Saturday, May 3, 2014

Elizabeth Sullivan: Celebrating Mother's Day!

I am persistent and patient.
-Elizabeth Sullivan

There are Broadway dynasties (like the Barrymores) and film dynasties (like the Fondas). If there is such a thing as a "cabaret" dynasty, and there is, I would say it would have to be the Sullivan Family Singers.  

If you are "in the know" in the cabaret community, you know at least one or more of the Sullivans.
Eight children were born to Elizabeth “Betty” and Jim Sullivan, who married at 16 and had been married 62 years when Jim died in 2009. 

The family began on a farm in Boggy Depot, Oklahoma, (later, moving to Norman.) “When you have a chicken in the picture, it really shows you’re in the country,” KT comments about an early photo. The Sullivans grew up interdependent. Not only did siblings take care of each other and share chores, they shared a talent for music. KT attributes these genetics to her mother’s side of the family, all of whom, it seems, played and sang. (Source: Alix Cohen
The most prominent member of this family is probably KT, or as Elizabeth, her mother still calls her, Kathleen.KT has worked her way up the ranks with great aplomb. She is glamorous and a great asset to the cabaret community. She starred annually at the Oak Room of New York’s Algonquin Hotel, and also at the Neue Galerie’s CafĂ© Sabarsky on Fifth Avenue. She is now the artistic director of The Mabel Mercer Foundation, taking over for the late Donald Smith. They produce the yearly Cabaret Convention. I wish her much success as cabaret navigates through the murky waters of an ever changing world.

Then there is Heather. Is there ANYTHING this woman can't do!?!?! Singer, Songwriter, Artist, Photographer. She has photographed me on more than one occasion. She is among the best of ALL of those categories.
Stacy Sullivan
Stacy Sullivan is the winner of the 2014 Nightlife Award for Outstanding Female Vocalist. She has appeared in venues around the world, from The Cafe Carlyle in New York to The Crazy Coqs in London.
She has recorded five albums for the LML Music label, including her latest, It’s a Good Day, winner of the 2013 Lamott/Friedman Award and voted one of the Top Ten Recordings of 2013 by Talkin’ Broadway. Stacy can also be heard regularly on Sirius Radio’s Siriously Sinatra, and NPR’s Piano Jazz.
Don't think for a moment that this a "girl's only" club.

Son Tim is also highly prolific.
Tim Sullivan's easy flowing style and winning personality make him an important part of any musical evening.

All of Elizabeth Sullivan's offspring have great careers, a testament to a great mom. For years, they have all gone back to their native Oklahoma to do a Sullivan family Christmas Show, always a sell out.

This past Christmas, the family decided, would be their last such show.
It has just gotten harder and harder to get the family together because of all of their careers.

This is a show that was always done at The Women's Resource Center in Norman, Oklahoma for twenty years. It was a hard decision. In addition to doing the show, there was always the guarantee that the kids would be home for Christmas. Mark Nadler did most of those show with the family, making him an honorary Sullivan. It was always an extremely busy time trying to get everybody in. There were several times that some
Tim Sullivan
were dealing with storms and ice and snow and screwed up flights and Elizabeth would be on pins and needles trying to make sure everyone got there safe and sound. The show would sometimes have to be rewritten if some did not show up. It was all madness. The practice would take place the same day as the show.That was the only way they could do it. They would start at noon, putting the show together. They had "bookends", for the first part of the show and the second. That was always intact and didn't need to be changed. Everything else always changed in between. This Christmas season, Elizabeth WILL be missing it all. It was so much fun, but hard.  I'd like to put out that they didn't sell tickets for these shows. All the money came from donations when they passed around baskets. The show was not at the center but on the campus of the University of Oklahoma (first at Holmberg Hall, which became too small for them, and then Catlett Center on campus (1000 seats) which they packed or came close to packing every year. None of the performers were paid to perform, of course. All proceeds went to the Women's Resource Center.
Next Sunday, for Mother's Day, Elizabeth will be bringing her annual Mother's Show to the Algonquin in New York. My mother is in South Carolina. My partner's mom just passed away in February. This will be our first Mother's Day without her.
We will, however, be spending brunch with Elizabeth Sullivan.

Tommy Tune

 In honor of Mother's Day next week and her upcoming show, today I celebrate Elizabeth Sullivan...AND her body of "worth".
Tommy Tune presents us with my first question for Elizabeth. She LOVES Tommy. He was at Elizabeth's birthday party at KT's.
How does Elizabeth begin her day? She puts two feet on the floor beside her bed and rejoices that she is able to walk and move and enjoy life the way she does. She is just having so much fun in life. She is writing as if the world needs what she is writing. It does. It also keeps her out of trouble, according to her.
Of course, she has been preparing for next week's show at The Algonquin on Mother's Day. Brunch open at 11:30 AM for brunch, with show to follow at 1PM. It is a smaller Oak Room, but it is just perfect as far as Elizabeth is concerned It is the perfect setting for an intimate cabaret gathering. It is a good thing that several members cannot attend!
Otherwise, there wouldn't be room for the rest of us.
As mentioned, they are all very busy. KT just got back from China. Stacy is doing all kinds of wonderful things.
Elizabeth is so proud of what's happening in her career. Heather, who had a birthday earlier this week, is now on a cruise. She was in Hawaii as of this interview. Tim is appearing in Durango, Colorado. He appears almost 365 days a year! They are all into their music and that is a wonderful thing. Elizabeth goes as often as she can to see what they are doing.
Mark Nadler, KT, Jon Weber
Beginning on the 16th, Elizabeth will be on the Queen Mary until the 23rd of May.
It will be a seven day journey to London where she will be doing a program that my readers might find interesting. The old expression is which comes first. the music or the lyrics. Sammy Cahn said, "the phone call!" KT called Elizabeth one day and said, "Mom, I've been asked to recite an Elizabeth Barrett Browning sonnet, Sonnet 21. Could you put it to music and I'll sing it?" Elizabeth writes for her own words. She gets ideas of what she wants to say and the music and lyrics are interchangeable. In almost all cases, the words come first. There she was in her big room in Oklahoma at the piano reading 200 year old words that Elizabeth Barrett Browning had penned to paper.
The sonnet is discussing different ways to say "I Love You". The chords she was using were a different set of chords she may have used for her own words.
Last year, they went to London to perform a program for the Browning Society. They did their performance in the Marylebone Parish Church where Elizabeth and Robert Browning were married.
Elizabeth Sullivan's writing has taken a different path. Audiences in attendance at Elizabeth's show next Sunday will get a chance to get a sampling of recent writings. 

It's all a matter of what turns her on. She is doing a new song about dance. In fact, that's the theme of this show, But For Now, Let's Dance.
Her music takes the path of what she is thinking about.

Her shows tend to take on the flavor of her thoughts. That's her modus operandi.

When I asked Elizabeth why she performs, her answer is "when I'm asked!" The good thing is they keep asking her.
She still resides in Oklahoma. She is constantly being asked to sing at funerals and weddings and church services.
Dennis Buck, Elizabeth Sullivan:
She goes where she is asked to go and sing. When asked how she does funerals, she answers that it is such an honor. Every opportunity is a gift.
Tim Sullivan

Tim Sullivan, who plays guitar and sings country, said to Elizabeth, "Mom, I'm the happiest when I pick up my guitar and I'm walking out the door on my way to a gig."
Elizabeth's response was, What would we do without music?"
Earlier this week, I interviewed Gary Dakin, a world renowned psychic.I asked Elizabeth if she was spiritual and if so, if she believed in a spiritual realm. She believes her expression of "spirit" came very early in the way she was brought up back in the church. She knew very early on that there was something "there". She will be turning 84 later this month and the older she gets, according to her, the less she knows. She believes that is where faith begins, when you don't know.
Elizabeth feels a great, almost overwhelming sense of GRATITUDE.She doesn't understand why her family have been so fortunate, when others who are much more deserving have been so burdened with trouble. All she can say is that she is grateful. She is especially grateful for these extra years, years that she can keep going for a while longer in comfort and opportunity.

She can't put a name on what she feels, but there is an awareness of that other side of things. She loves science because it's what she knows that always wants to prove itself wrong. We keep trying to look for the answers. Elizabeth is a very searching person, but she really feels the influence of something she can't name, but it feels very real.
Elizabeth grew up in Oklahoma City, "a wonderful place to grow up." Her parents were "Okies," as Californians labeled them,refugee farm families from the Southern Plains who migrated to California in the 1930s to escape the ruin of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl.  
Her parents went out to California like a lot of Oakies did searching for their fortune. "Unfortunately, all they got was me.", a line from one of her shows. She was born in California. Her parents went back to Oklahoma when she was two.
I asked Elizabeth about her own mom.
Elizabeth did a show a few years ago, which I saw, called Remembering ReDonda, at The Metropolitan Room.
Mark Nadler was such an integral part of that show. He has such fond memories of Elizabeth's mom, who was not an "ordinary" mom by any stretch of the imagination. She loved to dance. She was a musician and taught piano. Elizabeth grew up on Lightening Creek, a waterway in Oklahoma City. Her grandfather was a water well digger and farm boy.
They didn't live a "fancy" life. It was down home hard work. In this old house they grew up in, there was a music room.

They had an old upright piano. Elizabeth's Uncle Billy was a professional, playing violin with Lawrence Welk.
Her grandmother played the mandolin and her grandfather would play the guitar. Her mother "chorded" on the piano.
When she was too little to perform, everyone expected her to do something, although she was really too young to contribute. She would go to sleep at night on an old leather couch listening to music and her grandfather clogging. There was a very strong musical influence from her mother's side.
When I asked about a favorite Mother's Day memory of her mom, Elizabeth says she cannot remember a single time of honoring her mother as she should have been honored. She remembers they wore red roses when her mother was alive and white roses when her mother passed on.

Elizabeth tried very hard to be a good daughter and was always trying to please her in any way she could.
When it comes to being a mother herself, Elizabeth has no trouble at all remembering special times as far as her own children are concerned.
One of her favorite memories coincided with her seventy-fifth birthday. Her family was singing at the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall.  
All of her eight children were there and there was a huge cake. That is getting harder and harder to come by, having the entire family together. They are all so busy. Stacy will be in California this Mother's Day. Heather will be on the high seas somewhere.
KT will be at Elizabeth's show at the Oak Room next Sunday and singing. Elizabeth's daughter-in-law, who is a wonderful daughter to her mom, but who has embraced her as mom-in-law, Montana, will be Elizabeth's musical director and

RESERVE! Elizabeth has invited everybody. Her doctor son, although not a professional, has a wonderful glorious tenor voice, which I can attest to. He will be there, but is not singing. Like his mother, he sings when asked. He has a practice to take care of. Four of her eight are musical. There is truly only one who is not musical at all. They all take after her mother's side of the family, genetically.
When asked her thoughts on the state of cabaret today, she is excited, of course, mainly because of the innate quality of her daughter, Kathleen (KT). It seems to be innate. She has a nurturing quality for others in the field of music. She could not be better cast in this new role of hers as the artistic director with The Mable Mercer Foundation. That is a very healthy sign for the cabaret world.
The fact that somebody at the helm actually cares about these people. She sees a need to reach out to the next generation. Eric Yves Garcia is one of  the new kids on the block. We have to embrace this next generation. In fact, that is one of Elizabeth's mottos about living. She is more embracive than exclusive. She believes, in fact, that it is important to embrace our youth. If we were to only embrace seasoned performers, it would truly be limiting.
Elizabeth sees in The Cabaret Convention, with KT at the helm, more embracing across the scene.It is also great that there is no age limit. Elizabeth, once again, is 84. Marilyn Maye is also at the top of her game.
Elizabeth and Stacy
Those of us who have been lucky enough to experience her just adore her. How could you not?
What should be done? Should these seasoned entertainers be put on a shelf?
Whenever the cream has risen and these people have nurtured and honed and worked on their careers their entire lives, if there is worth there, if there is something we need to hear, we need to hear it, regardless of age.
We need to keep it in balance. We need to hear everything from all ages.
When it comes to singing, Elizabeth loves very much singing what she has written herself. That may sound like a horrible thing to say, but it is what she is interested in saying at that particular time. She tries very hard to keep in her show songs that are standards. For instance, this time she is singing Time After Time by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne.That is a great song! What gets Elizabeth, and she has been listening to various recordings, is that sometimes the verse is left out! Tony Bennett, for example, left it out. Even in my research, I had trouble finding it!
What good are words I say to you
They can't convey to you
What's in my heart

If you could hear instead
The things I've left unsaid...Time after time...

Stacy Sullivan Tributes Peggy Lee at Cafe Carlyle Elizabeth Sullivan, Holly Fostter-Wells, Stacy Sullivan, Diborah Whiting

Why are verses left out? Elizabeth believes they are so important. 

The one lesson that Elizabeth feels she has learned in her lifetime, and this lesson comes quickly to her, is that we all need to laugh MORE and take lightly the bumps in our hearts. Elizabeth has always been a serious person. She was recently looking at a picture of herself as a young girl. It was after a church gathering in the home of her great grandmother.
She still remembers the dress, velvet, with a chain and cross around her neck. She was a serious little girl! She had/has fun. It's not like she doesn't and she does laugh a lot. She also enjoys her kids and feels that they are funny. She feels, however, that she needs to relax and enjoy. Her mother used to tell her, "Don't say a prayer over it", because she was intense.
Holly Foster Wells, Stacy Sullivan, Elizabeth Sullivan
Even preparing for this show, she is very intense in her preparation. She has no radio or anything else going on. It is utter quiet. She is a one track person with no distractions. How people multitask is beyond her!
The one other lesson that she is still working on is that she is not "the center of the universe."
I asked Elizabeth what her biggest vice and greatest virtue are. She says work. We may not think of it as a vice...but it can be, especially when there is an intense drive. I began this interview by asking Elizabeth what she did first thing in the morning. We are now going full circle.
She gets up in the morning and it is like she is going to work. "What am I supposed to do today?"; she has an assignment. She is punching the clock and dealing with the task at hand. A lot of that comes from the fact of her getting older. She is wondering if she is going to get any of it done. She has so many things going on. She writes music and poetry and essays and ...She looks at her table and she tells me it is covered with things she's "gotta get done".
Elizabeth, KT, Stacy:
That MIGHT be her biggest vice. She has too much laid out to ever begin to get that done. That COULD also be a virtue. They certainly are intermingled. Elizabeth IS DRIVEN! Is that a vice or virtue?
She shares with me a cute anecdote.
She called KT recently to tell her that she had a job. KT said, "What mama?" Elizabeth told KT that she was taking care of an old woman!
A lot of people at 84 have care-takers.
What goes through Elizabeth's head just before walking out on stage? "Will I remember my own words?"
If an artist is not secure, if they don't KNOW the show ahead, it makes EVERYBODY uncomfortable. You've got to know what you are doing.
You've got to be secure and relaxed and be ready to do what needs to be done for a successful show. She makes sure her homework has been done. Her job is to make it appear to be so easy. Those of us who do this know it is not.
She considers herself a student that is not necessarily smart. She is persistent and patient. she did very well in school because she took it seriously, as she has done with everything.
It is the only way she knows.
with Robin Brooks Sullivan
Robinis a real professional in her own right. She is constantly performing in TV and Commercials in the Oklahoma area...has done several movies made in Ok. etc. She coaches young performers in her studio in OKC. An OCU graduate, (a school well known for its music program...many Miss Americas etc.) she is a gifted performer.
It took her "twenty-six years" to graduate from the University of Oklahoma! She was so afraid of the math and science courses. She found out, and this was a great awakening, to get there early! Sit close to the teacher and really listen. Record and listen to those recordings. Don't forget the baby steps from the beginning. That is what happened to her algebra in junior high.She didn't get the baby steps. You HAVE to get the baby steps and keep following up on everything and the lights will turn on.

It's when we skip those steps, and do our homework, and leave out those steps, that we fail. Those professors desire for us to get it. That's what they're there for. They love it when we can't see the blackboard because we are sitting down right in front of them. They know that we're trying to get what they are trying to give us. Start from the bottom and work through the beginning stages.
This is the greatest academic lesson she learned.
As her kids were heading off to college, she desperately wanted to go and listen to what the professors had to say. She wanted to listen to lectures and do homework and all that went with that.
As stated above, she and her husband got married very young.
As her kids were growing up and heading off to school and into the world, she did all that good mothers, wash, sew, and darn. In the back of her mind, she really wanted to go back to school. When her baby of 8 was 12, she enrolled! She never thought she would finish or, better yet, get a degree. It was just so wonderful to get to go.
She takes aging one day at a time. In her bath room, she has lights around the mirror like any great entertainer would. She sees every "possible problem"!
However, "I slap that make-up on and get the heck out there and don't dwell on it!"
Every stage is wonderful. She knows more today than she did yesterday which she feels makes her a more interesting person than she was yesterday. Tommy Tune told me there is an old Japanese expression which, when translated, says, "Each day is the student of yesterday."
Everything that happens today becomes the teacher of tomorrow.
When asked who her favorite composer is, Sondheim readily comes to mind.When it comes to classical music, it is Puccini.
She, herself, tends to write songs that she hopes people will desire to act out. A friend of hers, a teacher at the University of Oklahoma, when she was in a music club years ago, said, "Betty, you need to write a musical." Elizabeth has written several little musicals.
Now, about Betty! When she was four, Betty Boop was the rage in the 1930s. Betty, Beth, Libby are all derivatives or nicknames for Elizabeth. Betty stuck. When Elizabeth went back to school, they used her proper legal name. All her legal papers, etc, are all Elizabeth. Then, THAT stuck! That was the name she desired to use. All her poems and everything else are all signed Elizabeth.
It is nice to have Betty, as her older friends call her, or Elizabeth as I now know her, return to the famed Oak Room at The Algonquin. Elizabeth, as do I and so many others, hope that the Oak Room will one day return to it's former glory.
Elizabeth's mother had a saying, which I heard in Remembering ReDonda several years ago, Roll with the punches.Don't buck the waves. Sometimes we have to do this. A big wave came when the Oak Room was redone. It affected a lot of entertainers. it is such a legendary place for music with such a rich history. We still have about 2/3 of what it used to be. The walls are still there.
The piano is still there. Use it the way you can. Elizabeth did four shows last time she was in New York. She can't do it this time around because of her impending London trip with KT and Mark Nadler on the Queen Mary. If she had the luxury of four weekends, she would be lucky to get the same amount of people at a larger gathering. It is now even more intimate, which is what cabaret is all about.
As long as they ask her, Elizabeth will be there. Like with the family Christmas show, when does one make a decision to stop?
We all desire to share our gifts that we've been given. We share as long as we can. Elizabeth Sullivan shows no sign of stopping and we are ALL the better for it.
with Stacy
Thank you Elizabeth Sullivan for the gifts you have given to the world and continue to give!

With grateful XOXOXs ,

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Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!    

Thank you, to all the mentioned in this blog!

Here's to an INCREDIBLE tomorrow for ALL...with NO challenges!

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The Sullivans perform at one of their annual concerts, which benefit the Women’s Resource Center. From left are Stacy Sullivan, KT Sullivan, Tim Sullivan, Elizabeth Sullivan, Robin Brooks Sullivan and Pat Sullivan. OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVE PHOTO
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