Skip to Main Content

Friendship Brings Grammy Winner to Campus

Students Get Master Classes with Melissa Manchester

UMass Lowell Image
Music Prof. Gena Greher and her daughter Carla pose in 1991 with lifelong friend, Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Melissa Manchester, who will be holding master classes for students before her fund-raising concert in February.

01/30/2015
By David Perry

The lifelong friendship between pop singer-songwriter Melissa Manchester and Prof. Gena Greher, coordinator of music education and the 2014 Nancy Donahue Endowed Professor of the Arts, is part of what’s bringing the award-winning artist to campus. 

Nearly simultaneously with the release of her 20th album, the Grammy-winner best known for 1978’s “Don’t Cry Out Loud,” will set up shop for two master classes at the university Feb. 26 through 28, closing out the residency with a lavish concert at Durgin Hall.

The three-day stint benefits budding musicians and reunites her with Greher, her close friend from Queens, N.Y.  The bond between the two women hasn’t wavered over six decades.

The two were bonded “even before we were born,” says Manchester. “Gena is one of my oldest and dearest friends. Our parents were friends beginning when they were teenagers.”

Greher says her parents and Manchester’s played in the federally supported youth orchestra in New York. “They were the best of friends and continued as friends all of their lives. Melissa and I have remained very close as well.”

The two attended Manhattan’s High School of Performing Arts, Manchester a year ahead of Greher.

“She paved the way. That Melissa was there was the only reason I was allowed to go.”

Though their paths diverged, both women did well. Manchester’s chart success and songwriting chops  put her in a class with a post-Brill Building generation of pop songwriters including Peter Allen, Carole Sager and Marvin Hamlisch, who draw upon tradition to craft lyrics and melody, appealing to adult contemporary listeners.

Manchester’s ascension was swift. She was singing commercial jingles at 15, and was a staff writer for Chappell music while still in high school. Barry Manilow discovered her in 1971, and she quickly became a member of Bette Midler’s campy backup singers, the Harlettes.  No stranger to humor, she also played Yoko Ono on a 1972 National Lampoon LP.

Her debut album, “Home to Myself,” arrived in 1973. Eventually, TV appearances – sometimes as an actress, including as the mother on “Blossom” and opposite her buddy Midler in the feature film, “For The Boys”  – followed, as did a Grammy (1983, best female vocalist) , and in 1979, she performed two of the nominated Oscar songs on the Academy Awards broadcast. She eventually sang the title track from the animated musical, “Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland.” 

As a songwriter, she teamed with Kenny Loggins for his chart-scorching duet with Stevie Nicks, “Whenever I Call You Friend.”

Ah, friends.

Greher excelled at writing jingles, earning Clio, Big Apple, Mobius and other industry awards for catchy tunes that stuck in consumers’ craws. She rubbed elbows with the likes of Aretha Franklin, George Michael and Luther Vandross, while seducing consumers on behalf of Diet Coke, Burger King, Barbie and others. 

Armed with a doctorate in music education from Columbia University’s Teacher’s College, she worked with those exploring how music and sound affects children with autism spectrum disorders. 

Greher says the package of Manchester’s songwriting, performing, business and teaching experiences makes her “a living embodiment of the musical entrepreneurship we advocate for all our music students at UMass Lowell.”

“The record is proof of what I know to be true,” says Manchester. “And its birth was informed by music students at USC (where she teaches) in terms of crowd funding, using Indiegogo. The company I keep with my students is such a two-way flow of energy and information.

“I had always been part of the conventional path of signing with a big record company and they bankroll a project. Of course, even after you have made their money back, they still own your work,” notes Manchester. “I had heard my students talk about this and it was really interesting to try and see how it worked out.  And this is about being an independent artist. Which is really code for, ‘This is seven times as much work for yourself.’ But it’s good. It’s my baby.”

They’re all her babies.

“I’ve learned that just because you write a song doesn’t mean you know everything about it. If you’re lucky enough to do this long enough and you sing some of your songs for a long time, over and over again, people will come up and tell you what they mean to them. How they are special. It is very important to listen to that and keep that experience alive.”

A song, she says, “is more than a pile of words and notes. From my experience, there are unexpected gifts.”

Manchester says she has had some good teachers over the year. Paul Simon was one of them. When she was 17, she was picked to take Simon’s songwriting class at New York University.

“I repeat and pass forward what he taught me. All the stories have been told. It’s the way you tell it that determines your stripe of individuality.”

Tickets are on sale now, priced at $35 for the general public and $15 for UMass Lowell students with a valid ID. Students must purchase tickets in person at the Tsongas Center box office. Tickets for a special VIP reception are also available. Visit www.tsongascenter.com or call 866-722-8780 for information.