Any one of the many experiences adult-contemporary singer Melissa Manchester has had would be enough to be considered a life highlight for most people.
She studied songwriting with Paul Simon, worked with Bette Midler and Kenny Loggins, won a Grammy, had two songs nominated for an Academy Award in the same night, scored hits like “Midnight Blue” and appeared on “The Muppets Show” in its heyday with original creator Jim Henson. On her latest album, “You Gotta Love the Life,” she worked with top musicians, including Stevie Wonder and Keb’ Mo’.
Yet as Manchester heads out on tour, with a stop at the Missouri Theater on at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 18, she doesn’t single out one moment, as they’re all special to her.
A bright talent since she was young, listening to artists and inspirations like Ella Fitzgerald, Manchester’s fame started early at 17 when she signed her first publishing deal. In her 45 years of performing, she’s recorded 19 albums and sang with some of her heroes. She took some time to talk with St. Joe Live about her experiences and career.
St. Joe Live: When you first started singing, what got you into music?
Melissa Manchester: I come from a musical family ... My father was a bassoonist in the Metropolitan Opera. So there was music in the house.
SJL: Were there singers who prompted you to get started?
MM: Yes, Ella Fitzgerald and Judy Garland and that crowd of talented women that filled the airwaves during those years.
SJL: When you got spotted and signed, you were so young. What was that experience like for you?
MM: There were many years where I struggled and paid very hard dues in coffeehouses across America. Those years, I was playing on any piece of (junk) piano they would offer me. It was that kind of stuff and little by little, I got the chance to have different adventures and play different venues and hang until it got good.
SJL: You were (writing) with Paul Simon. Could you grasp at that time what was going on?
MM: I could grasp at the time how astounding it was and it only becomes more astounding as time goes on.
SJL: With the long list of people that you’ve worked with, was there a certain performer who had an influence on you?
MM: I’ve learned from all of the great performers. What I’ve learned is to just connect on such a deep level that it stirs things to the point where audiences realize they’re connecting with something they didn’t know much about and that’s what art and music does and singers do.
SJL: With all of your performances and your albums, there was a time you stepped away from the spotlight and went to Nashville, and that played a pretty big role in you finding your identity.
MM: Well, I stepped away from the spotlight to raise my kids and the way I found my way back — because the industry was changing so quickly — is Nashville, where they collaborate in a way that I recognized, and it really brought me back to my heart.
SJL: What was it about the Nashville experience that brought you back and inspired you?
MM: Nashville writers sit in a room quietly and they talk about ideas and out of the discussion comes the music and the titles and the lyrics. That’s the way I first started writing music years and years ago. The songs would come out of conversations and they would sound very conversational.
SJL: Your latest album was crowdfunded. What was that experience like for you?
MM: It was fantastic. You know, in the past, crowdfunding has been around for a while, but it was always in the abstract and when I was teaching at (USC Thornton School of Music) my students introduced me to the concept of crowdfunding, because that’s how they got their work done. Then one of my former students explained it to my manager and I how to do this, how to step into this venture and he became our project manager and off it went.
SJL: And your students helped get theword out.
MM: In a nutshell, I have learned more from my students than from anything I’ve ever taught them. They helped me connect to my fans on an unexpected level. The fans become more tender about the process, more aware of the process that you go through to create an album. It’s very touching.
SJL: And the album was recorded live in the studio?
MM: That’s correct. Everything you’re hearing — live musicians, live singers. Everybody was alive. No dead people, nothing manufactured (laughs). It’s my 20th album, so I wanted to complete the circle of what it was like for me to record albums in the first place.
SJL: I know this is asking you to choose your babies, is there any song that sticks out as a highlight for you on (“You Gotta Love the Life”)?
MM: They’re all highlights for me, but the new single that’s coming out June 15 is “Big Light” a duet I sang with Al Jarreau, (stands out). We just finished doing the video yesterday.
SJL: You have Stevie Wonder on the album, who I imagine among the many highlights — is a highlight.
MM: All of the people, all of the jazz stars that are on there ... It was magnificent to play off of them. He was unbelievable. I was on tour in Florida in the middle of the night and he called ... He said ‘Hi Melissa, it’s Steve.’ ‘Yes?’ He said ‘It’s Steve Wonder. I want to play on your track.’ ‘OK. Let me get my bathrobe.’
SJL: Your show here in St. Joseph, what can people expect from it?
MM: The show in St. Joseph will be particularly special because it will be ... after the women’s (YWCA) luncheon for Women In Excellence and then at my concert, I will be using your local, fantastic children’s choir to sing on a choral piece I wrote.