Barry Manilow, a 2002 inductee into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, is truly a complete musical entertainer. Since first hitting the charts in 1974 with "Mandy," he has scored 11 number one hits on the adult contemporary charts and won Grammy, Emmy and Tony awards as well as being nominated for an Academy Award. He is a performer, composer, arranger and producer (on Grammy-nominated albums by Bette Midler, Nancy Wilson and Dionne Warwick) who has enjoyed success on Broadway, television and in the movies. And after becoming a pop music phenomenon in the 1970s, Manilow spent the 1980s and '90s spreading his musical wings to explore jazz, big band music, show tunes and classic pop crooning.
By the turn of the century, it might have seemed to some that Manilow, despite his historic achievements and continuing popularity as a concert attraction, was ready to be relegated to "where are they now?" status. But the reality is that Manilow himself was thinking, "What can I now do for an encore?"
And what a career encore he has come up with. Here at the Mayflower, Manilow's 31st album, is a concept disc and song cycle filled with his most creative, thoughtful and emotionally compelling music to date. Set within the context of an apartment building in his native Brooklyn, the disc allows Manilow to do what he does best: sing about people and their lives. "It was everything I wanted it to be," he enthuses. "It's enabled my collaborators and me to write songs about people of all ages and walks of life. This album is about people and friendships, and the cycle in life that we all go through."
It is also on musical tour de force on which Manilow played almost all the instruments. Here at the Mayflower has literally been decades in the making. "I woke up with an idea 20 years ago for an original album based in an apartment building," he explains. "I really put myself into this album."
The new disc has landed Manilow back on the adult contemporary charts. And at the same time, a greatest hits collection, Ultimate Manilow, debuted on the Billboard charts at number three and has a new generation discovering this wonderful catalog of well-crafted songs.
The primacy of Manilow in American pop music as well as his revived high profile was exemplified by his appearance on the pre-game show for Super Bowl XXXVI on Fox TV. Joined by Patti Labelle, James Ingram, Yolanda Adams and Wynonna Judd, he performed "Let Freedom Ring," the song he wrote commemorating the 200th Anniversary of the American Constitution. The song and accompanying pageantry created a touching moment of national unity in difficult times.
Manilow's return to prominence has been gratifying to him, especially after many years of being derided by critics as a peddler of schmaltzy sentiment. But Manilow knows that what he's been doing is touching the hearts of his many listeners. "I stand for something that most guys don't stand for: honest emotion," he states.
He has also withstood the test of time, suggesting that a reevaluation of his place in popular music is long overdue. "I was always cool," he says. "Everyone else is just catching up now."