Barry Manilow is bringing new music, venerable hits and good memories with him to his first Oklahoma City concert in nearly two decades.
“Out of all the cities, I have such good memories of OK City, so I'm looking forward to it. ... I actually remember playing OK City when I was with Bette Midler; you know, I used to be her conductor, her arranger, her piano player in the early, early days when she was just beginning,” Manilow recalled in a recent interview from his home in Palm Springs, Calif.
“She went on her first tour and ... I remember Oklahoma City for her was just huge. And then years later when I went on the road, Oklahoma City was very good to me, too.”
Now, the legendary crooner is trying to return the favor. In advance of his Saturday concert at Chesapeake Energy Arena, Manilow recently announced he was donating a Yamaha piano to Oklahoma City Public Schools to launch a musical instrument drive for the district.
“We came up with this idea that we could put the word out that if people donate their used instruments that they're not using that they've got in their basement or their attic ... we'll give them to the schools,” he said. “I decided that I would start the donations by donating a piano. I'm doing that in all the cities that I'm playing in now.”
Through his Manilow Music Project, the singer-songwriter also made a donation to Tulsa Public Schools. He makes his debut at Tulsa's BOK Center Friday, the day before his first show at the Oklahoma City arena. Fans who bring a new or gently used instrument to either venue by the days of his shows will receive two free tickets to his concert there.
“These days, you know, they're cutting music and arts classes all over the country, which as a musician, it's just killing me to think that the kids aren't going to have music classes in their lives,” Manilow said.
“It was the thing that saved my life. Music class changed my life, 'cause I was a young kid full of music and didn't know what to do with it and (had) a family that didn't know what to do with me. But the orchestra class actually kind of pointed me in the right direction, and I felt grounded.”
Passion for music
Nearly 40 years after the release of his debut album, the New York native maintains an obvious passion for making music.
After spending several years headlining in Las Vegas, Manilow, who turns 69 later this month, is touring well into September on a sprawling U.S. and United Kingdom trek. The tour was delayed earlier this year after rehabilitating from extensive muscular surgery on his hips took longer than expected.
“It was a real rough recovery, but I'm doing much better now,” said Manilow, who had the surgery in December. “I just came back from 10 days in Britain, and I was able to get through 'em, and we had a great time.”
The top adult contemporary recording artist of all time, he has sold more than 80 million albums and charted 47 top 40 hits, but he keeps the new releases coming. In the past year, he has released “15 Minutes,” his first album of original material in a decade, and most recently, he dropped the CD/DVD “Live in London,” which paired Manilow and his band with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra.