Remembering Margaret Whiting – A Songography

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By Mari Lyn Henry – From My Fabulous Seat in the House at the Weill Recital Hall – Carnegie Hall

June 22, 2014

 

The late Margaret Whiting (1924-2011) was given what a glorious life deserves: the loving firsthand accounts and memories of her daughter Debbi Whiting, music and arrangements by musical director Tex Arnold, with the virtuoso talents of bassist Saadi Zain, and piano stylings from the fingers of Billy Stritch, Jim Caruso, John Fricke, Eric Yves Garcia, Eric Comstock and Wayne Hosford.

Eric Yves Garcia

Eric Yves Garcia

 

Barbara Fasano

 

Natalie Douglas

Natalie Douglas

 

 

 

 

 

 

KT Sullivan, the artistic director of the Mabel Mercer Foundation, co-hosted and also sang a medley from the Richard Whiting songbook with John Fricke. Songs her father taught her when she was small included Till We Meet Again, Breezing Along with the Breeze, On the Good Ship Lollipop (KT did a darling Shirley Temple impression), Too Marvelous for Words, Hooray for Hollywood and Beyond the Blue Horizon.

 

Marilyn Maye

Marilyn Maye

 

Carol Woods

Carol Woods

 

John Fricke, KT Sullivan

John Fricke, KT Sullivan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blessed with perfect pitch, Margaret knew 350 songs by the age of six. Her uncles included Jerome (Jerry) Kern and Leo Robin and she knew the Gershwins. But it was Johnny Mercer, after her father died when she was 13, who said Grow Up Kid! and recorded her first song My Ideal by Richard Whiting and Leo Robin on his Capitol Label. Marissa Mulder began the amazing tribute singing it with panache.

Then the finger snapping Stacy Sullivan sang a jazzy arrangement of Black Magic and Lover and Carol J. Bufford’s gave a beautiful interpretation of It Might As Well Be Spring. Her first gold record was a duet of Slippin Around with country western singer and composer Jimmy Wakely. This was interpreted with a down home attitude by Mary Foster Conklin and Wayne Hosford (both in cowboy hats). Eric Comstock accompanied Barbara Fasano with a sultry rendition of Margaret’s theme song Moonlight in Vermont.

After 17 years with Capitol Records she started to freelance with different labels and recorded the Jerome Kern Songbook. Karen Oberlin sang Kern and Fields’ poignant Remind Me. Billy Stritch sang Faraway Places, another billboard hit. Then he and Jim Caruso performed an upbeat toe-tapping Gypsy in My Soul.

After appearing in shows like Call Me Madam, Pal Joey, Anything Goes and Gypsy she transitioned into the world of cabaret with a song like All The Sad Young Men, given a torchy, dramatic interpretation by Mary Foster Conklin. Margaret believed the key elements in creating an act were arrangements, clothes, lighting, material and pulling all the stops out. And, indeed, those stops were pulled with the brilliant Natalie Douglas’ rendition of Jerome Kern’s Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man (In recognition of her talent she was presented with the first Margaret Whiting Blackgama Award).  Carol J. Bufford ended the first act with Mercer’s Any Place I Hang My hat Is Home.

She loved the clubs like Ted Hook’s and the Algonquin and she championed young entertainers and composers. Billy Joel, Paul Simon, Barry Manilow and Elton John adored her. The story goes that for an original song My Favorite Year, sung beautifully by Heather Mac Rae, she used her dad as her subtext. Francesca Blumenthal’s award winning song that she loved — The Lies of Handsome Men was sung with great feeling by Tanya Moberly.

Rupert Holmes made a surprise appearance to thank Margaret for making his Pina Colada song a hit and for causing George Rose to sign on for his Tony winning performance in Edwin Drood.

Eric Yves Garcia played piano and charmed with You’d Better Love Me (Hugh Martin and Tim Gray) from their Tony Winning musical High Spirits. From Broadway to Nashville with Lauren Fox singing I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love With You) by her great admirer Hank Williams.

For twelve years Four Girls Four starred Rosemary Clooney (Mother earth); Helen O’Connell (ice princess), Margaret Whiting (the shopper) and Rose Marie (salt of the earth).   In the 1980s and 1990s, she became involved in producing the American Song Book with songs like 1949’s Oscar winner Baby Its Cold Outside (Johnny Mercer), and given the right zest by Terese Genecco and Shaynee Rainbolt. Baby Jane Dexter sang the Peter Allen and Carol Bayer Sager hit I’d Rather Leave While I’m in Love.

Always a showstopper, Marilyn Maye, who was the last cabaret artist Margaret saw on stage, sang from the Johnny Mercer Songbook: Drinking; Dream; One For My Baby (And One More For the Road), and Blues in the Night followed by Carol Woods with a robust upbeat arrangement of John Meyer’s I’d Like to Hate Myself in the Morning. After almost three hours of words and music, anedocates and memories, Marissa Mulder came to the microphone and sang Time After Time solo as the rest of the cast appeared on stage and joined her. What a magnificent tribute to the life and legacy of the incomparable Margaret Whiting!

www.mabelmercer.org

*Photos: Maryann Lopinto

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