Ranked the #1 adult contemporary artist of all time by Billboard, Barry Manilow’s unparalleled career has spanned performing, recording, arranging and producing virtually every style of music.
With more than 85 million albums sold, he is considered one of the world’s best-selling artists of all time, with timeless classics such as “Mandy”, “I Write The Songs”, “Could it Be Magic”, “Looks Like We”. Made It”, “Weekend In New England” and “Copacabana (At The Copa)”.
On August 12, Manilow will bring his musical legacy and arsenal of hits to Allentown’s PPL Center as part of his “Hits 2022 Tour.”
At each stop on the hitmaker’s East Coast jaunt, he will honor an outstanding educator with the Manilow Music Project’s Music Teacher Award, which is an award-winning teacher. Each honoree will receive a $5,000 prize plus an additional $5,000 in Manilow Bucks to purchase instruments for their school’s music program.
The award-winning Lehigh Valley performance teacher is Jason Lewrew of Parkland High School.
I spoke to Manilow about his new tour, music and some of the most memorable moments of his career.
James Wood for The Morning Call: What can fans expect from your performance at PPLCenter in Allentown?
Manilov: There were years I did shows with medleys of big band songs and show tunes and album cuts. Now I know what people want. They want to hear the songs they know and I’m happy to give them to them. I’m very fortunate to have 90 minute hit records to go to.
Every song is familiar to the audience. They even sing louder than me at these shows sometimes and we all have a great time together. With the world as it is, being an entertainer is a big responsibility. So the lights will go out, the doors will close, and I’ll take them somewhere that feels safe, happy, and filled with music. That’s my job and I like doing it.
After so many years of touring, how do you approach the songs and lyrics to keep them fresh for both you and the audience?
I’ve always been able to interpret a song’s lyrics instinctively, but when I went to acting class I found rules on how to keep a song’s lyrics fresh every night by using and singing to a different person from the audience. So I could sing “This One’s For You” to Grandpa and picture his face in front of me.
I do that with all songs. Every night is different and every night is fresh because I never know who’s on my mind. If I just had to sing the lyrics every night, I think they’d get boring eventually, but because of the way I do it, they never get boring.
Next year marks the 50th anniversary of your debut album. Now, as you look back on it with so much perspective, what thoughts come to mind?
It was thrilling and thrilling.
In those years, singer-songwriters were big business and every record label was looking for their own James Taylor or Carole King. Bell Records heard my demo and me singing my songs and offered me a record deal as a singer-songwriter rather than just a songwriter, which I thought they would want.
They wanted me to sing, so I said “Sure” because I could get my music out there, but I never thought in a million years that I’d end up on a stage. It was exciting to make that first record because it contained “Could It Be Magic” and other songs that I really believed in.
I thought I would make the album and that would be the end, but it wasn’t.
What can you tell me about the Music Teacher Awards that you give through the Manilow Music Project?
When schools cut back, the music department is always the first to go. I started the Manilow Music Project when I found schools were running out of instruments.
A few years ago we did a best band contest where we had videos of high school bands. It was exciting but also frightening to see the form in which these instruments these children have to play. This year we are looking for the best music teacher in each city where we perform. We received many suggestions. Whoever gets the most votes gets five thousand dollars for themselves and another five thousand for buying instruments.
I hope it inspires people to send instruments to their schools because they are running out.
This fall you will return to Las Vegas for residency engagements. How did that happen?
I stopped touring regularly a few years ago because I was away from home more than I was at home and it eventually caught up with me. We dated for months and sometimes I didn’t even know where I was [laughs].
It’s a gig for young people now. I stopped touring but didn’t want to retire and luckily we got an offer to do a residency at The Westgate which allowed me to keep my band and crew and continue writing and performing. Every once in a while we put a little tour together like this and I go out and it’s a lot of fun.
Are there new projects you are working on?
We have a new album coming out in the next few months.
I’ve been making albums lately that have concepts like big bands, showstoppers and decades. This is a completely original album with material like the Even Now album or This One’s For You. I haven’t done anything like this in years.
They’re pop songs that my collaborators and I wrote and there’s something about them that’s missing from radio recordings today, and that something is a melody [laughs].
It’s a Barry Manilow album from the old days and I loved making it.
Of all the highlights of your career, is there anything that you particularly remember?
Meeting Princess Diana when she was just married was a big deal. I remember we supported a charity. The two [Charles and Diana] were there and she was so young and was such a fan.
It was like meeting one of the 18 year old fans. She couldn’t look at me or say anything and just kept staring at the floor. She was so shy and he [Charles] was so surprised that she was so flabbergasted for an American singer like me.
They were both young, beautiful and in love. I can still remember exactly where we were and what they looked like. I will never forget this meeting. It’s one of my top five memories.
James Wood is a freelancer for The Morning Call. Follow him on Twitter @JimEWood
When: 7:30 p.m. Aug. 12
Where: Allentown’s PPL Center
Maps and info: pplcenter.com