Even if you’re too young or too hip for hits like “Mandy,” “I Write the Songs,” “One Voice,” “Can’t Smile Without You,” and the iconic “Copacabana (At the Copa),” you’re familiar with the music of Barry Manilow. Think of timeless commercial tunes like “I Am Stuck on Band-Aid” and “Like a Good Neighbor, State Farm is There,” or “You Deserve a Break Today” for McDonald’s – Manilow started his career performing and writing for New York’s advertising jingle circuit.
Growing up in Brooklyn, Manilow was studying accordion and playing piano by the age of seven, attending New York College of Music and Juilliard. He began working with Bette Midler in 1971, and recorded his debut solo album the following year. Since then, he’s released 40 albums and won Grammy, Emmy, and Tony Awards as a performer, producer, author, and actor.
The singer has also been contributing to numerous communities through his Manilow Fund for Health & Hope, a non-profit charity supporting local, grass-roots organizations focusing on cancer, AIDS, children’s issues, abuse, homelessness, and music education. Part of that Fund is the Manilow Music Project, formed in 2008 by Manilow and some friends. The Project donates instruments, sheet music, and music stands to school music programs, responding to depleted budgets and funding cuts.
Thanks to a local instrument drive kicked off with Manilow’s donation of a Yamaha piano, Phoenix high schools became the latest beneficiaries of his philanthropy. Bring a new or gently used musical instrument as a donation to his Comerica Theatre performance, and you’ll receive two free tickets to the show.
“I think Manilow’s concerned that, with these shrinking education budgets, the first thing to go are the arts…that’s just a shame,” says Phoenix Union High School District Community Relations Manager Craig Pletenik. “And if we can recycle some music, hopefully we can also recycle arts education.”
More than 3,400 students participate in music classes throughout the district. “Many of our students come from lower socio-economic conditions,” Pletenik continues, “and music programs can be very expensive to run. We don’t have students coming to school with their own instruments,” he explains. “They don’t even rent them – they borrow them from our inventory.”
So far, 19 instruments have been donated. According to Rebecca Grace, band director at Carl Hayden High School and the coordinator of the instrument drive, “The average instrument cost is between $300 and $700, and practically none of our students have their own; they can’t afford them.” She elaborates, “The district has a performing arts supply budget, but most of the money has been eaten up over the last eight years by the huge cost of purchasing band uniforms for 10 marching bands.”
Consider indulging in some melody-rich, jazz-inflected pop and simultaneously supporting music in Phoenix schools by bringing an instrument to the concert. “What a neat program,” says Pletenik enthusiastically. “Even if they only collect 20 instruments, that’s 20 kids who now might have an opportunity to play music that they otherwise might not have…and the piano [donation] is tremendously generous.”