(seated) Cynthia Weil & Barry Mann, (2nd row, l to r) Chris Sampson, Michael Todd, Barbara Cane, Kate Grahn, Mary Jo Mennella and Patrice Rushen, (3rd row, l to r) David Freibe, Zander Hawley, Kaylah Baker, Cooper Holtzman, Adam Yaron...all photos by MJ Orpiano
The Alfred Newman Recital Hall was abuzz with excitement as students, family and friends gathered for the latest installment of the SHOF USC Master Sessions to celebrate 1987 SHOF Inductees and 2011 Johnny Mercer Award recipients, Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil. The afternoon event on October 13th was a centerpiece of The Thornton School of Music's “Trojan Family Weekend” festivities as the 300 students and guests in attendance heard first-hand how the iconic collaborators created their most memorable classic songs.
The Vice Dean of USC's Contemporary Music Program Chris Sampson hosted the session and highlighted Mann and Weil's early years meeting in the Brill building, their lifelong journey as partners both personally and professionally and early (often competitive) friendship and longstanding relationship with Carole King & Gerry Goffin which was depicted in the hit Broadway musical Beautiful.
Socially relevant songs like We Gotta Get Out of This Place and Kicks reflected the cultural changes of their day and Barry described how Only in America, initially recorded by the Drifters, was re-cut by Jay and the Americans to reflect a more realistic interpretation of the lyrics during that time.
Sampson extolled the enormous success of Mann &Weil's signature song You've lost that Loving Feeling, it being the most performed song in BMI's repertoire, and the gutsy move to have 2 male lead singers record the moving ballad, the masterpiece of course by the Righteous Brothers.
Barry Mann paid tribute to Cynthia by performing a deeply personal rendition of Don't Know Much at the piano describing how that song re-cemented their marriage through its ups and downs over decades of “finishing each other's sentences.” By writing about life's experiences and capturing the experiences of others, Cynthia described writing a song with their friend Dene Hofheinz in mind as a muse which led to the creation of Here You Come Again as recorded by Dolly Parton.
Cynthia described the difference in today's writing process: writing a generation ago with 2 people sitting in a room, versus today's method of writing to tracks and adding toplines and how essential it is to for today's writers to now consider producing their songs as well as writing them. “Another highlight of the event came when Cynthia & Barry played a few original demo recordings of their songs,” said Sampson. “Hearing these timeless, classic songs in their infancy provided such a deep appreciation for how a song can evolve through the process. It was priceless.”
“As one of the world’s most esteemed and celebrated songwriting teams, Mann & Weil’s iconic partnership has spanned decades with nearly every genre of popular music included in their massively successful repertoire,” said SHOF West Coast Events Director Barbara Cane. “Their music has transcended time, leaving a lasting impression on fans around the world and influencing aspiring songwriters to follow in their footsteps.”
Patrice Rushen, Chair of USC's Popular Music Program, produced an extraordinary musical tribute to Mann & Weil featuring the USC students Kaylah Baker, Kate Grahn, Zander Hawley, Adam Yaron, Cooper Holtzman and David Friebe, performing a unique arrangement of On Broadway and You've Lost That Loving Feeling that prompted a standing ovation to conclude the event and another memorable day on campus.
The Mann & Weil Master Session marked the Songwriters Hall of Fame’s five-year association with the USC Thornton School that began in 2013 by celebrating David Foster. “Since launching the master sessions the students have had the extraordinary opportunity to have Hall of Fame Inductees and Hal David Starlight winners share their experiences and their process each semester as a vital component of Dean Sampson’s curriculum," commented Mary Jo Mennella (SHOF Board Member and West Coast Chair). "Our USC partnership has flourished by also featuring Benny Blanco, Irving Burgie, Desmond Child, Donovan and Ralph Peer, Lamont Dozier, Graham Nash, Linda Perry, Dan Reynolds and Evan Lamberg, Carole Bayer Sager, Billy Steinberg and Bill Withers.” The West Coast Committee members in attendance to celebrate Mann & Weil were Mennella, Cane and Mike Todd who joined the team this year.