Before pop music-lovers became familiar with singer Barry Manilow and songs such as Billboard's No. 1 hit Mandy, Could It Be Magic and Can't Smile Without You, there was Barry Manilow the jingle writer, with commercials for McDonald's ("You Deserve A Break Today"), Band-Aids (I Am Stuck On Band Aids...," Dr. Pepper, State Farm (Like A Good Neighbor, State Farm Is There) and KFC, to name a few.
I first saw Barry Manilow perform on stage when he was serving as Bette Midler's piano player/conductor/arranger. The place was the Universal Amphitheater in Southern California, and the year was 1972. When Midler briefly left the stage to make a costume change, the audience started hooting and hollering for Bette. The poor fellow at the piano didn't have much of a chance to make an impression - good or bad. The unruly crowd (much of them under the influence of odd looking cigarettes) wasn't paying much attention to him. They were there to see the Divine Miss M, not listen to her accompanist. They should have listened.
Manilow served as conductor for Bette Midler's now-famous early '70s Carnegie Hall performance and co-produced her breakthrough album, The Divine Miss M. As fate would have it, in 2003, Manilow produced and arranged the Grammy-nominated Bette Midler Sings the Rosemary Clooney Songbook.
The next time I saw him on stage, it was his headlining debut in Las Vegas. Although Manilow's name was on the marquee, he was far from ready to be a headliner. It would be an understatement to say he was awkward and uncomfortable in the spotlight. It could have been the beginning as well as the end of Manilow's Las Vegas history. As his multitude of fans know, it wasn't.
Over the next three decades, Manilow played Vegas showrooms at venues including the Riviera, Las Vegas Hilton, Desert Inn, Caesars Palace and Mirage. With each appearance, his confidence and onstage persona became more and more apparent. No longer was there the nervous-appearing pianist sitting at the piano or standing stiffly center-stage just singing. By the '80s, there were Broadway-type production shows with names like "The Big Fun Tour" and "Swing Street." There was a story line, dancing and talented supporting players including Kid Creole, who with his band and back-up singer/dancers known as the Coconuts went on to build his own career, even performing at the Desert Inn before its closing, and Debra Byrd, now the vocal coach for FOX's mega-hit, American Idol. Incidentally, Manilow appeared on American Idol where competitors sang his songs and he garnered lots of new, younger fans. A cameo role on NBC's popular Will & Grace sitcom also gave the singer/songwriter recent TV exposure.
Today, Manilow, born in Brooklyn as Barry Alan Pincus, has a catalog of more than 50 albums. He has sold approximately 65 million records at the rate of 1.5 million a year, making him one of the most successful recording artists of his time. Manilow's legacy of chart-toppers take up more than one page in the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits. Songs including It's A Miracle, Tryin' To Get The Feeling Again, This One's For You, Weekend In New England, Somewhere Down The Road, Daybreak, Even Now, Ready To Take A Chance Again, Somewhere In The Night, Ships, I Don't Want To Walk Without You and I Made It Through The Rain, along with I Write The Songs (which was, in fact, written by Beach Boy Bruce Johnson, NOT Manilow) and Looks Like We Made It (both No. 1 hits on the Billboard lists), are just some of the songs that, 30 years later, continue as staples on easy listening radio stations.
Following his first album, 1973's Barry Manilow, one successful recording followed another, adding up to an impressive total of 28 Top 40 hits. Manilow's Copacabana won a Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Performance and The Barry Manilow Special earned an Emmy for Manilow. Other awards followed for songwriting, ticket sales, singles and multi-platinum album sales. Manilow also won an honorary Tony for his record-breaking, sell-out performances at New York's Uris Theater. Manilow's amazing career shows no sign of stopping. Dubbed "The Showman of Our Generation" by Rolling Stone, he earned two Grammy nominations for 1998's Manilow Sings Sinatra.
A 2002 Songwriters' Hall of Fame inductee, Manilow said about his latest album, Scores: Songs From Copacabana and Harmony, "Getting to record these songs I love so dearly is truly an honor for me. The joy of the songs from Copacabana will surely entertain listeners and put smiles on faces, and the songs from Harmony are some of my proudest achievements." The album features self-penned songs written for two Broadway shows. "Copacabana" is built around Manilow's 1978 hit tune of the same name, while "Harmony" tells the true story of a 1920s German singing group called The Comedian Harmonists. My personal favorite is a beautiful ballad from "Harmony" called Every Single Day.
In February 2005, with more that 3,000 concerts behind him and after completing his "One Night Live! One Last Time!" road tour where he sold out venues in 22 cities and performed for 250,000 fans, the tunesmith landed himself a steady gig at the Las Vegas Hilton. Calling this production Music and Passion (a lyric line from Copacabana), Manilow is scheduled to perform in the approximately 1600-seat showroom well into 2006.