July 2, 2008
The Songs of Our Lives
Top songwriters offer classic hits to raise funds for underprivileged L.A. students by Jon Burlingame
WESTWOOD, Calif.—Ten of the era's greatest songwriters performed their timeless tunes in a benefit for Los Angeles' pro-education Fulfillment Fund Monday night, June 30, at the Geffen Playhouse.
More than $130,000 was raised by the concert, which was titled "The Songs of Our Lives" and attended by an estimated 500 enthusiastic Fulfillment Fund patrons who demonstrated their appreciation with several standing ovations, plenty of applause and even some impromptu sing-alongs of many familiar melodies and lyrics.
Paul Williams opened the show with a medley of his standards "Just an Old-Fashioned Love Song," "I Won't Last a Day Without You," "Rainy Days and Mondays," "You and Me Against the World" and "We've Only Just Begun." Accompanied by Chris Caswell, he ended with a tender rendition of the Muppet favorite, "The Rainbow Connection."
Three-time Oscar winner Alan Bergman then followed, mesmerizing the audience with his dramatic "The Windmills of Your Mind" and the poignant "The Way We Were," accompanied by Brian Byrne at the piano.
The hushed house turned boisterous when Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller emerged with a medley of their rock 'n' roll hits "Love Potion No. 9," "Yakety Yak," "I'm a Woman," "Kansas City," "Stand by Me," "Ruby, Ruby," "On Broadway" and "Hound Dog." With Stoller at the piano and Leiber singing, they wowed the crowd with a memorable performance of Peggy Lee's 1969 smash "Is That All There Is?," and Stoller's wife Corky Hale provided a nice postscript with a piano-vocal offering of their Elvis Presley ballad, "Loving You."
Bill Withers was joined by his singer-daugher Kori Withers on "Ain't No Sunshine" and "Lean on Me." He spent a few minutes talking about the craft of songwriting, saying of his fellow writers that "all these people are storytellers."
Accompanying herself on piano, Melissa Manchester offered "Midnight Blue," "Whenever I Call You Friend," and "Come in From the Rain." Commenting on the music and lyrics being performed that evening, she declared, "These songs are the soundtrack of my life."
Lyricist Hal David sang "This Guy's in Love Wth You" and a medley of a few of his many well-known works (most with music by Burt Bacharach) that included "I'll Never Fall in Love Again," "Close to You," "The Look of Love," "To All the Girls I've Loved Before" and "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head."
Composer Charles Fox – who also produced the evening – performed his (and Norman Gimbel's) hit "Killing Me Softly With His Song" and told the fascinating backstory of its creation and success (which resulted from Roberta Flack hearing it on an American Airlines music channel).
Fox also sang a crowd-pleasing medley of his classic television themes from Love, American Style, Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Wonder Woman and The Love Boat.
Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil entertained with the stories of the creation of their Grammy-winning "Somewhere Out There" from An American Tail and their Righteous Brothers triumph "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling." Their friend Steve Tyrell closed the show with three more classics: a finger-snapping "Nice and Easy" by Marilyn and Alan Bergman along with "A House Is Not a Home" and "What the World Needs Now," both written by Bacharach and David.
Near the end of the two-and-a-half hour show, Fox returned to the stage to talk about the Fulfillment Fund, which helps disadvantaged but promising young L.A. students reach college.
The fund provides high school students with college access services, mentoring and college counseling, and post-secondary students with scholarships and career counseling. In L.A., where the graduation rate is less than 45 percent, Fulfillment Fund participants graduate at twice the rate of their peers, and most go on to college.
A non-profit organization that has provided services to L.A. students since 1977, the Fund assists more than 2,000 high school and college students each year; most are low-income, Latino or African-American and the first generation of their family to attend college. More information is available at www.fulfillment.org.
©2008 Jon Burlingame