Barry Manilow devoted himself to music at an early age, learning to play the accordion at age seven and later studying at the Juilliard School of Music.
By the late 1960s, he put his musical skills to work as a musical director for CBS.
He also carved out a solid side career composing advertising jingles for products like Dr. Pepper, State Farm Insurance, and Band-Aids.
He also sang (but did not compose) the famous “You Deserve A Break Today” jingle for McDonald’s. These catchy ditties remained so popular that Manilow performed a medley of them during his concerts long after achieving fame with his pop songs.
In 1972, Barry Manilow took his first step to pop stardom when he substituted for another pianist who was backing up a rising cabaret singer.
The singer happened to be Bette Midler, and the two worked well as a team. Manilow became Midler’s musical director and did the musical arrangements for her first two albums, The Divine Miss M and Bette Midler.
These ambitious musical outings mixed blues, boogie-woogie, country and countless other styles in a way that showed off Manilow’s knowledge and skill as a musician.
They also helped Manilow win a record contract of his own. He enlisted former Archies vocalist Ron Dante as a producer and recorded his self-titled debut album in 1972. It contained a future favourite in the lush, Chopin-inspired ballad Could It Be Magic?.
Manilow’s star really began to rise when he released his cover of an English pop song called Brandy at the end of 1974.
He re-titled this ballad of lost love Mandy and gave it a heart-rending performance that gained further power from the stylish production he and Dante had crafted: starting with a solo piano line, it swelled into an operatic, emotional tour-de-force driven home by a swelling string arrangement.
This powerful sound helped Mandy become a US #1 hit in early 1975 and established Manilow as a master of old-fashioned pop balladry.
That year, he scored another two hits with the danceable, harmony-laden pop of It’s A Miracle and a reissue of Could It Be Magic?.
In 1976, Manilow scored another #1 hit with a tribute to music-makers called I Write The Songs. Ironically, he did not pen this song: former Beach Boys member Bruce Johnston wrote it as a tribute to Brian Wilson.
Later that year, Manilow scored another Top-10 hit with Tryin’ To Get The Feeling, a tale of lost love that skilfully blended the rising emotion of Manilow’s vocal with a smooth bed of background harmonies.
He began the next year with another Top 10 classic called Weekend In New England. This sentimental tale of romantic yearning brought its poignant, emotional lyric to life with a gorgeous orchestral backing built on string melodies.
1978 was the biggest year yet for Manilow. He began it by winning the Favourite Pop Artist honour at the American Music Awards. In May, he scored one of his biggest hits in Can’t Smile Without You. It remains a sing-along favourite at Manilow’s concerts, where he performs it as a duet with an audience member.
Later in the year, Manilow adapted his lush pop style to fit a disco beat on the Top-10 smash Copacabana. This tale of a love triangle in a gangster nightclub also won Manilow a Grammy Award.
He closed out the year with another Top-20 gem in Ready To Take A Chance Again. This typically lush Manilow ballad was used in the hit film Foul Play and earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Song.
Manilow closed the 1970s with the dreamy Somewhere In the Night and a gorgeous cover of the Ian Hunter song Ships.
As the 1980s began, he remained a pop chart fixture with hits like the inspirational-themed I Made It Through The Rain and the nostalgic The Old Songs.
Despite this continued success, Barry Manilow was ready for a new challenge.
He began pursuing jazz on albums like 2:00 A.M. Paradise Cafe and Swing Street with legends like Sarah Vaughan and Gerry Mulligan. These albums won him new respect from the press and helped him transcend the pop star label to become a showman for the ages.
In the 1990s, Barry Manilow continued to break new musical ground by tackling show tunes on Showstoppers and big-band music on Singin’ With The Big Bands.
He also penned music for unused lyrics by classic pop songsmith Johnny Mercer and transformed his classic Copacabana into a two-hour made-for-television movie and a musical for the London stage.
He remains active today, putting out albums and touring on a regular basis. As long as people like to hear “the old songs”, there will always be a place for the timeless pop style of Barry Manilow.