Feature: singers helping singers

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter  |  Aug. 6, 2004 at 7:08 PM
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LOS ANGELES, Aug. 6 (UPI) -- The Society of Singers, a Los Angeles-based non-profit that helps professional singers cope with financial, medical, family or other crises, is celebrating its 20th anniversary with the release of a benefit CD featuring performances by such top singers as Tony Bennett, Celine Dion, Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra.

The organization was founded in 1984 by Ginny Mancini, a singer who was married to the legendary movie composer Henry Mancini, and Gilda Maiken Anderson, lead singer of The Skylarks. The organization's president and chief executive officer, Jerry Sharell, told United Press International Mancini and Anderson put the Society of Singers together because they knew from personal observation that it was necessary.

"Ginny being an ex-big-band singer and Gilda being a band singer and studio singer, they were discovering all these friends of theirs who had similar backgrounds who were pretty busted, pretty broke," he said.

SOS -- as the organization refers to itself -- defines a singer as someone who has earned a living being a singer for at least five years.

"He or she could have been doing backups for Bette Midler or Ray Charles," said Sharell, "or continuously employed at the local Holiday Inn."

Sharell said SOS provides emergency financial aid to about 250 professional singers each year and provides vocal scholarships for young, aspiring singers to an array of institutions including the University of Southern California and the University of California-Los Angeles. The group's annual budget is approximately $900,000.

Funds are mainly raised through memberships, which are open to singers and non-singers alike. Membership packages range from $50 for the basic, no-frills deal -- what SOS calls the "Sixteenth Note" -- to $10,000 for the top of the line "A Capella" membership.

The new CD, entitled "Society of Singers Presents: Great Voices/Great Songs," is a 20-song collection that Sharell produced with Shawn Amos, a Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter-producer who doubles as a vice president of artists and repertoire at the Los Angeles-based Shout! Factory record label.

It features performances by Fitzgerald ("Miss Otis Regrets"), Sinatra ("Sweet Lorraine"), Rosemary Clooney ("Thanks for the Memory") and Mel Tormé ("Blue Moon"). It also has songs by Aretha Franklin ("God Bless the Child"), Etta James ("Stormy Weather") and a duet by Bennett and k.d. lang ("What a Wonderful World").

Given America's rich history of pop recordings, Sharell said cutting the list down to 20 performances was challenging.

"The two of us would be in a room, or on the phone, going through various reasons why or why not certain people should be on this," he said. "We didn't want to make it all retro."

As a result, the disc features performances by relatively newer artists -- including Diana Krall ("Gee Baby Ain't I Good to You"), Peter Cincotti ("Ain't Misbehavin'") and Jane Monheit ("If").

Some of the tracks feature arrangements by artists not normally associated with Tin Pan Alley standards.

"Some of the Rickie Lee Jones fans may never have heard her do 'Someone to Watch Over Me,'" said Sharell. "It's a great fit."

Six of the artists in the set -- Fitzgerald, Sinatra, Bennett, Clooney, Peggy Lee and Barry Manilow -- are past recipients of the organization's annual Ella Award, named for Fitzgerald. Dion -- who will be the 13th recipient of the award at ceremonies in Las Vegas in October -- also has a song in the collection, "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered."

SOS does not have a projection in mind for sales of "Society of Singers Presents: Great Voices/Great Songs," but officials said they would like to outdo the performance of the two fundraiser CDs they released in 1999. Those two discs sold more than 500,000 units combined.

Sharell said he hoped the CD would also raise awareness about the organization, particularly for professional singers who may not know what it does for people in their field.

"I would ask them to take a look at us, some of the people they knew in their careers who aren't around anymore -- or who are around and can't really make a go of it," he said. "When you look at our other friends in the foundation business, their coverage is very generous and they do great work. So is ours, but ours is guaranteed to only be directed at singers."

The SOS Web site, singers.org, provides links to other assistance programs, including the Musicians Assistance Program and the Recording Academy's charitable arm, MusiCares.


(Please send comments to nationaldesk@upi.com.)

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