A CLASSIC VOICE COMES TO THE CABARET

 

Just when music's memory lane is being stretched to the millennium, legendary pop singer Margaret Whiting is on the road with an alternate approach: new age Cabaret. "We've got to establish a wave of happiness and songs of hope in this troubled world," says Whiting, 75, looking perky in a straw hat at the Brea hotel breakfast table Tuesday morning. "There comes a point where instead of harboring rage, we must share our experiences." The salvation, she suggests, is through music where people can express themselves. To that end, she and the Johnny Mercer Foundation - for which she serves as president - are funding youth based music programs that encourage communication and performances.

This week she's in Fullerton rehearsing for her Friday appearance with cabaret artist Kate Peters, a graduate from Sunny Hills High School, former cal State Fullerton student and award winning actress. The 8 p.m. "Sojourn: a Concert For a New Age" appearance at Founders Hall, Orange County Performing Arts Center, takes the Pair into a high-tech area: digital interactive media that blends Peters' inspirational songs and stories with Whiting's "One for My Baby," one of the 500 songs she has recorded through the years.

But Whiting is equally impressed with Peters' efforts to resurrect the cabaret approach. She says there's particular delight in hearing about Peter's program to help young people express themselves in Team Cabaret, a pioneer effort at Fullerton High School. "We're always striving for better family life, yet so many kids feel estranged from their families," Whiting says. It's been proven using music in hospitals is invaluable for children." Peter's student stories have run the gamut from a girl grieved by her mother's use of cocaine to a boy whose stepfather left the family when the birth father reappeared on the scene. "I always tell the story of the jazz musician in New York who took out Mercer Foundation money to bring pop music to 18 schools. These kids, who had been singing rap, quickly learned -- and loved -- the standards we've been singing all these years," recalls Whiting, her blue eyes sparkling at the memory. "And that's what we're trying to do with the kids, accentuate the positive."

Some would say Whiting, the daughter of prolific composer Richard Whiting ("Hooray for Hollywood," "Too Marvelous for Words," and "One Hour With You"), led a privileged life. Her childhood Bel-Air home was filled with the talents of Harold Arlen, George Gershwin, Gus Kahn, music publisher Jerome Remick and Rachmaninoff. "Dad's song, 'Til We Meet Again' sold 17 million, the biggest copy song ever written," Whiting recounts during the morning tete-a-tete. Yet, after her father died when she was 14, Whiting was left to develop her own talents with the help of Johnny Mercer. While most female singers of the '40s got their start warbling with Big Bands, Mercer was the entrée for Whiting's success. "Cabaret wasn't popular until the '50s in Las Vegas," Whiting continues. "Some of the stars would come from the showrooms into the bars after midnight and get one-on-one with the audience." She also recounts stories at The Gala, a hillside cabaret in Hollywood that drew major stars including Lana Turner and Judy Garland.

Cabaret was the common denominator when Whiting and Peters met at the O'Neill Theater Complex in Connecticut, a teaching conservatory that offers studies in theater, musicals, puppetry and cabaret. "Kate is a fine actress; she knows how to communicate," Whiting says. "She's full of hopeful songs and has this wonderful desire to help young people." To affirm her admiration of Peters' talents, Whiting has agreed to usher in the millennium on New Year's Eve at a special concert in Fullerton. The cabaret-style evening will be held at the Summit House. Meanwhile, the winner of 12 gold records -- selling more that 1 million each -- will appear in November at the Bing Theater in New York in a concert featuring "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil." The jazz production is directed by Whiting's husband of five years, former child star Jack Wrangler. Remaining time will be spent between her Central Park-side apartment and with various charities she assists. "I have a lot of hope for future singers, like Celine Dion and country-western performers," Whiting says. "They've got something to say, and that's what makes good music."

-OC Register, Fullerton News Tribune Aug 12, 1999

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