Accompanied by the Citrus College Blue Note Swing Orchestra, Grammy award-winning singer Melissa Manchester will pay tribute to The Great American Songbook on August 23, with a performance mixing American standards and her hits at the Marjorie Luke Theatre. The pairing of the “Midnight Blue” singer and orchestra will recreate live their studio collaboration that is “The Fellas,” Ms. Manchester’s latest album.
A collection of her takes on songs first recorded by singers like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Nat “King” Cole, “The Fellas” completes a project that the singer wanted to finish for around thirty years. In 1989 she released an album called “Tribute,” which honored music performed by female singers such as Judy Garland, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday. Ms. Manchester told the News-Press that she had always wanted to make a companion album of songs by the male singers who inspired her and called it “a dream come true” that it finally came to fruition.
“I wanted to finish the idea by following up with a tribute to the men,” Ms. Manchester said.
Songs featured on the album include Nat “King” Cole’s “Smile,” which is the song that resonates most with Manchester because of its poignant message, according to a press release.
“As a performer, a woman, a human being, you’re so frequently on the stage and people don’t know what’s going on in your life, yet you smile and keep going,” she said.
The album opens on a more upbeat note, however, with a version of Dean Martin’s “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head,” which Ms. Manchester told the News-Press is always a hit with audiences, who immediately respond to its energy.
“It’s energetic, it’s a sweet novelty song, and it puts the audience where I want them to be right away,” she said.
“The Fellas” also includes one duet between Ms. Manchester and vocalist Barry Manilow, who she met 40 years ago when the two were working as jingle singers and just trying to break into showbiz. The two share vocals on the song “For Me and My Gal,” originally sung by Gene Kelly and Judy Garland in the 1942 movie musical of the same name. Ms. Manchester loves silver screen musical songs, stating in the release that they “could have their own album from me.”
American standards are the songs Ms. Manchester was raised with when she was growing up in New York’s Upper West Side, and all these years later they still resonate with her because of how different they are from modern popular music. While popular music today tends to be driven by rhythm, she continues to admire how the music of the Great American Songbook is “lead by melody and lyrics.” She recalled the recording of “The Fellas” as not only a joy for her, but also a “creative adventure” for the Citrus College students in the Blue Note Swing Orchestra, as big band music is not their usual genre.
Much of Ms. Manchester’s music works quite well when performed with a large symphony, but she has not yet found it difficult to adapt her older songs of differing styles into the orchestra format.
“That’s why you hire arrangers,” she said.
Nor does she find it hard to perform in larger ensembles than in smaller bands, and vice versa. She admitted that performing with an orchestra results in a “fuller sound” with “richer texture,” but no matter how many players she has joining her, Ms. Manchester aims to capture a “feeling of intimacy” when she sings.
Though she doesn’t embark on prolonged tours, Ms. Manchester has been performing music from “The Fellas,” which she said has been well received alongside her back catalogue of hits. During performances, video footage from various times of her career is played to add “a different texture” to the show beyond just the music. Ms. After the show, Manchester greets her fans in the venue lobby and signs autographs. She said the offstage reception from her fans remains just as warm as onstage, and people still come up to her and say she’s provided “the soundtrack of their lives.”
When asked what she wants the audience to take away from the August 23 performance, Ms. Manchester replied that she hopes the audience will not only respond emotionally to the music, but admire the talented students sharing the stage with her.
“I hope they will be touched by the music and comforted by the quality of the music and the players,” she said.
Tickets for Ms. Manchester’s performance range between $45 and $65 and can be purchased on the Marjorie Luke Theatre website luketheatre.org. The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. and concludes at 9:30 p.m. The Marjorie Luke Theatre is located at 721 E. Cota Street.