Fans’ cash opens door to new CD for Melissa Manchester, Former Harlette

The Columbus Dispatch
Fans’ cash opens door to new CD for Melissa Manchester
By Gary Graff
THE NEW YORK TIMES SYNDICATE Ӣ Friday April 3, 2015 5:00 AM


In recent years, Melissa Manchester has had a double career, mixing singing with teaching music at the University of Southern California-Los Angeles.

By her own account, she has been increasingly happy with that life – so many people who know her were surprised by the release of You Gotta Love the Life, her first new album in a decade.

According to the Grammy-winning singer, her students made the album possible – by opening her eyes to the idea of crowd-funding, an increasingly popular way for musicians to finance new projects.

“I’m still in an old paradigm,” the 64-year-old Manchester said by phone from her home in Los Angeles. “I asked them how they got their work done, and not one of them mentioned a label. They mentioned crowd-funding and said, ”˜You should do this.’

“I didn’t know what they were talking about. One of my students became my project manager and walked me and my tour manager through the whole project. A lot of students became my street team, and it was just unbelievable as it unfolded. . . . It was really delightful in so many ways.”

The experience underscored how a musician is never too old to learn a new trick or two.

Music has long been a part of Manchester’s life: Her father played bassoon for the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in New York, and she began playing piano as a young child. She later attended the Manhattan School of Music and, by the time she was 15, was singing on commercial jingles.

She also was an accomplished-enough songwriter to work for Chappell Music while in high school; among her classmates in New York University’s songwriting program was Paul Simon.

Manchester broke into the music scene by singing in neighborhood clubs. At one such gig, Barry Manilow heard her and was impressed. He introduced her to Bette Midler, who hired Manchester to join her Harlettes backup singers in 1971.

Two years later, she released her first album. Her third album, Melissa (1975), launched her first top 10 hit, Midnight Blue, and established Manchester as a star.

“There was no question that you could feel the quake of movement and a big shift in persona and a big attendance shift in audience and venues,” Manchester recalled. “But it was always about finding the next way to make music.”

Which she did, scoring more hits with Just Too Many People (1975), Just You and I (1976) and Better Days (1976), and co-writing Whenever I Call You Friend (1978), Kenny Loggins’ hit duet with Stevie Nicks.

Her rendition of Peter Allen’s Don’t Cry Out Loud (1978) was nominated for a Grammy; and Through the Eyes of Love, the theme song from the film Ice Castles (1979), was nominated for an Academy Award.

Manchester’s Grammy for best female vocal performance came in 1982 for You Should Hear How She Talks About You.

“I didn’t have the conventional trajectory,” she said, “because I did take time off to raise my kids and all that. But I appreciate the song form more and more. I refer to song as ”˜soul currency’ now, because I’ve seen how songs change a mind, change a heart or change a nation, and it’s no small thing.”

Songs were certainly first and foremost on Manchester’s mind as she was making You Gotta Love the Life at Citrus College in Glendora, Calif., where she is an honorary artist in residence.

The sessions were filled with magical moments, including guest spots by Al Jarreau on Big Light and Keb’ Mo’, who plays guitar on Feelin’ for You. Other End of the Phone, which features Dionne Warwick, is the final lyric ever written by Hal David and features one of the last performances by keyboardist Joe Sample.

Stevie Wonder had been scheduled to simply play harmonica on Your Love Is Where I Live but ended up doing much more.

“I’ve known Stevie off and on for many years,” Manchester said, “and I was very honored when he said yes and he came down and brought his box of harmonicas. He couldn’t have been more generous and played enough for 1,000 songs.”

Manchester and her team chronicled much of the process online – to her fans’ delight.

“They loved the Facebook posts, and they loved the Indiegogo posts,” she said. “And some of the big contributors were invited to the studio.”

The campaign, which raised $40,336 in two months, closed in October 2013.

Manchester has plenty of other projects on her plate.

Primary among them is The Sweet Potato Queen, a musical she wrote with Rupert Holmes.

She also continues to do live performances and, of course, makes time for teaching.

“I am deeply grateful that I’ve been able to do this for so long,” she said.

“As I explain to my students: If you’re lucky and you’re really blessed and you get a chance to grow old with your songs and your songs grow with you, what happens is that you foist your life experience on these songs that you write at the beginning of your career, and they become a deepened experience for you.”

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