CARMEL — It isn't an in-person ceremony with a concert as he would wish. But the man who has dedicated his life and career to preserving what he calls "the soundtrack of our lives" will still talk all day about the three newest legends going into a Hall of Fame that also was his creation, even if he has to do it virtually.
Michael Feinstein, the artist who holds many titles at the Center For the Performing Arts in his part-time home of Carmel, created The Great American Songbook Foundation to help keep alive a golden age of songwriting that we still hear virtually every day.
The foundation's Hall of Fame honors the songwriters, lyricists and performers who personify what purveyors typically abbreviate as 'The Songbook'; Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Tony Bennett, Paul Williams, George and Ira Gershwin and Hoosiers Cole Porter and Hoagy Carmichael. The inductees that are part of the Class of 2021 may not be as well known to the general public, but their contributions are vital...to the music world, and also to many of the artists already in the Hall of Fame.
Billy Strayhorn (1915-1967)
The career of another Songbook Hall of Famer - the great Duke Ellington - would have been quite different had another quiet musical genius not come along in his life. Billy Strayhorn was responsible for either writing or arranging many of the Duke's best known songs of his later career — starting in the 1930's and continuing until Billy's death. But even while he was contributing legendary pieces to The Songbook, Strayhorn was a virtual unknown except to the musicians who knew how special he was. "It's fascinating that sometimes there are important figures in American music who get lost along the way for one reason or another," Feinstein said. "Billy Strayhorn was a gargantuan talent who was a composer, a lyricist, an arranger, a brilliant mind who sublimated himself - purposely - to Duke Ellington."
Strayhorn was also openly gay, and in his era, his professional life would have been different at the least, perhaps non-existent at worst had he been a "front man" for a band, or at least a larger presence publicly. "I think (Strayhorn) and Ellington had clarity between themselves. Their arrangement went on that way for a long time," Feinstein said, alluding to long standing rumors that Ellington claimed some of Stayhorn's work as his own despite Ellington's already prodigious catalog. "Sometimes the creation of something is murky when there are several people involved in the room."
Billy Strayhorn's signature compositions include "Take the A Train", which became one of the Duke Ellington orchestra's best known tunes, and the debaucherous "Lush Life, recorded by dozens of singers over several decades."
Most people know her for her massive hits "Don't Cry Out Loud", "Midnight Blue" and the theme from the movie Ice Castles "Through The Eyes of Love", which every budding pianist in the 70's and 80's tried to play. What many people didn't know is that Melissa Manchester wrote many of her own songs, as well as music for many others. "She started her career as a songwriter at 17 years old. She got a weekly salary just to write songs. She started writing songs with Carole Bayer Sager and others," Feinstein said. "She is part of an era of American popular songwriter that to me is the second wave of classic writing of the 60's and 70's."
Melissa Manchester continues to perform and appeared with Feinstein at The Palladium in Carmel this year.
Sammy Cahn (1913-1993)
It's safe to say that the greatest era for one of the greatest entertainers of the 20th century may not have happened were it not for prolific lyricist Sammy Cahn. "Sammy Cahn had more songs recorded by Frank Sinatra than any other songwriter," Feinstein said. "He wrote 88 songs recorded by Sinatra, and that doesn't even count the other songs Sinatra sang of Sammy's."
From Sinatra's early hits like "Saturday Night Is the Loneliest Night of the Week", "Five Minutes More" and "I Fall In Love Too Easily" to later standards "High Hopes", "All The Way" and "My Kind of Town", Cahn and Sinatra were sometimes joined at the virtual vocal hip. "Sammy sublimated himself when he was writing for Frank. He would imagine how Frank would sing his songs," Feinstein said. "One time, he was at a party and singing one of his songs. Someone said "Sammy, you sound just like Frank." And Sammy said "who sings 'em first?"
The virtual induction ceremony for the Great American Songbook Hall of Fame is Saturday, November 13th at 8pm. You can watch it free at the Great American Songbook Foundation's YouTube and Facebook channels. The foundation does ask that you pre-register to watch here.