Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Michael Feinstein

When twenty-year-old Michael Feinstein, best known as the ambassador of the American Song book, was introduced to lyricist Ira Gershwin by the widow of the concert pianist-actor Oscar Levant, his life was changed forever. Feinstein became Gershwin's assistant for six years, archiving the extensive Gershwin works and gaining unprecedented access to unpublished Gershwin songs, which he went on to perform and record.

Discovered by Liza Minnelli, his career took off after his 1986 Broadway show, Isn't It Romantic. Through his live performances, recordings, film and television appearances, he has become one of the premiere interpreters of American popular song. As well, he has collaborated on song writing with the likes of Alan and Marilyn Bergman, Lindy Robbins and Carole Bayer Sager. He specializes in popular songs from the 1930s and ‘40s and is at his best in cabaret venues, using the intimacy of these settings to create an emotional bond with his audiences.

Working as a piano salesman in Los Angeles in the late 1970s, he supplemented his income by singing and playing in local nursing homes. While browsing in a record store he came across some recordings by Oscar Levant and contacted his widow June, who introduced him to Ira Gershwin. After cataloging the collection of musical materials, Feinstein became Gershwin’s literary executor. Feinstein then began performing in small West Hollywood clubs and for private parties, leading up to a sensational run in NYC at the Algonquin Hotel’s famed Oak Room. These days he has his own nightclub in New York, Feinstein’s at Loews Regency Hotel, a throwback to the classic era of supper clubs.

He created controversy by performing at the White House Valentine’s Day gathering in 2006 for President Bush and a gathering of right-wing Republicans. Feinstein responded to criticism from the gay community: “My acceptance of the invitation was with the understanding that I would bring my partner. We were treated in every way as a couple – both our names were on the invitatins, and we had our photographs taken with the President and First Lady. We introduced ourselves to other guests as life partners and were accepted without issue as a couple. The White House belongs to all of us.”

Feinstein and his partner of 15 years, Terrence Flannery, were married in 2008 by Judge Judy in Los Angeles. The ceremony took place on the couple's estate before more than a hundred of their close friends, including Warren Beatty, Annette Bening, David Hyde Pierce, Doris Roberts, Joan Collins and Henry Winkler, all of who were entertained by Liza Minnelli and Barry Manilow.

In 2009 he collaborated with Cheyenne Jackson on an acclaimed supper club act The Power of Two, which they then took to Carnegie Hall with a 17-piece orchestra in late 2010. Jackson created a sensation in Act I with the Gershwins’ Someone to Watch Over Me. After dedicating the song to his partner Monte Lapka, Jackson sat down on the lip of the Carnegie Hall stage (channeling Judy Garland’s performance there) and quipped to a front-row patron: “Pardon my crotch.”

We Kiss in a Shadow (1951 – Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I)
Duet with Cheyenne Jackson; the lyrics take on new meaning when sung by two gay men.

We kiss in a shadow, we hide from the moon,
Our meetings are few and over too soon.
We speak in a whisper, afraid to be heard;
When people are near, we speak not a word.
Alone in our secret, together we sigh, For one smiling day to be free to kiss in the sunlight
And say to the sky: "Behold and believe what you see! Behold how my lover loves me!"

His PBS television series, Michael Feinstein: Man on a Mission, aired for two seasons. It was a tribute to classic American music that followed him around the country as he preserved, performed and explored that music. As well, the Michael Feinstein Great American Songbook Initiative opened its offices last year. Its mission is to bring the music of the Great American Songbook to today’s young people and to preserve it for generations to come. In this video clip Feinstein performs a Gershwin medley:

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