The Theater at MGM National Harbor
101 MGM National Ave.
Oxon Hill, Md.
In 2015, news that Barry Manilow was married to Garry Kief, his manager and partner of now 40 years, broke in several publications, and any fears the singer had about what it would mean to his career and how his fans would react were quickly put to rest.
With performances scheduled at the Theater at MGM National Harbor, July 24-25, Manilow took some time out of his busy schedule to talk about his shows, his storied career and the headlines asserting that he was gay.
WASHINGTON BLADE: What were the emotions you felt once you decided to come out? Was there a sense of relief once you saw how your fans reacted?
BARRY MANILOW: Over the years, they have told me and showed me how much they care about me, not just the music. I’ve felt that from the very beginning. I have been in a loving relationship for 40 years and I would have been very surprised if they didn’t cheer and weren’t happy for me, and of course they did. They reacted just as I had hoped they would. I never saw one negative response. Everyone was very happy for me.
BLADE: You and Garry have been together for almost four decades now. At a time when many couples don’t last, especially those in the public eye, what’s the secret to your long-lasting relationship?
MANILOW: Respect and privacy. We’ve been together going on 40 years and it’s a great relationship, just like any marriage. I grew up around people who were not really in love, with lots of arguing and screaming and I never really saw people respect and love people. Surprisingly enough, this worked out. Garry manages me and I do my work, he does his work, and we’re in great shape. We’ve both handled ourselves as gentlemen and we’re very proud of each other.
BLADE: Last year you announced your “One Last Time” tour, retiring from touring but promising not to give up on performing. You’re sticking to your word by playing gigs here and there, including your shows next week at National Harbor.
MANILOW: I always said I would do one-nighters. I have no plans to retire. I’m doing weekends now and then. I had to get off the road. It keeps me away from home for weeks and sometimes months at a time and I’ll never do that again. Shows like these, I’m totally fine with doing. The band and I may need to do an extra-long sound check, but we’ve worked together for so long and know all the songs so well, it’s no problem.
BLADE: What can you preview about what fans can expect from the performance?
MANILOW: For many years, I was able to do album cuts and special material and little by little, as the years went by, I could tell the audience wants the songs they grew up with, or that their parents played for them and whenever I tried to do anything else, I could feel that they weren’t as happy as when I did the big hits. I’m doing as many of the hits as I can possibly squeeze into the show.
BLADE: What was the genesis behind your latest release, “This Is My Town: Songs of New York,” and as a New Yorker yourself, how important an album was this for you?
MANILOW: I like to make albums that have ideas to them. The days of me doing 10 love songs that have nothing to do with one another, I stopped doing that years ago. I did a Big Band album, I did a show tunes album, I did a decades series and I always wanted to do a tribute to my home town of New York. There were so many great songs that I decided to do a medley of a handful of them because I loved them all but didn’t have enough space for everything.
BLADE: What is your songwriting process like? What inspires you to write?
MANILOW: If I started to chase the trend machine, it would drive me nuts. I do what feels good. I write a melody and then send it to my brilliant lyricists and then we talk it through. Or, we do it together. I’m one of these guys who work on demand. I work when I have a project. I’ve tried the other way — writing a song for no reason at all, and I love them all, but they wind up in my trunk and I never use them because they don’t fit on the next album. I stopped doing that.
BLADE: Your stepfather, Willie Murphy, had a big influence on your music career. How did he help shape your musical tastes?
MANILOW: He brought with him a stack of albums that may have well been a stack of gold, because I didn’t know much music. I was raised by my grandparents and my mother, and my mother was into the pop music of the day on the radio, which didn’t really turn me on, and my grandparents were into the old Russian folk songs. When Willie Murphy came into my life with that stack of albums, there was music — great Broadway albums and great classical albums, Frank Sinatra, Nelson Riddle — and for a 13-year-old kid to hear that for the first time, it was a life-changing moment for me. I didn’t know music like that existed.
BLADE: Are there still musical goals out there that you want to experiment with and try?
MANILOW: Always. The well hasn’t run dry yet. I always have the next idea. I have three ideas in the pipeline now. That’s how I keep young and energetic. You will never find me sitting in front of the TV set. It’s my suggestion to all those people who are getting on — don’t just sit and watch TV, figure out something to do and do it.
BLADE: What is it that keeps you coming back to the stage time and time again?
MANILOW: Garry’s told me, “You can’t cure cancer but you can make them forget about it for 90 minutes.” That’s what I’m seeing out there. These people are so happy and having such a great time singing these songs and listening to me do my cornball jokes and playing my music, that they do forget the craziness going on out there in the world. That’s the part that keeps me coming back.