THE MANHATTAN TRANSFER
Where: The McPherson Playhouse, 3 Centennial Sq.
When: Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $64-$100 from the Royal McPherson box office (250-386-6121) or rmts.bc.ca
Retirement is a loosely-defined term in today’s music industry. For decades, acts have said their final farewells, only to return when the money is right.
That won’t be the case with The Manhattan Transfer, according to singer Cheryl Bentyne. Tonight’s performance at the McPherson Playhouse is the last Western Canadian date of their 50-year career.
“We’ve all had moments where we were like, ‘Yikes! I don’t know if we can do this, guys,’ ” she said. “But we kept going. At this point, we’re all looking at our age, and our health, and at our home lives, and we all have different things we want to pursue.”
The Grammy-winning group is on the home stretch of its career-capping tour and will come off the road for good following its Dec. 15 performance at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. Bentyne was happy to talk about their decision, but only to a degree. “Am I prepared emotionally? No,” she said with a laugh.
“In no way are any of us prepared. But we know that it is the right decision.”
Bentyne, who was born and raised in Mount Vernon, Washington, is currently based in Palm Springs, California. Her bandmates are scattered across the United States, with Alan Paul in California, Janis Siegel in New York, and Trist Curless in Arizona. That is par for the course for The Manhattan Transfer, which originated in New York.
When Bentyne met up with the original members — Siegel, Paul, and founder Tim Hauser — they were operating out of Los Angeles. “At that point, in 1979, L.A. was our focus. But the more we toured, the more everyone realized we could rehearse for work, but still be happy in our respective homes.”
The Manhattan Transfer, now with Curless handling the bass baritone parts originally written and sung by Hauser, who died in 2014, is among the most successful harmony groups in history. They were entered into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1998, an honour that was well-earned. In 1981, the quartet became the first group to win Grammy Awards in both pop and jazz categories in the same year.
“We pick harmonies out of country, gospel, R&B, pop, and Brazilian music, but it’s all based on four voices,” Bentyne said. “We’ll make it work, no matter what style we do. That’s what attracts us to music. We want to find what the harmony would be in a particular song. The sky’s the limit, in a way. If it’s a song we like, we’ll try anything.”
The group’s historic run at the top of the charts began with the 1979 single, Birdland. A string of successful albums, including 1981’s Mecca for Moderns, home to their career-defining hit, The Boy From New York City, made them a top concert attract for the duration of the 1980s.
Stylistically, they were always a genre unto themselves, Bentyne said. “Our first Grammy was for Birdland, and it really captured people, but sometimes they didn’t know why. It had so much in it, but it was a pop-oriented piece. And yet, group singing was a not part of hit music at that point.”
That outsider mindset endured, and remains in place as the group approaches its final concerts together. The Manhattan Transfer endured plenty of ups and downs during its various iterations, including the deaths and departures of several key members. Bentyne (who was in an out of the group between 2011 and 2013, due to treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma) will miss the comraderie above all else.
“Four people got to sit together, and sing together, and fight together, and love together. My daughter and [founder] Tim Hauser’s daughter are best friends. That’s how deep this goes. This is a family, as well as a business.”