Although Barry Manilow sings the hit tune I Write the Songs, he didn’t just start writing songs.
Growing up in Brooklyn in a family that didn’t have much money, Manilow says that it took a little luck and a lot of education for him to find his way to stardom.
When I was in high school, I really didn’t know where I was or what I was going to do with my life, Manilow says by phone. As soon as I joined the orchestra, I knew that music was going to do it for me. If there wasn’t an orchestra class where I grew up in the Brooklyn slums of New York, I don’t know where I would have wound up.
Before Manilow was hailed as the top adult contemporary artist of all time, before he joined the illustrious ranks of Elton John, Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond and Elvis Presley with his 50th Top 40 hit, he was a student greatly affected by his public school’s music program. Realizing the decline of music education across the country, Manilow – with the help of his fans and organization, the Manilow Music Project – is attempting to provide instruments to students in every city he performs in.
For his Thursday Manilow on Broadway performance at Memorial Coliseum, The Manilow Music Project is offering two free tickets to anyone who donates a new or gently used instrument to Fort Wayne Community Schools before the concert. To kick things off, Manilow has donated a Yamaha piano.
We raise money to get brand new musical instruments into the hands of kids in schools where we tour or who we feel needs it. This year, I decided to ask my audiences in every city that we go to to give me a hand, Manilow says.
As a part of Manilow’s grass-roots organization, the Manilow Fund for Health and Hope, the Manilow Music Project is focused on providing instruments and music scholarships to high schools and middle schools in response to school systems that have had to decrease or completely cut music and arts funding from the budget.
FWCS spokeswoman Krista Stockman says the district has not reduced funding for such programs, but the donation of additional instruments benefits more students who participate in their school’s music programs. She says the school district will wait to see what instruments are brought in before it determines where they will go.
We can’t financially afford to have all the music instruments that we would like to have, Stockman says. We value music, and it’s good for our students.
Manilow, 69, says the instrument drive has received plenty of positive feedback from every community. He says the organization has collected 75 to 100 instruments in every city so far, and they will repair any instruments before they donate them to the school district.
Manilow says he hopes the donation benefits students who may need some direction like he did.
When I got to the orchestra class, suddenly I knew where I belonged. There might be a lot of kids out there who feel the same way, Manilow says. If they cut music classes, there might be a lot of kids like me who are going to be at sea for a long time.
Manilow was taking accordion lessons and playing the piano by age 7. Always filled with music, Manilow says his family didn’t have the means to further support his dream, so they didn’t know what do with me. Inspired by high school orchestra, Manilow attended the New York College of Music and the Julliard School of Music while working in the mailroom at CBS.
Manilow eventually became the musical director for CBS before becoming Bette Midler’s musical director in 1971. Four years later, Manilow’s first hit Mandy went to No. 1 on the pop charts.
Now with 50 Top 40 hits and numerous platinum records, Manilow says all he can do is make an album and cross my fingers for a Top 40 hit.
It’s amazing. I thought that kind of thing would stop earlier in my career – but it seems to keep going, he says.
Manilow recently finished a six-week Broadway run at the St. James Theatre, performing his extensive catalogue of songs five nights a week to sold-out crowds. Re-energized, Manilow took his Broadway performance on the road.
With more than 40 albums released and 80 million records sold, Manilow knows music education has made him a better artist and an even better human being.
With a career and audience that span over the generations, Manilow says he is just one of the lucky ones.
I try to make the most beautiful music I can. I try to make the best records I can. And somehow I am just one of the lucky guys who keeps landing in the Top 40, he says.