industry was changing. She wasn't quite prepared for how it had changed. She just kept moving forward. That's because that is all she knows how to do.This is what she loves to do. As the title of her twentieth album states, You Gotta Love The Life, and she does. She understands it, she fights for it, she is an independent artist. She has earned the right to her opinion. She knows the kind of musical variety that she is comfortable with. She stays hungry.

Melissa is thrilled to be playing at The Carlyle. It is a legendary place. She saw Bobby Short there years ago. She has played every place from The Bitter End to Radio City Music Hall in New York City. It is fantastic to now be playing The Carlyle. Melissa's hope for herself is that she become the "George Burns" of singers. She just wants to keep doing this and to keep writing and to keep teaching. "It is a splendid way to learn about yourself and to be of service to the listeners."

Most of the photographs in this article are by Stephen Sorokoff and originally ran in

I would also like to thank Susan Holder for arranging this interview.
The cover photo for Melissa’s new album, YOU GOTTA LOVE THE LIFE. Credit:  Randee St. Nicholas.
  Please LIKE Melissa on FACEBOOK
Reservations made by
phone at 212.744.1600 are $70 ($120 for premium seating, $50 for bar seating) Tuesday – Thursday and Saturday late show; and $80 ($130 for premium seating, $60 for bar seating) on Friday and Saturday. Reservations made online at are $65 ($115 for premium seating) Tuesday – Thursday & Saturday late show; and $75 ($125 for
premium seating) on Friday and Saturday. Café Carlyle is located in The Carlyle, A Rosewood Hotel (35 East 76th Street, at Madison Avenue).

Kevin Spirtas, Jamie deRoy, Melissa Manchester, Richard Skipper
For more information, please visit

About Café Carlyle at The Carlyle, A Rosewood Hotel

Originally opened in 1955, Café Carlyle is New York City’s bastion of classic cabaret entertainment, a place where audiences experience exceptional performers at close range in an exceedingly elegant setting. Since composer Richard Rodgers moved in as The Carlyle’s first tenant, music has been an essential part of The Carlyle experience. No place is that more evident than in the Café Carlyle.

Café Carlyle is known for talents including Woody Allen, who regularly appears on Monday evenings to play with the Eddy Davis New Orleans jazz band. For three decades, Café Carlyle was synonymous with the legendary Bobby Short, who thrilled sell-out crowds for 36 years.
His spirit lives on through the music at Café Carlyle.

Continuing the tradition of the 1930s supper club, Café Carlyle features original murals created by French artist Marcel Vertès, the Oscar-winning art director of the 1952 Moulin Rouge.

Eda Sorokoff and Melissa Manchester
For more information, please contact Blake Zidell or Ron Gaskill at Blake Zidell and Associates,718.643.9052, or

Thank you Melissa Manchester for the gifts you have given to the world and continue to give!
With grateful XOXOXs ,

Billy Stritch, Melissa Manchester, Doug Major

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  1. So many things about Melissa that I never knew. Such a talent, and such a great person that you makes you want to get to know her. Thank you, Richard. Abbe Buck

  2. Richard, this is a fabulous write up of an incredible talent. Wonderful job! I so love and respect Melissa Manchester ! Thank you for this!