He was born Barry Alan Pincus on June 17, 1943. When his mother, Edna came home to say she wanted to marry an Irish beer truck driver named Harold Kelliher, her parents, Esther and Joe Manilow were very upset. Eventually, she convinced Harold to change his name to his mother's Jewish maiden name: Pincus, presumably for the sake of appearances. However, the marriage between Harold and Edna only lasted a short time. Two months after they married, Harold was drafted into the army. Soon after he returned from his tour of duty, they divorced and Edna and two year old Barry moved back in with Esther and Joe permanently. After the divorce, Harold returned to using his birth name.
As Barry grew older, it was the support, encouragement and devotion of the Manilow family that saw little Barry through what must have been a very difficult time. When he was Bar Mitzvah'd, Barry Pincus started using his mother's maiden name and became Barry Manilow and a new chapter of his life would begin to unfold. The family bought a piano and Barry found a distraction from the harsh reality of the cold streets of Brooklyn.
Around the time that Barry was 12 or 13, Edna ran into an old friend on the subway. His name was William (Willie) Murphy. Willie was also an Irishman, a truck driver for the Schaefer Brewery and a friend of Harold Kelliher. Edna and Willie began dating and eventually married. Esther protested of course, but finally conceded that Willie was good to Edna and Barry. According to Barry's autobiography, "I was nuts about Willie. He brought home books I had never heard of and read magazines I had only glanced at. His taste in everything was way above what I'd been exposed to. But most of all it was his music that changed my life." Before then, Barry played the accordion "for the family's sake", but Willie's record collection was "like a treasure". Barry got turned on to jazz singers, Sinatra, Count Basie, Duke Ellington and dozens of Broadway cast albums from shows like Carousel, Kismet, and The King and I. When Willie saw how Barry was reacting to music, Willie bought tickets to see Gerry Mulligan at Town Hall. In Barry's words, "it was like a thunderbolt in my life!"
Throughout his years at Brooklyn's Eastern District High School, Manilow played at small local gigs and after graduation attended New York's Julliard School Of Music. He also worked in the CBS mailroom and there, at 18, he met a director who encouraged him to do some musical arranging. Soon after, Manilow wrote an off-Broadway adaptation of The Drunkard, which had a long run. In 1967, he became musical director of the CBS TV series "Callback" and later did conducting and arranging for Ed Sullivan productions. Barry married his high school sweetheart, Susan. The marriage lasted about a year and the experience was so emotionally shattering for Barry that he has never re-married.
For a time, Manilow was involved in what he would later call "the jingle jungle"...writing and performing commercial jingles. Over the years, many people mistakenly assume that he wrote the "You deserve a break today" commercial for McDonald's, but in fact, he only sang the song in the ad. The confusion bothered Manilow enough to prompt a letter to the press: "Over the years there's been some confusion about my involvement in the commercial industry. Before my records began to break, I participated in a few dozen jingles, I had a great time, learned a lot and moved on. Recently, I've begun to get credit for writing just about every jingle ever written. I guess that's because in my stage act, I don't stop and break down credits for all the jingles in my commercial medley." Manilow provided a list of jingles he wrote, which included Bowlene Toilet Cleaner, State Farm Insurance, Stridex and Band-Aids. His singing credits only included Pepsi, Jack-in-the-Box, Dr. Pepper and the famed Big Mac spot.
It was 1971 and Barry was busying himself playing piano at Manhattan's Improv on West 44th Street and also at the Continental Baths. One day while rehearsing at home, he received an unexpected phone call. Bette Midler was scheduled to play the Baths the following weekend and wanted Barry to play for her. Barry had seen Bette perform on TV the previous week and thought her to be a little flashy but enthusiastic. When Bette phoned and demanded an extra rehearsal, Barry was not surprised. The moment she walked into his apartment, they fought. Styles clashed between Barry the musician and Bette the showgirl, full of herself. Both growing entertainers had their dreams and what they wanted in mind. Barry was comfortable at the piano, but at this point in his career was not interested in singing, even though he had a fine voice. Bette, on the other hand, was very different. She went for garter belts, peddle pushers, and exaggerated wardrobes, which worked at the time. She had a strong voice, an act that she polished every so often, and grand ideas for Barry's future. Today, Barry refers to her as being ahead of her time. She hired him as her piano player, conductor, and arranger, and later, her musical director.
The dynamic duo answered the call of the road. Bette had put together enough $1,500/per night shows to support a tour. It wasn't the kind of tour that she and Barry would come to know later. This was a throw-what-you've-got-together tour. This meant Bette and Barry would gather all they had and put it into a van and go to cities like Philadelphia, Washington and Boston; places they could drive to overnight. At the time, it sounded great.
As her popularity grew, Bette got an appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and was asked back for a couple of return spots. By April of 1972, Bette had also managed to get herself and her band a few dates at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas. This wasn't her best audience, but her reviews were favourable.
When they returned to Manhattan at the end of Bette's tour, they were able to get a gig at a club called, The Bitter End. Bette was hot at this well-known club, unlike the ones she had played before. Now that she had returned to New York, she could spend more time working on her album and along with Barry, they decided to rent out Carnegie Hall. This was a huge financial risk, but they soon discovered how well it would pay off. Bette Midler at Carnegie Hall with Barry Manilow as music director on Friday, June 23, 1972 ... SOLD OUT.
Barry took to the stage, being struck in the face by the spotlights for the first time. This was Bette's first legitimate concert. The audience response was wild and out of control. Starting off with "Friends", neither Bette nor Barry could get over the way Bette and her act was received. He was well-noted as the conductor and pianist for her concert. Barry was allowed by Bette to take a few minutes after a break in the acts to present some of his original music. Barry would have the opportunity to sing some of his first romantic songs in front of a live audience. He performed three numbers with the band, one of them being, "Sweet Life". The reaction from the crowd was more than polite.
With a little bow, he was back to the piano to play Bette's entrance, but the crowd would not have it. The audience simply, literally, could not or would not stop applauding him. Shocked, he stood up again from the piano. Then the yelling began. He wasn't sure what was going on over the footlights and he soon concluded, to his astonishment, that people were moving to the edge of the stage. What he figured was a group returning to their seats, was in fact, Barry Manilow's first standing ovation. No one was more surprised than Barry. Bette's band and crew were absolutely floored. Nobody had thought, up to this point, that a six foot, skinny guy could swoon women. Barry had done it. Barry alone had stopped the show! This was just a hint of what was to come later. Barry has said in various interviews that he had gotten his own little slice of the pie, and though it was small, it was his.
Barry let his heart lead him into making a demo tape of original songs during a rest period in New York. He recorded "Sweet Life", "I Am Your Child" and "Sweetwater Jones" along with a few others, and began working with Tony Orlando (of Tony Orlando and Dawn) to produce and submit them. Tony directed Barry to Clive Davis, president of Arista Records. Davis had worked for CBS and had a functioning record label, Bell Records. Clive also had a very good sense of star potential and had faith in Barry's music. Somehow he knew that Manilow would be very valuable to him and the first Barry Manilow album was ready for the market by the end of the summer of 1973.
The thrill of a standing ovation and a new album listed in Billboard Magazine with his face on the cover was a real boost to Barry's career and his ego. The airplay Barry received in correlation to his live promotion of the "Barry Manilow 1" album was very respectable when he appeared with Bette Midler.
Adding to his experience and credentials, Barry was hired to produce Midler's first album. After all, he had worked closely with Bette, helping polish her musical style and working the songs to fit her unique personality. Another success was had, for Bette earned a Grammy and a Tony for the L.P. By this time, Bette's energy from past tours and promoting her latest album had left her exhausted. In the spring of 1974, Bette's tour was complete and she went to Paris to recover. Barry was, for the first time, on his own.
During production of Barry's second album, "Barry Manilow 2" Bell Records changed ownership and became Arista. Along with the name change came a new president, Clive Davis. Barry was getting a little nervous because Clive was dropping almost everyone on the new label. Would he make it with Arista? He had to prove to Clive that this second album was worthy of its new label. Barry went to work.
The crowds wanted Barry and his music but they wanted commercial hits. Barry was a songwriter and was surprised when Clive Davis asked him to record a song that had previously been a UK hit for its co-writer Scott English, called "Brandy". It was at this point when frustration set in. He wrestled with this cute, up-beat song for hours and couldn't make it work. Finally he tried it as a slow ballad, and another hit was born. The title "Brandy" was changed to "Mandy", to avoid confusion with a song already using that name, by a group called Looking Glass.
"Barry Manilow 2" went double-platinum, "Mandy" sold 4 million singles and the album itself sold 1,600,000 copies. This great success also boosted his first album to the platinum mark. His second single release, "It's A Miracle" stayed on the Adult Contemporary charts for months.
Hit after hit followed, including the number one single "Looks Like We Made It", as well as the Top Tens "Could It Be Magic", "Copacabana" and "I Made It Through the Rain". Manilow became a popular live act and played to sold out concerts throughout the world. Strangely enough, the song that became his 'theme song', "I Write the Songs", was actually written by Bruce Johnson of the Beach Boys.
As the hits piled up, music critics never let up on Barry Manilow. Brutal attacks on his sweet sounding ballads hurt Manilow deeply, but his legions of fans flocked to his concerts. At one point, country singer Ray Stevens went so far as to make fun of Manilow on a single of his own entitled, "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow". Although Manilow's fragile ego needed support, he continued with the style he knew best, the love song and along the way, became the undisputed, number one adult contemporary artist of all time, scoring a whopping 25 consecutive Top 40 hits.
By the mid-'80s, he decided to broaden his musical horizons by making records of jazz and pop standards, recording with Sarah Vaughn, Mel Torme and many other great jazz artists on an album called "Paradise Cafe". Manilow continued with the LP, "Another Life" in 1992, before releasing what may have been his finest effort, "Live On Broadway". He later recorded the nostalgia-drenched "Summer of '78" in 1996.
Barry wrapped up the "Reminiscing Tour" in early 1998, traveling throughout England and then took a well deserved rest.
In the Spring of 1999, Manilow completed "Harmony", a stage production written by himself and Bruce Sussman. That same year, he recorded "Manilow Sings Sinatra", when Barry selected a few of Sinatra's favourites and recorded them in his own classic style.
In late Fall of 2001, Manilow released another album, "Here At The Mayflower", this time in the original, love ballad style that has been his trademark for so long. The concept L.P. was constructed around the idea of life inside an apartment building and integrated Manilow's love of pop balladry, jazz, and Broadway show tunes.
Barry Manilow seems to be one of the last of the successful recording artist of the '70s to benefit from "retro chic". Though other critically reviled acts of the era - everybody from ABBA to KISS to the Carpenters, have been embraced by retro-rockers, Manilow is still considered by critics to be irredeemably square. What many of his detractors fail to consider, is that long after many of his contemporaries have left the business, Barry Manilow continued to record and sell out concerts wherever he performed.
He began to make a resurgence as 2002 rolled around, being featured on Dick Clark's Rockin' New Year's Eve and performing during the half-time show at The Super Bowl. In February, 2002, Arista Records released a new greatest hits package called "The Ultimate Manilow", a compilation of twenty of his best selling songs. Manilow was chosen to be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in New York on June 13th, 2002, by the National Academy of Popular Music.
In early 2004, Manilow appeared as a guest judge on the popular US television show American Idol, where contestants sang his songs in the competition. In September, Concord Records released "Scores: Songs from 'Copacabana' and 'Harmony'", Manilow's 57th album. The CD is a collection of tunes from two musicals penned by Manilow, as performed by him. He also announced that his Fall tour, called "One Night Live! One Last Time!" will be his last. Although he will still perform, he won't be doing any more big tours.
In December '04, The Las Vegas Hilton signed Barry to a long-term engagement through 2005 and beyond. In January, 2006, Manilow released a new album called "The Greatest Songs Of The Fifties", a collection of smooth ballads that were popular during the dawn of rock and roll. That LP put Manilow back on top of the US album chart for the first time in nearly 29 years, as it sold an amazing 156,000 copies for the week ending February 5th.
The summer of 2006 brought both good times and bad. On August 27th, Manilow's TV special Barry Manilow: Music and Passion was presented with an Emmy Award for Best Individual Variety Performance. The following day he underwent surgery to repair torn cartilage in both hips. The veteran performer had been forced to cancel 19 shows, telling fans he was in too much pain to continue. After a six week recovery period, he was scheduled to perform his award-winning show in Chicago in October before a series of Las Vegas dates in November.
As a follow up to "The Greatest Songs Of The Fifties", Manilow released "The Greatest Songs of the Sixties", which entered the Billboard Hot 200 album chart at #2, during the first week of November. By mid-2007, the two albums had sold nearly 1.7 million copies in the United States combined, according to Nielsen SoundScan. The Greatest Songs of the Seventies" was released in March, 2008, followed by "The Greatest Hits of the Eighties" the following October.
On December 30th, 2009, when his five year stint at the Las Vegas Hilton ended, Manilow stayed in Vegas and in March 2010 started headlining at the Paris Hotel. In July, 2011, an album of original material called "15 Minutes: Fame... Can You Take It?" debuted at number 7 on the Billboard 200 album chart and in May, 2012, a 'live' LP entitled "Live in London" entered at number 24. Hip surgery interrupted his tour plans for 2012 when he was scheduled to appear throughout the United States and the U.K., but by the time Spring rolled around, Manilow was back playing to sold out audiences on both sides of the Atlantic. November saw yet another milestone in his career, when the single "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town", debuted at #22 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart, marking his 50th visit to the survey. The song appears on Manilow's new yuletide compilation, "The Classic Christmas Album".
2014 was a busy year in which Barry released two albums, the Grammy Award-nominated "Night Songs" and "My Favorite Duets", on which he sang to recordings of late artists. In February, 2015, Manilow startled many of his fans by announcing that his tour for that year, called One Last Time!, would be his final big trek across America. In a statement to Billboard he said, "It doesn't mean I'm retiring or anything. I'll do shows and I'll promote albums if I make any more, but no more big tours."