Songwriters are special people. They give the gift of memories to people who listen to their songs. And then the songs help recall an era or moment that was made special because that music was playing.
Over the years I’ve met and interviewed some of the greatest, including Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer. In fact it was Mercer who imparted a memorable line about how great it is to write songs for a living. Back in the ‘50s I was writing a local comedy show on NBC, and Mercer was doing an appearance. During his three days of rehearsal, we chatted about the time it was taking to put the show together, and he told me, “If I took that much time to write a song, I’d have royalties for the rest of my life.”
I believe that songwriters get more than royalties for their efforts, they get bragging rights and the respect of their peers. A lot of that was going on at the fifth annual “The Songs of Our Lives, Volume V” concert to benefit the Fulfillment Fund. The event had a great lineup of award-winning songwriters performing some of their greatest hits. Burt Bacharach, Kenny “Babyface”Edmonds, Arthur Hamilton, JD Souther, Billy Steinberg, and Sergio Mendes took the stage of the Gil Cates Theatre at the Geffen Playhouse, and the hits flowed like fine wine.
Among his chart-topping tunes, Burt Bacharach, 83, did “Alfie” and acknowledged his great writing partner Hal David, 90, who was sitting in the audience. Babyface did “When Can I See You” and talked about how James Taylor influenced his musical style. Arthur Hamilton did his classic “Cry Me a River,” which he said Jack Webb cut from the movie Pete Kelly’s Blues because Webb couldn’t picture Ella Fitzgerald singing the word “plebeian.” JD Souther did “New Kid in Town” and talked about his wild days with the Eagles. Sergio Mendes brought a Brazilian beat to evening with “Real inRio.” And Billy Steinberg said, “All songwriters need great singers so I brought two along to help me out.” Teen sensation JoJo performed Steinberg’s “Like A Virgin,” and a new Warner Bros. recording artist called L.P. gave everyone goosebumps singing “True Colors.”
“The Songs of Our Lives” concert is the brain-child of award-winning songwriter Charles Fox (“Happy Days”), who produced the show along with his wife Joan. Both are dedicated Fulfillment Fund board members. The non-profit organization helps area students overcome challenges and achieve their dreams of a higher education. Fox said, “The benefit concerts have been a huge success because of the intimacy and renowned artists that participate. I am extremely grateful for the artists’ generosity.”
Host for the evening was Broadway star Obba Babatunde who started off the festivities with a Sammy Davis Jr. number. Composer-pianist Ben Lanzarone was at the keyboard for Obba. In the audience was Ben’s wife actress-singer Ilene Graff, record producer Peter Asher, Andrea Cockrum, Martin and Kelly Katz, and Cherna Citnick and Dr. Gary Citnick.
Most of the people on hand said they came to honor Bacharach, who Fox said “changed the sound of music in the ‘60s.” Bacharach regaled the audience with stories of his collaboration with David, which began in the ‘50s. Their first hit came in 1957, “The Story of My Life.” When they met Dionne Warwick, Burt said her voice became their muse. What followed was a string of hits that included “Walk On By,” “Do You Know the Way to San Jose,” “I Say A Little Prayer,” “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again,” and “What the World Needs Now Is Love.” Great songs filled with great memories.