Barry Manilow shares musical gift

Photo provided by Varela Media -- Barry Manilow Show caption
Photo provided by Varela Media -- Barry Manilow

Instrument drive to benefit Baton Rouge schools

Barry Manilow has sold 80 million records worldwide and sustained a career in the fickle world of pop music through four decades.

He’s the winner of a Grammy, two Emmys, a Tony Award, an Oscar nominee and a Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee.

The Brooklyn-born singer-pianist’s best-known songs include the ultra-romantic ballads “I Write the Songs” “Mandy,” “Could It Be Magic” (inspired by Chopin), “I Write the Songs” (composed by Beach Boy Bruce Johnston), the Latin-disco-flavored “Copacabana (At the Copa)” and “Bandstand Boogie” (the “American Bandstand” theme with lyrics).

If Manilow’s Monday show at the River Center Arena plays along the lines of his Jan. 18 concert at the Amway Center in Orlando, he’ll play the hits backed by a nine-piece band and three supporting vocalists, tell some stories and a few jokes.

“When I went to see (Frank) Sinatra back in my youth,” Manilow told The Baltimore Sun last year, “I would have been very disappointed had he not been singing those great songs that I came to see.

“So I’m happy to do these very familiar songs all night long. Yeah, I love my new songs. Yeah, I love my album cuts. But I’m not there for me. I’m there for them.”

Manilow reached his commercial peak in the 1970s during his first tenure with music mogul Clive Davis’ Arista label. He proved resilient despite the derisive comments he’s inspired through years. With his heart displayed so often, so unapologetically, he’ll never win a contest for coolest guy in the room.

In recent years, Manilow’s 2002 greatest hits album, “Ultimate Manilow,” reached No. 3 on the Billboard album chart. He also performed at the Super Bowl that year. Manilow’s subsequent interpretations of hits from the 1950s, “Greatest Songs of the Fifties,” hit No. 1.

Manilow, 70, grew up in humble circumstances in Brooklyn, N.Y.’s Williamsburg neighborhood. He played piano and accordion as a child and later attended the Juilliard School of Music. His early professional experience included writing and performing jingles for Dr Pepper, McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

In 1971, the soon-to-be famous Bette Midler hired Manilow to be her music director. He served as pianist and arranger for the singer’s 1972 debut, “The Divine Miss M,” and the self-titled follow-up.

His work with Midler opened the door for a record deal. Arista Records boss Davis brought a British hit called “Brandy” to Manilow’s attention. Changing the name to “Mandy,” he recorded the song and got his first No. 1 hit.

Manilow’s pop singles success ended in 1980 with another ballad, “I Made it Through the Rain.” He later recorded albums of jazz, classic pop songs and Broadway standards. His interest in Broadway continued with 1994’s “Barry Manilow’s Copacabana: The Musical” and 1999’s “Harmony.”

Following the success of 2006’s “Greatest Songs of the Fifties,” the prolific Manilow released “The Greatest Songs of the Sixties,” “The Greatest Songs of the Seventies,” “The Greatest Songs of the Eighties” and “The Greatest Love Songs of All Time.”

The best of his songs, Manilow told NPR in 2012, must have a great melody.

“But as a performer, it really needs to have lyrics that I can crawl into,” he added. “You know, when I did ‘American Idol,’ I tried to tell these kids: You have to tell the story of the lyrics.

“Otherwise, closing your eyes and trying to show us how many notes you can fit into a bar — no one’s going to care about it. But if you tell the story in the lyrics, then I think you’ve got a chance of connecting with an audience. That’s the difference between the kind of songs that I’ve been doing all of my career. (When) I listen to the lyrics of ‘Mandy,’ I try to put myself in that situation, and then I sing the song.”

In addition to performing at the River Center, Manilow has donated a new Yamaha piano to the East Baton Rouge Parish School District. His donation launched a musical instrument drive for the schools. Anyone who donates a new or gently used musical instrument to the Baton Rouge River Center box office will receive two free tickets for Manilow’s River Center concert.

The Manilow Music Project has conducted musical instrument drives for schools throughout the country.

“I’m thrilled to be able to help bring the gift of music to these kids,” Manilow said in statement.

The River Center is the base for the instrument drive through Wednesday. The instrument drop-off location is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday as well as two hours prior to the starting time for Manilow’s concert.