5/2/2013 - It was the biggest record of his career, topping the charts and winning a Grammy, but Barry Manilow didn’t write “I Write the Songs” — he rewrote it. Like Ian Hunter’s “Ships” and “Mandy” — once a rocked-up minor British hit — Manilow put his stamp on someone else’s song, and turned it into gold.
“I began arranging music for the singers I worked with. I’m sure you know I never really thought about becoming a performer,” Manilow said in a recent phone interview. “It took me months [but] when I finally found the anthem in ‘I Write The Songs’ I figured out … it’s about the spirit of music, creating music through the composer. I said to myself, ‘Oh, it’s an anthem!’ Well, then I could do it.”
Manilow is involved with arranging music in a different way these days. His Manilow Music Project donates a Yamaha piano to high school and middle school music programs in each city the singer appears and offers show tickets in exchange for “gently used” instruments. Interested fans can bring donations to the Verizon Wireless Center Box Office during weekday business hours.
The Manchester School District is the local beneficiary; Superintendent Dr. Tom Brennan praised Manilow in a recent press release. “Music … is the source of so much hope and inspiration for our students and an outlet for their creative freedom,” said Brennan. “I have no doubt that these much needed instruments will bring joy to our city students.”
Manilow founded the charity in 2007, alarmed by budget cuts that frequently hit arts the hardest.
“I went to a dump of a high school in the slums of Brooklyn, and yet there was an orchestra class there, and it pointed me in the direction that I am in now,” he said. “There might be a budding Barry out there now; without a music class, I don’t know what he would do, because I don’t know what I would have done. I was not good at sports. I was not going to join a gang or anything. I joined the orchestra and I finally felt grounded.”
The native New Yorker recently did a 27-date run of Manilow On Broadway, the show he’ll bring to Manchester on May 9.
“It was a huge surprise that it would be that successful,” said Manilow. “I had done it before (he recorded a live album on Broadway in 1977) and I thought, well, before I croak, I’d like to do it again. It’s where I come from — I’m a New York guy. Let’s give it a try. And it was just wild, like performing for family or something. I was cousin Barry up on that stage.”
He’s had 50 songs in the Billboard Top 40, but the mellow Manilow is still a guilty pleasure to many, even if everyone from Frank Sinatra to Bob Dylan has praised him. Dave Grohl called him “the coolest motherf****r in the world” in a February interview with British GQ. Manilow appears in Grohl’s documentary, Sound City.
“I know Dave — he gets me!” Manilow said. “I’m a musician, and another musician understands where I come from.… My conversations with Dave have been just great. He’s so bright and so smart, it’s like talking to a college professor. And we don’t actually talk about music; we talk about everything but music. He’s just a really great guy, and the Foo Fighters are the best rock and roll band ever out there today. Even I understand how great they are.”
He doesn’t like to use the word “tour,” but Manilow says he’ll continue performing as long as audiences will have him.
“I’m a very grateful guy. They told me 30 years ago that a pop career lasts for five years, and that isn’t what happened,” he said. “We just do weekends — it’s really a very enjoyable way of doing what I do. I’m still healthy, and I still have the energy and passion that I’ve always had. So I’ll just keep doing it.”