by Carrie Kirk
As a little girl, I had the privilege of listening to my Dad happily hum while at the wheel of our family car. At the time I wasn't even big enough for the back of my head to be seen by the driver traveling behind our Toyota Camry. Long before television ads -- and perfect strangers nowadays -- scolded adults for smoking around children, my dad would light up while I sat in the backseat, taking long drags and enjoying the songs played on (announcer voice) WXTC 103 Ecstasy. It was glorified Muzak peppered with the occasional really good classic song. Dad, who was a hardworking and very intelligent, talented lawyer would visibly "let down," and it was a pleasure to witness. He found a peace in a lyric. A respite in a melody. The song soothed the man.
All those growing up years, music filtered in our house. Having three older sisters all growing up in the 1970s and '80s, we had on a lot of Q95, along with show tunes on the 8-track tape player. Did you have the classic Steve Martin comedy album too? Dad might have been able to identify Lionel Richie and Bruce Springsteen, but he would interchange them more often than not. His true love was the American Standards. These songs mostly written in the 1920s to the early 1960s were sung by the time's troubadours, such as Frank Sinatra, Mel Torme, Rosemary Clooney and Ella Fitzgerald. All was right in my young world when on a Friday evening my parents prepared steak and a Caesar salad for the family, poured themselves a Manhattan and clicked on the turntable.
Last Saturday I had the pleasure of revisiting some of these moments in time at the 2014 Great American Songbook Hall of Fame Performance. Michael Feinstein, a multi-platinum performer, archivist and writer, hosted the ceremonies at Carmel's Palladium at the Center for the Performing Arts, where Shirley Jones, Nat "King" Cole's daughter, Natalie Cole, attended, and Linda Ronstadt and Johnny Mathis received their awards. A singer paid tribute to each honoree by way of a performance. Most dazzling was Denzal Sinclaire, a jazz vocalist hailing from Canada. He was this tall drink of a man with smart glasses and he strode to the stage's microphone and performed a compilation of Cole's hits. He had this amazing velvety baritone voice, much like the singer he was honoring, and he wowed every person in the house. You couldn't help but to soften with every song he sang and observe couples throughout the theater drawing closer to each other.
The other evening's showstopper was 16-year-old Julia Goodwin, 2013 winner of the Great American Songbook competition at the Palladium. To see this young woman to possess the talent and poise to do what she did that evening was incredible. (At the same time, I was also wishing that in my next life I could be a young Julia ... but I digress.) Prior to Goodwin's performance, Jessica Sanchez, just two years older than Goodwin, paid tribute to Johnny Mathis with a cheeky Killing Me Softly with His Song, giving a nod to the heartthrob's smooth pipes. Feinstein introduced Sanchez, sharing that this vocalist was an American Idol runner-up and boasts 1.5 million followers on Twitter. Let's just say I was a bit wary after that introduction.
Listening to both these young women, I realized the ingredients necessary for the kind of medicine the Great American Songbook provided my dad so many years ago. While Sanchez had an incredible voice, she paraded herself and that voice on stage. It was Goodwin who was able to share the stage with the song she sang, giving equal time if not more to her song's lyrics and melodies. Goodwin was a messenger, but she also let the message have its time too, and that message was in the romance of the lyrics and the conviction of the melodies. It was in the song's ability to soothe all of our souls. It's the sweetest medicine my father passed along to me. Thank you, Dad.