Born June 17, 1946, in Brooklyn, N.Y.; son of Harold Pincus and Edna (a secretary) Manilow; stepson of Willie Murphy (a truck driver); married Susan, c. 1967 (divorced, c. 1968). Education: Attended City College of the City University of New York, New York College of Music, and Juilliard School of Music. Religion: Jewish. Addresses: Office --c/o PO Box 69180, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

"Barry Manilow has spent ... years at the top of the heap, no matter where the critics would wish him," declared David Van Biema in People magazine. Though frequently denigrated by music reviewers as bland and lacking talent, Manilow has had a string of hit singles, including "Mandy," "Could It Be Magic," "This One's For You," "Weekend in New England," and "Copacabana," and has watched at least ten of his albums go platinum. Extremely popular with fans of the soft ballad genre, Manilow won several awards for his musical performance in the late 1970s, including a special Antoinette Perry (Tony) Award for two weeks of sold-out concerts on Broadway. In the 1980s he made successful forays into a jazz reminiscent of the 1930s and 1940s, and wrote his autobiography, Sweet Life: Adventures on the Way to Paradise.

Manilow was born June 17, 1946, in Brooklyn, New York. Two years later his father deserted the family, and Manilow was raised by his mother and grandparents. They were poor and lived in a slum area of Brooklyn that has since deteriorated further. "Ask a cabdriver to take you there now," Manilow told Stephen E. Rubin in Ladies' Home Journal, "and he'll run away." As the singer explained further, "I was really ugly, the ugliest kid in school.... I didn't have a lot of friends," and his shyness intensified his interest in music. He learned the accordion at an early age and later progressed to the piano. After his mother remarried in the late 1950s, Manilow's stepfather, a jazz enthusiast, took him to hear saxophonist Gerry Mulligan. This broadened the young musician's interests, and he began buying jazz and Broadway musical albums, but unlike most of his peers, Manilow held no affection for the rock and roll that was sweeping the country during his adolescence. He told Gerrit Henry in After Dark: "I really did not like [Bill Haley and the Comets'] 'Rock Around the Clock.' I think the Beatles finally convinced me there was something going on in rock."

After Manilow graduated from high school he entered the City College of New York to study advertising, but, quickly bored by marketing courses, he left for the New York College of Music. Due to lack of funds he never graduated, but he continued his studies at Juilliard while supporting himself with a job in the mail room of CBS's New York City headquarters. Eventually Manilow worked his way up to film editor for the local affiliate, WCBS-TV; his primary task was inserting commercials into the programming, but he also created new theme music for the station's late show. Meanwhile, in his spare time, Manilow was arranging music for others who tried out in Broadway auditions and playing piano in lounges and bars.

Roughly concurrent with an early marriage to a high school sweetheart that ended in divorce after a year, Manilow was named musical director of WCBS-TV's "Callback," a showcase for young musical talent. He won an Emmy in this capacity for his work writing many different kinds of musical arrangements--from opera to rock and roll. In the 1970s, Manilow began to supplement his income by writing and performing commercial jingles. His composing endeavors in this field include advertisements for Bowlene Toilet Cleaner, Band-Aid bandages, Chevrolet automobiles, and State Farm Insurance; in addition, he sang the famous "You Deserve a Break Today" theme for McDonald's fast food restaurants.

At around the same time, Manilow served as a substitute pianist for singer Bette Midler. Midler liked his work, and he became the musical director for her 1972 tour, fashioning the arrangements that helped Midler become a major star. As Manilow explained to Robert Windeler in another People article, "Arranging is my strongest suit.... I'm only a fair singer, I write nice songs, but I'm a great arranger." With the money he was earning in this position, Manilow felt secure enough to invest in making demonstration tapes of his own material, and he submitted them to Bell Records, which later became Arista. The result was a contract for a solo album, which, when finished, was Manilow I. Though one cut in particular from this effort, "Could It Be Magic," a richly emotional love song based on a prelude by classical composer Frederic Chopin, received favorable criticism and frequent FM airplay, Manilow did not have a major hit until his second album, Manilow II, in 1974. The featured single, "Mandy," a haunting song of regret for a formerly spurned lover, was a runaway success and put Manilow into the limelight and on his way to becoming one of the most popular singers of the 1970s.

Manilow followed "Mandy" with the upbeat "It's a Miracle," but for the most part he has scored his biggest successes with sad love ballads like "Trying to Get the Feeling," in 1975, "Weekend in New England," and "Looks Like We Made It," in 1976, "Even Now," in 1978, his 1982 rendition of "Memory" from the Broadway musical "Cats," and 1983's "Read 'Em and Weep." In addition, Manilow wrote and performed the theme song for television's "American Bandstand" and sang "Ready to Take a Chance," which served as the theme of the film, "Foul Play."

Though chided by critics as amateurish in his singing style, Manilow feels this is the very trait that makes him so popular. He told Dennis Hunt in a Los Angeles Times interview: "You can hear me spitting, you can hear me making mistakes.... There's a more human element in a song if my voice cracks or if you can hear me sighing. It's emotional, it's realistic." Despite this attitude, enormous record sales, and myriad sold-out concert appearances, however, Manilow is upset by negative critical response. "All the things they say--'marshmallow,' 'syrupy,' 'ugly,' 'talentless,' 'can't sing,' 'wimp,' 'fag'--hurt so badly because I call myself all those things before they do," he confided to Van Biema. He deals with it, according to Van Biema, by working "even harder." Manilow also has attempted to change his image, while simultaneously indulging his own musical taste, by writing and recording songs in the style of 1930s and 1940s jazz. He got together with jazz musicians, including his early influence Gerry Mulligan, to record the 1984 release, 2:00 A.M., Paradise Cafe, which was viewed with greater kindness than his ballad albums by many critics. Manilow released a similar effort, Swing Street, in 1987.

by Elizabeth Thomas

Barry Manilow's Career

Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), New York City, began working in mailroom, became film editor, in the 1960s; at the same time, worked as a freelance music arranger and began playing piano in lounges; music director on "Callback" series, WCBS-TV, in the early 1970s; also began composing commercial jingles in the early 1970s; musical director for singer Bette Midler, beginning 1972; recording artist and concert performer, 1973--. Appeared on three television specials for ABC; also appeared in television film "Copacabana."

Barry Manilow's Awards

Emmy Awards for "Callback" series, in the early 1970s, and for outstanding variety special of 1976-77; Tony Award for concerts on Broadway, 1976; named top vocalist of 1976 by American Guild of Variety Artists; Ruby Award for performer of the year from After Dark magazine, 1976; American Music Award for best male pop vocalist, 1977; named favorite pop music star in Photoplay poll, 1977; Grammy Award for best male pop vocal performance, 1978, for "Cocacabana."

Famous Works

Recent Updates

September 15, 2004: It was announced that Manilow's album, Scores: Songs from the Copacabana and Harmony, will be released on September 28, 2004. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_3/index.jsp, September 15, 2004.

December 2004: Manilow signed a long-term contract to perform at the Las Vegas Hilton, throughout 2005 and part of 2006. Source: Hollywood Reporter, www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr/brief_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1000737008, December 15, 2004.

February 5, 2006: Manilow's album, Greatest Hits of the Fifties, made its debut at No. 1 with 156,000 copies sold. Source: E! Online, www.eonline.com, February 9, 2006.

Further Reading

Books

Periodicals

Visitor Comments Add a comment…

almost 9 years ago

For the 2nd time in 25 years, I have just seen Barry in concert at the O2. Wow, has he changed? Sure, we all get a bit older however, even in his 'senior' years he is still gorgeous and his singing is as perfect as it always has been. Seeing him live and listening to him sing without backing, his voice is absolutely perfect. He is truly a wondrous entertainer, gifted unlike many other 'famous' performers around today, a man who really can sing, write songs, play the piano and touch your heart in a way other singers can't. Who cares what others say about him, they're ignorant and unblessed like him, at least he cares about making the world a happier place - just listen to his songs.

about 9 years ago

I find it funny how critics always have something bad to say about singers in some regard. Most critics couldn't whistle a tune if they had to yet they are putting others down. Barry Manilow is one of the most gifted singers ever, in my opinion. Some of the songs over the years have made me cry, but he hits my heart. It's easy to find some truth in what he sings within myself. Maybe that's what gets to me. Call him what you want. Make fun of him. All I know is he is one of the best and will go down in history as one of the world's best singers and composers.

almost 10 years ago

I have always loved Barry Manilow's voice. My sister and I used to talk about "marrying him" and being able to enjoy having him sing to us every night. What a dream...wow! I have never read anything about him though. It is sad to see how he must have felt (believing he was ugly etc.). I have never, ever seen him as ugly. He is the epitome of romance. Romance is beautiful. Barry Manilow is very handsome. That is what I see and have always seen when I hear him or see him. How I wish he had never had such terrible thoughts about himself. How I wish I could go back in time and hug the "little Barry" and maybe help him to feel less ugly. Barry Manilow is an amazingly talented man. He has given so many of us such fond memories. Listening to certain Manilow songs bring those sweet memories back. It helps during the hard times. I thank him for sharing his talent with the rest of us. He is a blessing to the world.