The snow let up long enough at the tail end of February to allow Grammy Award- winning singer/songwriter Melissa Manchester to spend some time at UMass Lowell. As Artist in Residence, Manchester taught three days of master classes, sharing her knowledge of the craft and “The Life.” Her time at the school culminated in a concert on Friday, February 28 in the school’s Durgin Hall, which raised $13,000 for UMass Lowell String Project scholarships. The Project provides instruction in stringed instruments to local public-school students.
The concert kicked off Manchester’s tour for her 20th album, called “You Gotta Love the Life.” The artist produced the album herself, rather than signing with a record label, crowdfunding it through Indiegogo at the urging of students she teaches at the University of Southern California. The album includes new pieces along with re-imagined classics by Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and Rodgers & Hammerstein. Guest artists include Al Jarreau, Stevie Wonder, Dionne Warwick, and the late, great Joe Sample.
The first half of the program featured student interpretations of Manchester’s works, in styles ranging from rock, a capella, gospel and folk. Crew scrambled to reset the stage during intermission in preparation for Manchester’s own performance. The star entertained the audience with award-winning songs including “Don’t Cry Out Loud,” “Midnight Blue” and “You Should Hear How She Talks about You.” Each song was accompanied by a story of its creation and the people who played a part. She also sang songs from her new album including the sultry “Feelin’ for You” which was inspired by an inebriated admirer in a Southern juke joint. The final performance of the evening brought together UMass Lowell students, String Project students, and several public school choruses who joined Manchester on the stage for a powerful and emotional finish.
The benefit concert is just one example of the music icon’s commitment to making a difference. Manchester has sung in support of the Mission of Yahweh, a Houston, Texas, shelter for homeless women and children, and for the Prison of Peace program at Valley State Prison for Women in California. Her song titled “Beloved” was written for that occasion.
Manchester will be on tour around the country over the next few months, but if you’d like to see her in the region, she’ll be performing with the Portland Maine Symphony on July 4.