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Nine Concert Dates Starting February 20

Beloved singer-songwriter Melissa Manchester has a voice and a heart of gold. She has touched millions of fans throughout her four decades in the public eye, and treasures every single beautiful moment life has brought her way. Now she’s back with a new album, containing tracks that rival her most fondly-remembered performances.

Her students at the University of Southern California convinced her to crowdfund her own Manchester_copy1album, allowing her to release her own music on her own terms. The result is You Gotta Love the Life, her twentieth album and her first in ten years. The collaborations on this album are some of the most inspired pairings pop music has seen in quite a long time. For this album, Melissa Manchester sang with Dionne Warwick, Al Jarreau, Keb’ Mo, and many other celebrated artists. This album can be purchased at nationwide retailers starting February 10.

To promote her new album, she is embarking on a nationwide tour, which will arrive in Florida on February 20. On that date, she will be performing at the Mount Dora Music Festival in Lake County. On March 3 and 4, she can be seen at JAZZIZ Nightlife in Boca Raton. On March 5, she returns to Central Florida with an appearance at The Capitol Theatre in Clearwater. Then on March 7, she will hold two concerts at Huntington Lakes and Rainberry Bay properties in Delray Beach, followed by three similar concerts, one on March 11 and two on March 14, at Century Village in Deerfield Beach, then at Sunrise Lakes in Sunrise and Kings Point in Tamarac. For tickets to all of these performances, you can buy your tickets and RSVP by going to melissamanchester.com/tour-dates.

It was a great honor to speak with Melissa Manchester about her new album and her career before she arrives in Florida.

You have been embraced by gay fans for four decades now.

Thank you very much for saying that. I feel honored by that and by them.

How does it feel knowing you’ve impacted so many people’s lives through your music?

The deeper I get into my career, the more I value that unexpected gift. The artistic path…it’s a rigorous one, and you never know how or if your work will impact anybody. The outpouring of connection that people have with my work is so touching, and the depth of the connection is unbelievable. So I take none of it for granted and value it more as the days go on.

You’re releasing a new album this month. Had you always planned on recording this album?

I don’t think you ever really know what you plan on recording before you actually record it. This album showed up and was the result of my teaching at USC. My students recommended that I do a crowdfunding project. I was wondering how I would ever record again, because I didn’t really want to sign to a major record label. Not that there are many left anyway.

My students talked to me about the concept of crowdfunding and it was an adventure I really didn’t want to miss. One of my students became my project manager and it turned out to be incredible. Because the students were involved, not only were they learning from me, but I was definitely learning from them. The truth about this album is that the collection of work and the collection of artists and collaborations that are present couldn’t have come a second sooner than it did.

You had the chance to work with many of your musical inspirations; what was that like?

It was incredible. I have history with everybody. One of the intentions I had with this album, because it’s my twentieth, is that I really wanted things to come full circle. I wanted to record this album the way in which I started, which was to have a bunch of musicians in the room and everyone having musical discussions. That’s rare these days.

To have these beautiful artists say yes, it was amazing. I went to see Dionne Warwick when I was 15 years old at the Copa in New York. I wrote her a letter and she sent me a quick response telling me to follow my path. I still have that letter. Then Al Jarreau and I have toured, and he’s a beautiful soul. It all was just lovely.

What can people expect from you when they come to see you in concert here?

Certainly we’ll be doing all the hits I’ve had in the past, but there’s a deep nod to the songs on You Gotta Love the Life, since it’s new and it’s my twentieth album. There’s so much I want to share with the audience. Then there’s afterwards. I can’t wait to go out to the lobby and meet with fans, take pictures, sign things, hug people and listen to stories.

You started your music career back when you were 17. What kinds of experiences did you have in those early years that still stick with you today?

Well, certainly studying songwriting with Paul Simon was very foundational. What I learned in those classes I keep not only in the forefront of my mind when I’m writing songs, but I also teach to my students today. He said, “All of the stories have been told. It’s how you tell your story that gives it your stamp of authenticity.” That was certainly formidable.

I worked with Bette Midler for a while, and I met and worked with Barry Manilow as well. Those experiences were certainly lovely. We’re all on our own paths now but it’s nice that we check in with one another every so often. It’s lovely to know I can send them an e-mail or call them on the phone and we can pick up right where we left off.

Did you always want to teach music or did you fall into it?

I absolutely fell into it. I was invited by USC to teach a master class, and I did, and everyone had a jolly time. Then they kept inviting me back! I’ve been teaching there for four years now.

I’m also artist in residence at Citrus College and that was actually where we recorded the album. They have a studio that’s magnificent, and the interesting thing there is that it’s a teaching studio. My engineer is a professor of recording arts, so while we were recording, each day there were several students who would come in and watch. They never saw live collaboration before. It was a very eye-opening experience for them to see musicians talk about an arrangement, or for them to see Al Jarreau do Al Jarreau like nobody else. They were so sweet and so reverential and they were just in awe of what was going on around them.

Tell me the feeling you had when you were nominated for two Academy Awards in the same year.

It was a phenomenal year and it was phenomenal to be given the opportunity to sing on the Oscars telecast. It was the first time I had ever worn a Bob Mackie gown. The director thought it would be a really clever idea for me to walk down two flights of stairs in very high heels and a Bob Mackie gown, and there was no bannister for me to hold onto while I’m singing. I was just glad that nobody noticed that my knees were knocking together due to just sheer terror! But that experience was fantastic. I’ll never forget it.

I interviewed Vanessa Williams and she told me that the songs she’s sung hold different positive memories for her because she looks back on where she was in her life when she recorded them. Do you do the same thing?

Of course. Not only that, but I wrote a lot of my songs too, so the connection to them deepens as I live more. That’s the incredible, unexpected value of a song. A song is a world you create for three-and-a-half or four minutes. Then the audience projects their feelings onto the song, and you and the audience share memories together that only get stronger as the years go by.

Do some songs hold more powerful memories to you than other ones?

I think “Midnight Blue” is very sweet for me because it was the first song that got recognition. Carole Sager and I wrote it so long ago. I am touched by the response to “Don’t Cry Out Loud,” and I love it when people clap along to “Whenever I Call You Friend.” I’m thrilled by the responses I’m getting by the brand-new stuff that nobody’s ever heard before. It’s fantastic, the recognition I’ve been given.

What’s in store for you this year after you leave Florida?

After the tour, I’ll be going to Houston to do a stage reading for a musical called Sweet Potato Queens. It’s about a group of fabulous people who dreamed their way out of being white trash. [laughs]

For more information on Melissa Manchester, visit melissamanchester.com.