The closing night of the Mabel Mercer Foundation’s Cabaret Convention at Rose Hall hosted by Klea Blackhurst, honored two legendary composers, Hoagy Carmichael and Richard Whiting.
by Linda Amiel Burns
On Thursday, Oct. 19th, a remarkable cast of singers and musicians, helped bring the final fourth evening of the Cabaret Convention to a close, saluting two legendary composers of the 20th Century: Hoagy Carmichael and Richard Whiting. The show was hosted by the talented Klea Blackhurst who brought her own personal charm and unique humor to the proceedings.
The First Act honored Hoagy Carmichael (1899 – 1981), a versatile American composer, pianist, singer, actor, and bandleader. The show opened with Klea and Billy Stritch on piano singing “One Morning In May” one of the songs from their Hoagy album “Dreaming of a Song.” Next up was the beautiful Amra-Fay Wright who is starring in Chicago on Broadway and had to get to the theater, so she broke the rules and sang a Richard Whiting classic “Hooray For Hollywood.” A special treat was introducing Carol Woods (who had played Mama Morton) for a duet of “In The Cool, Cool, Cool Of The Evening” – a song that won an Academy Award. Stacy Sullivan sang a terrific rendition of “How Little We Know” and Matt Baker at the piano played a jazz instrumental of “Georgia On My Mind.” Valerie Lemon (Alex Rybeck on piano) sang Hoagy’s 1939 “I Get Along Without You Very Well” with lyrics based on a poem written by Jane Brown Thompson. Thompson’s identity as the author of the poem was for many years unknown, and she died the night before the song was introduced on radio by Dick Powell.
Kristoffer Lowe performed a wonderful arrangement of “The Nearness of You” with Tracy Stark on piano and Brad Bosenbeck on violin. Newcomer Joie Bianco was awarded the Julie Wilson Award and we understood why she has been getting so much attention when she sang, “Ol’ Buttermilk Sky” and a superb “Skylark.” It is hard to believe that Joie is only 16 years old, with such a lovely voice and mature musical instincts. A highlight was the easy jazz stylings of Gregory Generet (Jon Weber on piano) performing “Baltimore Oriole.”
Handsome crooner Todd Murray not only sang the still popular “Heart and Soul” but sat down at the piano with Alex Rybeck to play a fun duet on the keyboards. One of my favorites was the great singer Tammy McCann from Chicago, accompanied by Jon Weber on piano, Saadi Zain on bass and a four-piece string quartet. Her jazzy version of “Up A Lazy River” was incredible, with scatting reminiscent of Ella. Then Tammy performed the beautiful “Stardust” (lyrics by Mitchell Parish) and it couldn’t have been sung better or with more feeling and understanding. Klea and Billy closed the First Act with a little known but charming song “Walk It Off” about what to do when life gets you down.
Act II was dedicated to Richard Whiting (1891 – 1938) a brilliant composer who died too soon at age 46 at the height of his career. Klea sang “You’re An Ol’ Smoothie” with Billy at the piano and “Ukelele Lady” accompanying herself on the uke. Debbi Whiting (daughter of Margaret and granddaughter of Richard) came on stage to award Josephine Sanges the award named for her mother. Josephine has a lovely sound and did a toe-tapping “Breezin’ Along With The Breeze” and “When Did You Leave Heaven?” nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1936 from the movie Sing, Baby Sing.
Eric Yves Garcia is always a treat to hear, and at the piano performed the amusing “Have You Got Any Castles?” It was good to see him away from the piano standing center stage singing the tender “One Hour With You.” The gorgeous Shana Farr’s “Beyond The Blue Horizon” was thrilling (written in 1930 with Leo Robin). Shana’s beautiful soprano rang out through the Hall resembling Jeannette MacDonald who introduced the song in the film Monte Carlo. Billy Stritch sang “Guilty” published in 1931 and written with Gus Kahn. The song was popularized by Margaret Whiting (Richard Whiting’s daughter) and by Johnny Desmond in 1946.
The song “My Ideal” (written with Leo Robin) was performed by Stacy Sullivan in her shimmering voice. It was first recorded by Maurice Chevalier in 1930 and was the first recording and hit for Margaret Whiting, and the name of Debbi’s music company. In an article Margaret wrote, “My father thought I was going to become a singer, and gave me some great advice – Sing the songs the way we wrote them. We worked a long time on them. And he was right.”
“A Day Away From Town,” a newly discovered unfinished trunk song written with lyricist Gus Kahn, was discovered by Tex Arnold, Margaret’s music director for 25 years. He completed the song and it was sung beautifully by Todd Murray. Carol Woods has had great success the past year with a show and recording of Whiting songs, and with Tex at the piano, performed one of the great standards, “Too Marvelous For Words” and “She’s Funny that Way.” Klea ended the evening with “Ain’t We Got Fun” (published in 1921 with lyrics by Raymond B. Egan and Gus Kahn) and we sure did at this special evening! The entire cast came on stage to sing, with Todd and Stacy leading the group, “Till We Meet Again,” the lyric written in 1918 by Raymond B. Egan during World War I, telling of the parting of a soldier and his sweetheart and continuing today as a popular farewell song. Hope we will all meet again next year at the 29th Cabaret Convention!
Photos: Maryann Lopinto