A CELEBRATION IN SONG OF
THE INCOMPARABLE LIFE OF MARGARET WHITING

by Gregg Culling

Billed as a celebration in song during this, the year of her 90th birthday, daughter Debbi Whiting celebrated her mother, singer extraordinaire Margaret Whiting, with a tribute at Weill Hall using the songs of her motherís life to tell her story, a timeline so to speak. Having grown up in a musical household, Margaretís father being composer Richard Whiting, she had learned 350 songs by the time she was six years old, according to Debbi. She was often asked to sing at home in front of many musicians and composers who she referred to as her uncles (Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer, etc.). And since Mercer was also one of the founders of Capitol Records, it seemed inevitable that she would one day record for Capitol. However, Mercer made her wait until she was well into her teens before allowing her to record. He chose one of her fatherís songs My Ideal (Whiting/Chase/Robin) to be one of her first recordings. Marissa Mulder stepped up to the microphone to sing it, in what seemed a little girlís voice. 

Margaret continued her recording career at Capital Records, where she stayed for 17 years, while also sitting in on many other recording sessions. By the end of her teenage years, she had become a star recording artist. Here,
Stacy Sullivan stepped forward and began, a cappella, That Old Black Magic (Arlen/Mercer), snapping her fingers a la that other Capitol singer Miss Peggy Lee, making like a snazzy jazz singer, which Margaret never claimed to be. Sullivan then segued into Lover (Rodgers/Hart) again a la Lee. Tex Arnold, Margaretís longtime pianist presided at the keyboards, ably supported by Saadi Zain on bass.

As Margaret had attained star quality at a very young age, another young singer has also attained her own star reviews as a young singer in New York:
Carole J. Bufford. She appeared in a lovely mauve gown, giving a very fine reading of It Might As Well Be Spring (Rodgers/Hammerstein), a song that served Margaret very well and became the title of her own autobiography (co-written with Will Holt) which came out in 1987.

Having released a few recordings singing the American Songbook, Johnny Mercer decided that Margaret could also do country music, so he paired her up with Jimmy Wakely, also signed with Capitol. Together they produced a Number One Hit with
Slippiní Around (Floyd Tillman). To give us a sample Wayne Hosford and Mary Foster Conklin appeared, in cowboy hats, and let it rip. Hosford had great fun on the ivories and with harmony, and Conklin did her best as a Southern gal to carry it off. Margaret had thought her own recording of it was one of the funniest things she had ever done, but she laughed all the way to the bank.

Uncle Jerryís (Kernís) songs were always among those that Margaret favored, after her fatherís songs, of course.
Eric Comstock gave us a taste of Kern with You Couldnít Be Cuter (Kern/Fields), making it light and lively, even adding some false endings; just having fun with it. Comstock was joined by wife Barbara Fasano who went on with the story of Margaretís life at Capital which, she said, was a vocalistís dream world come to life. Fasano offered a song that became one of Margaretís theme songs Moonlight in Vermont (Suessdorf/Blackburn). With Comstock and Zainís lovely accompaniment, she gave us a beautiful rendition with a smooth inviting lilt, and a second chorus that offered nice variation, especially on the line ďthe eveningís summer breezeĒ which captured the magic of the moonlight. The couple continued the story by offering a glimpse of Margaretís regular guesting on the radio with Bob Hope by enacting a brief skit, as Hope and Whiting, having fun with it before singing Ainít We Got Fun (Whiting/Kah/Egan) in a light and snazzy arrangement. 

Margaret was soon to leave Capitol Records, having been wooed by Verve Records with the promise of an album of her singing her fatherís songs. However, that album was not to happen, so Margaret took matters into her own hands and decided to record an album of the songs of her Uncle Jerry, and it is that Kern Songbook that has been universally acknowledged to be among the finest of all songbook recordings. To further acknowledge the beauty of Uncle Jerryís songs,
Karen Oberlin came on, in a splendid gold metallic gown looking like a million dollars (or an Oscar statuette!) to sing a glorious version of Remind Me (Kern/Fields), giving just a trace of Margaretís performance along with a bit of Mabel Mercerís, too. In any case, it was lovely, sexy, and a wonderful tribute.

The co-hosts went on to speak of Margaretís private life and marriages. Unfortunately, she had married and divorced twice by the 1950s, and by that time music had taken a change for the worse, or as Margaret referred to it we entered into a Realm of Terror, AKA rock and roll. So Margaret decided in keeping the American songbook alive by finding young and new arrangers, and staying on the move. This led to the introduction of Jim Caruso and Billy Stritch, two popular showmen, who described Margaretís new journey in
Far Away Places (Whitney/Kramer) that segued into Gypsy in My Soul (Boland/Jaffe). The duo blended beautifully from all their previous work together, and they swung like nobodyís business, with terrific harmonies and Stritchís excellent piano playing. One of the highlights so far.

With rock and roll taking over the airwaves, Margaret felt it was time to conquer the theatre and incorporate cabaret, a more confessional and personal venue for her type of music. Singer Mary Foster Conklin returned, looking elegant in black with a lovely mustard-colored scarf draped over her shoulders and arms and glittering crystal bracelet, to illustrate how songs can be made to personally reflect the surroundings of the intimate cabaret room.
Ballad of the Sad Young Men (Wolf/Landesman) was delivered perfectly, utilizing exactly the dramatic effect required, especially as she intoned the line ďchoking on their youth, trying to be brave, running from the truth.Ē

The co-hosts mentioned that Margaret had outlined five key ingredients to good cabaret: arrangements, clothes, lighting, material, and the all-important ingredient being the ability to dazzle. That recipe was definitely utilized by the next two performers, KT Sullivan and John Fricke. Fricke said he had been working at the Melody Top Music Theatre in Milwaukee as an apprentice, and performing (he later became its publicist) when he was first introduced to Miss Whiting, and he told her of his love and admiration for her good friend Judy Garland (of course, Fricke has since become THE authority of all things Garland, with numerous books and articles and liner notes about her). They become close friends, to the point that she would often introduce herself as Johnís favorite LIVING singer! The two performers then delved into a medley of Richard Whiting songs that Margaret had made it her duty to showcase now that she realized how great her fatherís songs were, and how much they expressed what a fine and sentimental man he was. From the lovely
Till We Meet Again, to Breeziní Along in the Breeze, a frisky Louise, a cutsie Good Ship Lollipop, and the soaring Too Marvelous for Words and Hooray for Hollywood to the end with a glorious Beyond the Blue Horizon. These two were the second highlight of the evening, and the thought entered my mind that they would be terrific in an updated revival of Sugar Babies.

The timeline continued by mentioning a possible next marriage, until Margaret realized he really wanted someone who loved to hike and loved the great outdoors. It seems she was constantly falling for the wrong man. Naturally, that was a song cue for
Canít Help Loviní Dat Man of Mine (Kern/Hammerstein) sung triumphantly by Natalie Douglas. She nearly brought the house down. But, before she left the stage, she was honored with the 2014 Margaret Whiting Award for her great diversity and style, and given a beautiful plaque for her efforts.

This brought to an end Margaretís life in Beverly Hills. She longed to get out and leave memories behind of her past husbands, and her overbearing mother, and head to New York to conquer Broadway and make a new beginning. That gave Carole J. Bufford, who appeared in a new and striking geometric-design gown, the chance to sing
Any Place I Hang My Hat is Home (Arlen/Mercer) that brought the first act to a wonderful conclusion.

To begin the second half, Natalie Douglas returned, in a change of dress, to offer the self-congratulatory
Nothiní Like It (Johnny Meyer). Margaret, it seems, had found her niche, and a new life in New York. She embraced the City, and it embraced her. While dining out or attending shows, she was surrounded by admirers. One night three gentlemen stopped by her table and introduced themselves as fans: Billy Joel, Elton John, and Paul Simon. Margaretís cabaret shows at various spots in the City highlighted her fatherís songs that brought her so much comfort and safety. Heather MacRaeís rendition of My Favorite Year (Brourman/Gottleib) was the perfect offering to describe that love. 

Songwriter Rupert Holmes said when he grew up and showed an interest in music, his parents dug out records from their collection for him to listen to and study: Frank Sinatra and Margaret Whiting. He said from the beginning he aspired to be a ďkind ofĒ Johnny Mercer, because of his admiration for his lyric writing. He admitted that his own music was closer to the Village People, and his 1980 hit Escape, The Pina Collada Song will be what he is most remembered for, although it seems he wishes for it not to be. One of his other songs on that same album was
People That You Never Get to Love, and Margaret somehow found it, loved it, sang it, and recorded it. Singer Eric Yves Garcia gave it a pleasant reading singing to Tex Arnold accompaniment, but was more comfortable himself sitting at the piano playing and speaking of Margaret and her complete love of entertaining and how she could really SELL a song. Song cue for Youíd Better Love Me While You May (Martin/Gray) done to perfection with the great aid from Saadi Zain on bass.

Margaret had been introduced to Nashville, too, and songwriter Hank Williams offered her
Canít Help It If Iím Still in Love With You, sung here very nicely by Lauren Fox. Margaret soon joined three friends Rosemary Clooney, Rose Marie, and Helen OíConnell in Four Girls Four which toured the States for twelve years. After a brief reenactment of that vocal group, the hosts went on to mention a new man entering Margaretís life, and it seemed another unattainable match. Tanya Mobely told about that in Lies of Handsome Men (Francesca Blumenthal), sung wonderfully.

Besides songwriting, Johnny Mercer had also been a very close friend, and together they recorded
Baby, Itís Cold Outside (Loesser), and here Terese Genecco and Shaynee Rainbolt did a version of that hit. But Margaretís love life also brought on Baby Jane Dexterís rendition of Iíd Rather Leave While Iím In Love (Allen/Sager) that was bittersweet and purely divine. Margaret continued doing musical theatre, including in New York a Gershwin revue in 1971, and Taking My Turn in 1983, before finally arriving on Broadway in Dream in 1997. To accentuate her triumph there, Billy Stritch returned with supersinger Marilyn Maye to offer Drinking Again (Tauber/Mercer) paired with One for My Baby (And One More for the Road) (Arlen/Mercer) done to perfection. She encored with Blues in the Night (Arlen/Mercer), songs featured in Dream.

Another songwriter Margaret had befriended was Johnny Meyer who had written several songs with Garland in mind, but one particularly suited Margaret:
Iíd Like to Hate Myself in the Morning was given a lovely and powerful rendition by Carol Woods, currently appearing as Mama Morton in Chicago on Broadway. She followed with one of Margaretís first hits Come Rain or Come Shine (Arlen/Mercer). 

The hosts brought the evening, and Margaretís life, to a close by mentioning how she fought her disabilities in the end, and was so very pleased to discover that she was still remembered when her recording of
Time After Time (Styne/Cahn) was used prominently in the hit film Julie and Julia as the entire cast came out to serenade us and lead us all in this hymn to the Incomparable Margaret Whiting.

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