“My career has been constant and that’s been a great gift because when I look at who was starting at the same time, a lot of them are not around anymore. I’m lucky I’m still doing what I love and I have new faces in my audience all the time. It’s an evolving audience and something I didn’t expect would happen. … There’s a core audience of the material and it doesn’t matter whether it’s mainstream or not in that most pop music is only a flash in the pan. It’s of the moment, then it fades. So to have the resonance, the life of this music to embrace, is really special and extraordinary.”
Michael Feinstein married his longtime partner Terrence Flannery in October 2008. The ceremony was performed by famed television judge Judith Sheindlin, also known as “Judge Judy”, a good friend of the couple. The ceremony took place on the couple’s estate with more than a hundred of their close friends as guests, including Warren Beatty and Annette Bening, David Hyde Pierce, Doris Roberts, Joan Collins and Henry Winkler. Liza Minnelli and Barry Manilow sang. The Feinstein/Flannerys have homes in Manhattan and Beverly Hills.
Feinstein is a musical anthropologist and archivist for the repertoire of what we call The Great American Songbook. The Library Of Congress elected him to the National Sound Recording Advisory Board, an organization dedicated to safeguarding America’s musical heritage.
Feinstein was born to Jewish parents in Columbus, Ohio. When he was five-years-old, he studied piano for a couple of months until his teacher became angered that he wasn’t reading the sheet music she gave him. He was more comfortable playing by ear. His mother saw no problem with her son’s method; she took him out of lessons and allowed him to enjoy music his own way.
After graduating from high school, he worked in local piano bars, moving to Los Angeles when he was 20-years-old. Working as a piano salesman in Los Angeles in the late 1970s, he supplemented his income by singing and playing tunes at local nursing homes. Through the widow of legendary pianist/actor/personality Oscar Levant, he was introduced to the great lyricist Ira Gershwin, who hired him to catalog his extensive collection of LPs.
That assignment led to a six-year musical excavation of Gershwin’s home in Beverly Hills, preserving the legacy of Ira and George Gershwin. Feinstein’s extended stay at the Gershwin home enabled him to get to know next door neighbor Rosemary Clooney, who said come-on-a-my-house. Clooney and Feinstein enjoyed an intensely close friendship lasting until Clooney’s final bow in 2002.
He later would serve as musical consultant for My One And Only (1983) a rather smart Broadway musical made up from Gershwin tunes from other shows. His terrific memoir, which comes with a CD, is titled The Gershwins And Me: A Personal History In Twelve Songs (2012). He writes about George Gershwin’s perceived gayness:
“There have always been rumors circulating about George’s sexuality, and I address it because so many people have asked me about it, and it’s important to the gay community to identify famous personalities as being gay. In the case of George, it’s all rather mysterious because I never encountered any man who claimed to have had a relationship with George, but a lot of innuendo.”
“Yet Simone Simon said that she thought that Gershwin must be gay because when they were on a trip together, he never laid a hand on her. Cecelia Ager, who was a very close friend of George’s and whose husband Milton Ager was George’s roommate, once said: ‘Well, of course, you know, George was gay’. And Milton said: ‘Cecilia, how can you say that, how can you say that? And she just looked at him and said: Milton, you don’t know anything’.”
Feinstein also writes that although Ira Gershwin was perfectly accepting of his friends being gay, the first recording he heard of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus performing The Man I Love made him “very uncomfortable” and he asked for it to be turned off.
Feinstein has spent his entire adult life chronicling, conserving, championing, and giving voice to the work of various composers and lyricists with his ambitious songbook project where he records an album featuring the music of a featured songwriter: the Gershwins, Hugh Martin, Jimmy Webb, Jay Livingston, Ray Evans, Jule Styne, Burton Lane, Jerry Herman and Johnny Mercer.
Feinstein was more or less discovered by Liza Minnelli and his career really took off after his 1986 Broadway show, Isn’t It Romantic. He is one of the premiere interpreters of American popular song. Plus, he is a songwriter also, collaborating with Alan and Marilyn Bergman and my friend Carole Bayer Sager.
Cabaret is a form of theatrical entertainment featuring music, song, and dance. It is mainly distinguished by the venue, which might be a pub, a restaurant or a nightclub with a stage. The audience, often dining or drinking, sits at tables. According to its European origins, it is intended for adult audiences. In the USA, the genre encompasses striptease, burlesque, drag, or a vocalist with a pianist or small ensemble.
Cabarets have been around since the 16th century, and like so many good things, it started in Paris.
American cabarets feature standards, show tunes and jazz. The great American cabaret artists include gay favorites Nina Simone, Bette Midler, Eartha Kitt, Peggy Lee, Marilyn Maye and Blossom Dearie.
Cabaret in the United States began to decline in the 1960s, due to the rising popularity of rock concert shows and television variety shows. However, there were always Las Vegas-style dinner shows. The art form still survives, especially with popular drag show performances. Cabaret has enjoyed a renaissance of sorts, as new generations of performers reinterpret the old forms in both music and theater. In New York City, since 1985, successful, enduring or innovative cabaret acts have been honored by the annual Bistro Awards. What Feinstein does best is the very essence of “cabaret” as an art form, and he does it well.
Feinstein was named Principal Pops Conductor for the Pasadena POPs orchestra in 2012, succeeding Marvin Hamlisch, and he made his conducting debut in June 2013 to celebrated critical acclaim. In 2016, Feinstein’s contract with the Pasadena POPS was extended through 2019. Under his direction, the Pasadena POPS has become the premier presenter of the Great American Songbook. This summer the concerts were dedicated to Leonard Bernstein‘s 100th birthday celebration.
He created quite the controversy for performing at the White House on Valentine’s Day 2006 for President George W, Bush and a bunch of Right-Wingers. Feinstein responded to criticism from the gay community:
“My acceptance of the invitation was with the understanding that I would bring my partner. We were treated in every way as a couple, both our names were on the invitations, and we had our photographs taken with the President and Laura Bush. We introduced ourselves to other guests as life partners and were accepted without issue as a couple. The White House belongs to all of us.”
Little could he have known that we would have a president who has no interest in music outside of the Statler Brothers.
In 2009, he collaborated with openly gay singer/actor Cheyenne Jackson on a club act The Power Of Two. They performed at Carnegie Hall with a full orchestra. Jackson created a sensation by singing the Gershwins’ Someone to Watch Over Me without changing the pronouns. After dedicating the song to his boyfriend Monte Lapka, Jackson sat down on the lip of the Carnegie Hall stage and channeling Judy Garland performance there, quipped to the front-row: “Pardon my crotch”.
The duo also sang We Kiss In The Shadows from Rodgers and Hammerstein‘s The King And I (1951). The lyrics take on a whole new meaning when sung by two gay guys.
We kiss in a shadow
We hide from the moon
Our meetings are few and over too soon
We speak in a whisper
Afraid to be heard
When people are near, we speak not a word.
Alone in our secret
Together we sigh
For one smiling day to be free
To kiss in the sunlight
And say to the sky:
Behold and believe what you see! Behold how my lover loves me!
Feinstein is the owner, along with Liza Minnelli, of the Manhattan cabaret Feinstein’s At The Regency, Feinstein’s At The Shaw in London, and Feinstein’s At The Nikko in San Francisco.
In 2016, he completed a six-part video series about the history of American Popular Music up to 1960.
I appreciate his talents a great deal. My mother, who knew a thing or two about music, stated that our singing style sounds similar. I should be so talented. Well, actually our singing is similar; I’m just not one to toot my own horn. How impossibly gay is this entire #BornThisDay post? As I remarked to a friend just the other day: “Sometimes, out of nowhere, I just go inexplicably gay.”