Her first album debuted in 1973, and exactly 40 years later Melissa Manchester is still going strong, thanks in part to her fans, lovingly dubbed "Fanchesters" by the singer's daughter. Manchester's 20th album, You Gotta Love The Life, is a collection of favorites she's performed live for years with fans urging her to "record these already."
However, without a label to bankroll the project, and with the music industry having changed drastically since the days of Don't Cry Out Loud, or Midnight Blue, Melissa wasn't sure how to go about financing it -- until her students at USC's Thornton School of Music taught her about the magic of Indiegogo, and a fan-funding campaign began.
You Gotta Love The Life launch:
Now with six songs completed, and six more to go, Melissa is amazed by the power of social media and how it can connect fans with the artist and their process.
My fans have never asked for anything other than music. Now they can be part of the process of creating an album. I'm dedicating part of the money to my friend, Barry Manilow's, the Manilow Music Project, which takes gently used or broken instruments and repairs them and donates them to public schools.
You Gotta Love The Life features a blend of classics (Cole Porter's From This Moment On, a Brazilian flavored Let's Face The Music And Dance, Rodgers and Hammerstein's Something Wonderful) as well as new originals. The first single, a dreamy cover of Be My Baby is available now as a free download.
I've always believed that music is a living organism, and these songs are my life's musical interior landscape. It's a thrill to finally record them. Frank Sinatra would try out his songs for six months live before bringing them into the studio with Nelson Riddle or Gordon Jenkins, and by that time the songs would be part of him to the point where the songs became his monologues.
Melissa performs her first hit, Midnight Blue, live on The Midnight Special (1974):
One of You Gotta Love The Life's originals, the Stevie Wonder/Motown flavored, You Are My Heart, was written for the recent wedding of Melissa's gay friends on Long Island, where she performed the song.
Following DOMA being declared unconstitutional, my gay friend texted me, and signed it "you are my heart," and I immediately thought, "I know that song!" So I sat down and wrote it. Music has always played a part in lifting up humanity. Someday people will look back at the world of now, and wonder why gay people getting married was such a problem. Kind of like the way we look back at women not being allowed to vote. It's mind-boggling.
This Saturday, September 7, Melissa will be lending her remarkable voice for The Point Foundation's annual Voices On Point event in Los Angeles. The Point Foundation is the nation's most substantive academic scholarship program for LGBTQ students, and this year's gala honors Dean Pitchford, who, among his many hits, wrote Melissa's Grammy winning smash, You Should Hear How She Talks About You.
Melissa performs You Should Hear How She Talks About You on Top of the Pops (1982)
Dean Pitchford is a lovely man, and the Point Foundation has created a point of light for youth who are gay. I commend Point Foundation for being a safe haven, and for creating so much hope for the particular challenges of gay youth so they don't feel alone or consumed by their sense of isolation. You can have banners and do marches, but in your heart of hearts if you feel isolated, that is the hardest thing. I am delighted and honored to be part of The Point Foundation's celebration of life.
Melissa performs Don't Cry Out Loud on The Muppet Show (1981):
You Gotta Love The Life is Melissa's first album in nine years (following 2004's introspective When I Look Down That Road), and showcases that magnificent voice proving she's not lost any of her heart and soul even though the industry has changed.
It used to be recording was analogue and you were actually hearing the air in the room when you listened to the record. You could hear the singer's breath, and I miss that. It nuanced the sound of the voice. I did leave the industry because by the mid '80s with the electronics, and trying to navigate that MTV era, it became a producer's medium, not an artist's medium, and I felt that I was losing my way. In the 80s, my team were trying desperately to get me to be current. And in the end I'd just rather be timeless than current. I'm just not very good with current. I can see the dust settling as it's happening. I couldn't figure out where I belonged anymore. So many toys were being thrust into the music-making world, and the toys weren't terribly interesting to me. Maybe I was having a nervous breakdown -- I don't know, but I had kids to raise (laughs). As much as we are in the age of uber-speed, uber-information, what I know to be true is what remains the same, which is that you can't replicate real musicians bringing their decades of experience to help you manifest an idea, and that's as good as it gets.
Performing the Academy Award nominated Through The Eyes of Love (1980)
Paul Simon, who was my songwriting teacher at NYU, once wrote in the New York Times that in the future, pop music will be rhythm-driven instead of melody-driven, and he was right. Most people my age were raised with melody-driven songs. And what that allows the brain and the soul to experience are lyrics that have a chance to expand and develop and melodies that expand and develop -- so you get a very emotional one-two punch. If it's rhythm driven, it's a different listening experience. The phrases are shorter and it repeats and repeats so there's less chance to really dig deep.
With Leona Lewis' rendition of Melissa's I Know Who I Am in trailers for The Butler, as well as Melissa's own current indiegogo campaign, and her songs being featured in the indie film hit Dirty Girl, there's a new era of "Fanchesters" -- and for them, Melissa's putting together an exciting contest.
Melissa Manchester's I Know Who I Am (performed by Leona Lewis) heard in The Butler trailer:
We're starting a new contest on my web site, which is if people submit a video of a cover of a song I've written or performed, there are two winners -- a fan-voted favorite and my personal choice, and if they win, they get to come up on stage with me, when I come to their town, and sing with me.