Forest Hills Stadium, which became America’s first tennis stadium in 1923, was home to a number of firsts in tennis history including the birthplace of the U.S. Open. It was also adapted into a concert venue in 1960 for the Forest Hills Music Festival, a tradition analogous to celebrating summer. A few of the diverse world-class acts that took the stage in a venue that continues to offer great sight-lines and acoustics includes The Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Donna Summer, Bob Dylan, and Simon & Garfunkel. Also among them is Barry Manilow, who performed on July 28 and July 29, 1978 and returned for a second season on July 25 and July 26, 1980.
Manilow, who celebrated his 75th birthday on June 17, 2018, was born Barry Alan Pincus in Brooklyn, NY. For over half a century, he has been a music sensation, and has intrigued audiences as a singer, composer, pianist, arranger, and music and theatrical producer. Some of his most memorable tracks which span the generations include “Copacabana,” “Mandy,” “Could It Be Magic,” “I Write The Songs,” and “Can’t Smile Without You.” To date, he has sold over 80 million records worldwide, and released 4 live albums, 32 studio albums, 57 singles, and 15 compilation albums.
In 1978, both of his shows were sold-out, and it marked his return to the spotlight in New York, a year after recording and touring. On a few occasions, he reminded concertgoers that New York is his home. He was praised for tunes that resonated, a great ear, good melodies, much soul and energy, emotional lyrics, and sets of chord changes. Another admirable characteristic was a juxtaposition of pop rock to 1940s-era jump tunes to ballads, and it blended in seamlessly well. At times, he felt that earphones malfunctioned and spotlights were not in focus, but his audience felt that all was under control.
By today’s standards, a $20 ticket for Manilow’s 1-hour and 45-minute concerts in 1980 may be considered a bargain. An audience of 12,000 patrons attended each concert. While holding the accordion, he said, “It’s impossible to make any song played on the instrument sound other than MOR” (middle of the road, referencing music that is not too edgy or sleepy), and demonstrated that by playing measures of “Play That Funky Music.” Alongside popular hits, he performednewer titles such as “All I want To Do Is Be With You.” His concert was comprised of four categories conveying emotion, which featured “Love When It’s Falling Apart,” “Nostalgia,” “Love When It Breaks Your Heart,” and “Love In Different Cities.” He also performed jingles consisting of Stridex and Band-Aid. His program offered 26 songs, and included was a song that he produced for Dionne Warwick titled “I’ll Never Love This Way Again.” His orchestra included 4 backup singers, which increased to 23 backups, as high school students from Long Island joined him in “One Voice.”
A wide range of fans’ experiences are as entertaining as Manilow’s colorful performance numbers and spirit, and offer sentiments that can only be found in a memoir. Anita Clark-Fanelli, the mother of NY1 News anchor Roger Clark moved to Forest Hills in 1974, and currently resides in South Florida. She attended a 1978 concert and feels that he does not have to engage in much more than singing, which captures the attention of his audience. She reminisced, “Barry Manilow had the stadium rocking and rolling. The props and costumes for ‘Copacabana’ were the best, and of course he had the crowd going wild. I can vividly remember people dancing and singing in the stands. My friends and I sang along to all songs, and it’s amazing that people continue to remember the lyrics, since great music and lyrics bring back the best memories.”
Shelbyville, TN resident Barbara G. Lovejoy commuted from Bedford Hills, NY to attend his July 29, 1978 concert and on both nights in July 1980, when she wore a Manilow t-shirt and jeans. She recalled, “The biggest surprise was the ‘Copacabana’ number, where Barry came out on a giant conga drum. His mom Edna was there, and was great to talk to.” His program included “Mandy,” “‘Trying to Get the Feeling Again,” “This One’s For You,” “Can’t Smile Without You,” “I Write The Songs,” and “Weekend In New England,” her personal favorite.
Lovejoy created a petit point embroidery of his 1978 concert program, which took 6 months and she found to be very tedious. It eventually landed in Manilow’s hands. She reminisced, “In 1980, Barry and his assistant Paul Brownstein knew who I was after sending him several of my needlepoints and drawings. Paul later told me Barry hung it in his office.” Several years later, a crowning moment transpired. On December 5, 1997 at a Tampa, FL concert, she was selected to sing “Can’t Smile Without You” with Manilow on stage. “The second I told him my name, he knew who I was, and called me ‘an old friend fan of mine,’ and that made my Christmas!”
Manilow’s music withstands the test of time. She said, “He appeals to the masses, since his songs reflect love when it’s good and when it goes bad, and people can relate to that.”
Medford, NY fan Gina Belmonte lived in Center Moriches, NY at the time of the July 29, 1978 concert, and was 14. The memories of her first Manilow concert kept flooding in, and now she is up to her 91st. “I was the only kid in school who loved him, but I didn’t care. I sent my aunt to A&S, which was Ticketmaster, and she waited hours. I had a floor seat, and my aunt and mother got nosebleeds. I made Barry a piano pillow, and talked every security member into taking it to him. Barry and Lady Flash (his backup group) came on stage, and began performing ‘Beautiful Music.’ When the rain came, Barry said he would come down and be with us if we got soaked, and then someone passed out ponchos. I fell in love right there! He did ‘Boogie Woogie’ with Lady Flash and danced, and of course my favorite, ‘Could It Be Magic.’” She can still see the audience singing “Copacabana” en route to the train after the 2 ½ – hour concert, and it would take her 30 years to meet Manilow.
“Ever since the first note of ‘Mandy’ in the early 1970s, my friend Mary Kate and I fell in love with Barry Manilow,” said Syosset resident Linda Fessler Weinstein, who was raised in Merrick. While attending junior high, Manilow was not the most popular among 13 and 14-year-olds. Eventually, their love for him would take a twist. “We bought all his records and every magazine with him in it, and enjoyed our secret. For Valentine’s Day 1978, we wrote Barry a Valentine’s card. I was in charge of putting it in the mailbox at the school bus stop, but when I went to mail it, it was gone. I must’ve dropped it on the way. While we were on the bus, a very obnoxious girl started reading it out loud. Needless to say, we were mortified, and the teasing persisted for days.” Then they decided to write Manilow a letter, never anticipating a personal reply. Weinstein continued, “He invited us and our moms to be his guest on July 28, 1978, opening night, and sat us with his mom Edna in row E, the best seat in the house! We got to meet record producer Clive Davis. We wore matching white satin outfits, similar to what Barry would wear, and we thought that was cool. I took a picture of Edna.” In 2011, she met Barry at a CD signing and took along that photo. “I didn’t expect this, but he asked if he could have it, and I said ‘sure!’” To date, she has attended 73 performances. Considering him iconic, she said, “Barry always says he strives to make people feel. Barry makes me feel.”
“At 7, it was my very first concert, and I was starstruck,” said Christine Frydenborg Dargon, a fan from Stamford, CT, who recalled attending Manilow’s One Voice tour in 1980 as a birthday gift with her brother, while her father waited in the car. She explained, “I vividly remember the One Voice logo being lowered from the ceiling, and he performed it with anawesome voice and a choir behind him. On the album, there are about 40 recordings of only his voice, but he could not do that live. It sounded so much better than it ever could on a record or 8-track. I remember the goose pimples. He entertained and didn’t just sing. Barry never took himself too seriously, so he made jokes, and of course came out in the Copa shirt, which was so funny.” Dargon has seen him in concert at least 16 times from New York to LA, but admits that the first was unlike any other.
New City resident Marcy Scolnick Lawrence recalled a few standout memories on July 28, 1978. She explained, “On a beautiful, clear summer night, he was so cute and wore a colorful calypso shirt during ‘Copacabana.’ All six of us friends swayed in unison to ‘Can’t Smile Without You.’ It was magical!”
New Milford, NJ concertgoer Judy Scioli attended two of his engagements at Forest Hills Stadium in her late teens, and also met his mother, Edna, who she recalled as sweet. Scioli said, “I was there the night the lights went out on July 26, 1980. There was a spotlight, but we didn’t care, as long as we could see Barry. We would have listened to him in pitch darkness. He was the only thing illuminated, and he went on with the show like a pro!” She continued, “Years later, he autographed a CD, and I’ve been blessed to meet him a few times. It’s been a lifelong thing.”
“I filmed the whole bloody concert (July 28, 1978), but my son taped over it for a hockey game,” said Michele Yohanna, who commuted from Rye, NY and currently resides in Carmel, NY. She attended with her husband, daughter, son, and two nieces. “By today’s standards, the price was almost free,” she chuckled, referring to an estimated $7.50 ticket. “I wanted to get good shots of Barry, so I moved down to the front where the press was, but no one ever asked me for credentials. They saw that camera, and figured I was just part of the group.”
She explained what also made the concert memorable. “Barry came on stage with his fly open, and was so embarrassed when he was told to zip up. Also, there was a small fire on stage, since some wires ignited.”
Since Manilow’s repertoire was not huge at the time, Yohanna recalled a program comprised of hits including “Mandy,” “I Write the Songs,” and “Bandstand Boogie.” “I love his music and stamina. For 75, he is still going strong and is truly amazing,” she said.
Also in attendance on July 28, 1978, in addition to July 26, 1980 was Bedford, NH fan Elena Abbene, who was raised in Floral Park, NY, attended Queens College, and later lived in Coram, NY. She has seen him at least 80 times, and in the 1980s became a lifetime member of the Barry Manilow International Fan Club. “It was a one-time fee of $199 at the time, and it paid off, and now they’re probably sorry for it,” she chuckled.
“Whenever he produced a new album, I bought it,” said Abbene, and today her collection consists of an approximate 60 albums not including 8-tracks and cassettes alongside many t-shirts and pins. She also owns copies of his books including “Sweet Life: Adventures on the Way to Paradise” (1987), as well as VHS recordings of his TV appearances including his “Copacabana” (1985) TV movie.
Abbene sat in the nosebleed section with several friends. “Barry had a woman come up on stage and sing ‘I Can’t Smile Without You.’ Anybody that I’ve ever seen who goes up there is in disbelief and excited, and to find out that he played the accordion and brought it out on stage was another surprise.” She recalled most patrons wearing bell bottoms or jeans.
After the concert, she witnessed something completely unexpected. “I waited on a side street, and Barry’s limo turned down the street my husband and I were on. There was no one else around. As the limo was passing us, Barry opened the window, waved, and threw a kiss. I was in heaven! He could have left the window up and I wouldn’t have known who was there, but I happened to be in the right place at the right time.”
Abbene was pregnant with her daughter at the time of the 1980 concert, and the use of 8-track tapes that looped would prove beneficial shortly after. “When she was born, she wouldn’t sleep through the night. My husband and I tried every other artist, but the only thing that would soothe her is a Barry Manilow song, and she would stop crying.”
Abbene especially cannot forget Manilow’s ballads such as “Week in New England,” “I Made It Through The Rain,” “If Tomorrow Never Comes,” and especially “I Am Your Child,” which one of her daughters danced to with her husband at her wedding. She explained, “His ballads get you in your core, and even sad songs make you feels so good inside.” His music transcends time and offers something distinctive for nearly everyone. “I attended two concerts last year, and the audience ranged from young girls to great-grandmas, and even men. I don’t have to drag my husband. When Barry would talk and tell stories about his childhood, he made you feel as if he was talking to you. At his concerts, it’s always like you’re with one big family or talking to an old friend, since everyone has the same feelings about him.”