“The Songs of Our Lives” Composers in the Spotlight
“Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree” became an anthem to welcome home loved ones from the military. And it all started when Bob Hope called Tony Orlando in 1973 to perform with him at the Cotton Bowl to help celebrate the return of POWs from Vietnam.
Orlando gave me goose bumps when he told the story at the “Songs of Our Lives” concert. He said that “Yellow Ribbon” had just been released, and yet Hope told him, “They’re going to be singing that song for a long time.” Orlando is still singing it to welcome home soldiers, as he did recently for an Air Force Reserve unit back home from Iraq. He also sings it at reunions for the original group of POWs. “The first line tells the story, ‘I’m coming home, I’ve done my time.’ Now the yellow ribbon has become a symbol of homecoming, freedom and hope,” Orlando proudly explained.
At the concert Orlando paid tribute to the “Yellow Ribbon” songwriter, L. Russell Brown and joined him on stage to sing it together. The show was a real songfest, and it was wonderful to hear lots of great songs from the award winning composers who wrote them. That was the highlight of the concert to benefit the Fulfillment Fund, which aims to empower youth through education. They put together mentoring programs, and many of the composers gladly participate to inspire the next generation of music makers.
The full title of the event was “The Songs of Our Lives, Volume III,” and it was shot for a future PBS special. The lineup of artists included Neil Sedaka (“Love Will Keep Us Together,” “Laughter In the Rain”), Stephen Bishop (“On and On”), Charles Fox (“Killing Me Softly”), Dean Pitchford (“Fame”), and Mac Davis (“Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me,” and several Elvis hits). Plus Brown, who also wrote Orlando’s hit “Knock Three Times.” Another composer, Ben Lanzarone, was on piano, with the lovely actress Ilene Graff adding her sweet voice to the vocals.
Needless to say, with all those vintage tunes and more, it was a very nostalgic evening at the Wadsworth Theatre in on the VA grounds in Westwood. The composers not only performed their greatest hits, but also talked about the inspiration for their songs. Actor-writer-comic Paul Reiser hosted the show and revealed he’s been inspired to write songs, and joined British singer-songwriter Julia Fordham to debut a beautiful ballad they wrote in tribute to our soldiers overseas.
It was educational for me listening to Charlie Fox talk about his career. The first television theme he composed was the memorable “Agony of Defeat” theme for The Wide World of Sports, followed by the Monday Night Football theme. Fox told great stories as he played the piano going through a litany of his hits. The audience erupted in applause when he got to his sitcom themes, including Happy Days, Love American Style, and The Love Boat. The composer of musical scores for more than 100 motion pictures and TV shows is a dedicated supporter and mentor for the Fulfillment Fund.
Universal CityWalk Surprise In the Heights Performance
A couple hundred fans of the musical In the Heights surprised its creator-composer and star Lin-Manuel Miranda at Universal CityWalk last week. A “flash mob” of spontaneous performers did an exciting number from the Tony-winning show. Miranda was overjoyed by the experience that took place at the AMC Cinema Plaza in front of the Hard Rock Café where he was having lunch. Tourists who just happened by also joined in with the Heights-loving fans and put on a mini-show that has become a sensation on YouTube. Miranda said it rocked his world.
Seeing In the Heights (at the Pantages Theatre, running now until July 25) also rocked my world. I was afraid it would be too in-your-face modern for my taste. It is contemporary, but it has a traditional look, along with joyous song and dance numbers and a heartwarming story about familiar people, young and old, in a neighborhood that we all can recognize. These folks dance to a salsa beat that will have you bouncing in your seat. And you’ll be leaping to your feet at the end to give the performers a well-deserved ovation. It’s that great!