Equal parts one of America’s most celebrated and maligned artists, Barry Manilow began a multi-decade run of super stardom with the release of his 1974 hit “Mandy.” Though the song served as the introduction for many to the artist, Manilow had already racked up a string of impressive showbiz credits before scoring his chart breakthrough.
A student of the piano at an early age, Manilow attended the Juilliard School and began his career as a jingle writer, crafting successful campaigns for such brands as State Farm, McDonald’s and others. His big break came when he met Bette Midler, with whom he performed at New York’s gay bathhouses in the early ’70s. Midler eventually hired Manilow as a pianist and arranger, an association that led to Manilow landing his own recording contract.
He released his self-titled debut in 1973, and the 1974 followup for Arista Records, “Barry Manilow II,” catapulted Manilow into the top 10, earning him an instant reputation as a crafter of grandly orchestrated pop, or sappy schmaltz, depending on one’s tolerance for easy-listening nice-guy charm. Manilow was a hit-machine throughout the ’70s, as songs such as “Could It Be Magic,” “I Write the Songs” and “Can’t Smile Without You” are still instantly recognizable standards today.
Manilow’s career crossed over into film, Broadway and television, and his song “Copacabana (At the Copa)” was awarded the Grammy for best male pop vocal performance in 1978. When it came to hit singles, Manilow’s crossover success slowed down throughout the ’80s, but he remained a hugely successful adult contemporary artist, even as he began more deeply exploring his love of jazz. His 1984 album “2:00 AM Paradise Cafe” features collaborations with the likes of Mel Torme and Sarah Vaughn, among others. In 1988, he co-wrote "Perfect Isn't Easy" for Midler, which appeared in Disney’s animated feature “Oliver & Co.”
Manilow has continued to record, and he has released more than 30 albums, including releases that pay tribute to Frank Sinatra, swing music and pop hits of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. His 2010 collection “The Greatest Love Songs of All Time” preceded a live show that launched in Las Vegas in March 2010.