Barry Manilow, The Unexpected King of Pop and His “Harmony”

Picture this: the 1970s, a time of bell-bottoms, disco balls, and of course, Barry Manilow serenading us with unforgettable hits. Songs like “Mandy,” “Could It Be Magic,” and “Copacabana” are undoubtedly etched in the annals of pop music history.

With an impressive 85 million records sold, a Tony, a Grammy, and two Emmys under his belt, Manilow has left an indelible mark on the music industry. But the most surprising thing about his career? He never saw it coming!

“When I hit the keys, I knew that this was gonna be it for me,” he declared. It wasn’t long before Manilow landed a job at CBS, of all places. By day, he worked at the network, but by night, he followed his true passion: musical theater.

It was during this time that he served as the musical director for Bette Midler, setting the stage for his journey into the limelight.

But Barry Manilow’s road to stardom took an unexpected turn through the world of jingles. You know, those catchy tunes that stick in your head? Yep, he was behind some of those earworms. 

Barry Manilow
Barry Manilow (Source: Getty Images)

During this phase, Manilow learned a thing or two about creating short and snappy hooks, the hallmark of pop music. He often jokes that these two years were his real college education.

He soaked up the craft of condensing music into 15- and 30-second bursts, a skill that would come to define his pop career.

From Brooklyn’s Humble Beginnings to Broadway

In 1973, his life took another unexpected twist. He was offered a recording contract by a producer who had heard his voice on a demo tape.

The twist? “I was the piano player! I was the arranger! I was getting the recording contract as a singer-songwriter?!” he laughed. “It was just ridiculous.”

Manilow went on to become a pop superstar, much to his surprise. Success knocked on his door, and he couldn’t help but welcome it. “Most people pray for success like that. I did not,” he said. 

The curious thing about Barry Manilow’s career is that his fans adored him, while the critics seemed to be on a different planet. “You would think that I had hurt their family. It just kept getting worse and worse for a good ten to fifteen years.”

But despite the naysayers, Manilow’s unique blend of musical prowess and catchy tunes continued to win hearts worldwide.

While he didn’t write all his hits, his charismatic performances and exceptional arrangements made every song uniquely his own.

One of his iconic songs, “I Write the Songs,” wasn’t penned by Manilow himself. He confessed, “It took me a while to make friends with that song. It felt clumsy. But when I realized it was an anthem to the spirit of music, oh, I can arrange an anthem!”

Fast forward to today, and the 80-year-old pop sensation is embarking on a new chapter of his musical journey—his very first Broadway musical. But it’s not about his life story; it’s about something much deeper.

Manilow and his long-time collaborator, Bruce Sussman, have crafted a musical called “Harmony.”

This poignant show tells the true story of a German vocal sextet group, three Jews and three Gentiles, who achieved worldwide fame on the cusp of World War II.

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