Looks like he made it

Times Staff Writer

Surprising hundreds of fans, pop singer and composer Barry Manilow turned a thank-you speech into a 30-minute set after receiving the Ella Award from the Society of Singers.

“This is overwhelming. I just don’t know what to say,” Manilow said as he segued into a lively show featuring “Could It Be Magic” -- “You’re the magic!” he hollered at the crowd -- “Copacabana (At the Copa),” “Mandy” and “Let Freedom Ring.”

Earlier, singers hand-picked by the star had performed a selection of his hits onstage as Manilow sat with pals at a rose-covered table in the back of the ballroom at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. There was a sultry Suzanne Somers making love to a grand piano in a peach satin number as she vocalized “I Was a Fool to Let You Go”; Broadway diva Linda Eder singing a wistful “Weekend in New England”; pianist Brian McKnight crooning an aching “Even Now.” Also on the playlist: vocals by Diane Schuur, Michael Feinstein and Monica Mancini.

RCA Music Group Chairman Clive Davis presented Manilow with the award, first given to Ella Fitzgerald. “This is for all the songs you’ve written and all the songs you’ve sung,” the man on whose labels Manilow had his greatest success said at the Monday event.


He never dreamed he’d turn out to be a famous singer, Manilow told guests in the tiered, palm-festooned ballroom a la the famed ‘40s nightclub the Copacabana. “And if it weren’t for Clive, I don’t know if I would have ever had a career,” he said. “Maybe as a composer,” he added. “The music just kept coming out of my ears. I couldn’t stop it.”

The pre-dinner cocktail buzz was all Manilow-fan-club. “I adore him,” gushed comedian Phyllis Diller. Her favorite Manilow hit? “ ‘Daybreak’! They used to make us exercise to that at the Golden Door,” she quipped. Fifties balladeer Tony Martin, whose hits included the provocative “I Get Ideas,” called Manilow “a wonderful interpreter of songs.” Eder said she admired the singer’s ability to thrill fans in a stadium or the intimacy of a room. “He’s uniquely talented -- more than a singer, he is a classic songwriter,” she said.

Founded 19 years ago by Ginny Mancini, the Society of Singers seeks to provide emergency financial aid to “singers in trouble,” said CEO and President Jerry F. Sharell, gala co-chair with Jeanne Hazard.

“To qualify, a person has to have been a performer for at least five years, and be able to prove it,” he said. “Then he becomes eligible for financial aid and subsidized rent.” The society also awards scholarships to “young people with talent who want to study vocal arts.”

Joining a roster of former honorees that includes Martin, Frank Sinatra, Julie Andrews, Placido Domingo, Lena Horne and Peggy Lee, Manilow was chosen for the award because “he’s one of the most giving guys in the business,” said Sharell.

“He must give more benefits than regular gigs. He’s a man with great compassion, and we wanted to honor him as a singer who helps singers.”