by Linda Amiel Burns
The Mabel Mercer Foundation celebrates seven musical legends born in 1915 at the annual Centennial Tribute at Weil Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall.
On June 9th, 2015, the annual series of The Mabel Mercer Foundation paid tribute to seven musical legends that were born in 1915: Alice Faye, Billie Holiday, Bart Howard, Edith Piaf, Frank Sinatra, Billy Strayhorn and Cy Walter. The evening was held at the lovely Weil Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall on June 9, 2015 hosted by KT Sullivan, Artistic Director, and journalist Rex Reed. A terrific cast of singers and musicians was assembled for this Centennial Celebration that included Joyce Breach, Alexis Cole, Jed Distler, Merrill Grant, Allan Harris, Valerie Lemon, Gay Marshall, Marcus Simeone, Tracy Stark, Lumiri Tubo, Jon Weber, Aaron Weinstein, Saadi Zain, Bill Zeffiro.
Although there were many “Hollywood Blondes,” Alice Faye was one of the biggest movie stars of her day. Rex knew her personally and he surprised the audience when he sang a wonderful rendition of “No Love, No Nothin’” from The Gang’s All Here. The talented Merrill Grant is an “old soul” and has performed shows of several idols of the past. Making her voice sound just like Alice Faye, she performed a tender “You’ll Never Know,” and then “Let’s Go Slumming.” “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” was a big hit and Alice sang it in the film for which Irving Berlin wrote 21 songs.
Born Eleanor Harris to a drug addicted single mother, Billie led a tragic and troubled life. She had abusive lovers and her heroin use got her jailed more than once. Known as “Lady Day” she died at age 44 in 1959, but her songs and voice still inspire singers and musicians to this day. Marcus performed “You’ve Changed” and a searing “Strange Fruit” about lynching. Lumiri sang “Good Morning, Heartache” by Ervin Drake, who died in 2014 at age 95, and his widow Edith took a bow from the audience.
Bart was a pianist and arranger who played for Mabel Mercer. He began to write songs for Mabel and KT sang one of them, “It Was Worth It,” written for her 50th birthday in 1950. Allan sang “Man In The Looking Glass” that Bart wrote for Sinatra’s 75th. Lumiri scored with a sensational version of “Easy To Find.” Bart’s most famous song began with the title of “In Other Words” but became a hit as “Fly Me To The Moon” for Sinatra and many others and KT closed the show with a great arrangement of the song.
Edith Piaf was a French cabaret singer known at “The Little Sparrow.” Many books and films have been made about her life and career beginning as a child singing in the streets of Paris for money. Gay Marshall, who resembles Piaf and has performed many tribute shows, said that she was a “courageous artist” and moved people with her music. Gay performed both in French and English, the iconic “Padam,” Non Je Ne Regrette Rien” and one of the most stirring songs of all time, “Hymne a l’Amour.”
Rex said that everything that can be said about this remarkable singer’s career has been written. He could be a “thug, bully and humanitarian.” Allan sang Ervin Drake’s “It Was a Very Good Year” and KT said that Ervin gave his permission to use this title for the series. Bill Zeffiro told an amusing story about meeting Frank when he came into a place where he was playing the piano. He sang “Everything Happens To Me,” a song that Sinatra recorded 4 times, combining it with “This Love of Mine,” lyrics by Sinatra. Valerie was working at Jilly’s in her youth and described seeing him there. She performed the haunting “I’m A Fool To Want You,” a song that took on more meaning after Ava Gardner left him. Joyce said that Frank changed the music of the time and she sang two classics in her inimitable warm style, “I Should Care” and “I’m Through With Love.”
Billy was an American jazz composer, pianist, lyricist, and arranger, best known for his successful collaboration with bandleader and composer Duke Ellington that lasted nearly three decades. Allan sang the jazz song that he is best known for, “Lush Life.” Alexis Cole sat at the piano and performed the exquisite “Day Dream” and “Lotus Blossom,” with lyrics written by Roger Shore & Carol Sloan who were in the audience. Billy died of cancer at age 52 in 1967.
Cy was a fixture in the New York music scene for four decades and a café society pianist dubbed the “Art Tatum of Park Avenue.” His long radio and recording career included both solo and duo performances, and stints as accompanist for many singers including the great Mabel Mercer. Pianist Jed Distler performed an elegant instrumental piece written by Cy called “Mrs. Malaprop.” He also wrote the words and music to “Some Fine Day.” Jazz violinist Aaron Weinstein, accompanied by Jon Weber on Piano and Saadi Zain on bass, performed “This Can’t Be Love” – a Cy Walter arrangement.
At the end of the evening, Jon Weber talked about some of the other people in the music world who were celebrating their centennial year:
Irving Gordon composer of “Unforgettable;” Eddie Heyward “Canadian Sunset;” Sammy Gallop “Somewhere Along the Way” & “Elmer’s Tune;” Guitarist Les Paul “How High The Moon;” Composers Jay Livingston & Ray Evans “Mona Lisa,” “Que Sera” and others.
We are all looking forward to next year’s tribute to those born in 1916!
Photos: Maryann Lopinto