The Manhattan Transfer brings 50th anniversary farewell tour to Strathmore in North Bethesda

Hear our full conversation on my podcast “Beyond the Fame.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews The Manhattan Transfer at Strathmore (Part 1)

The Manhattan Transfer is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a final farewell world tour.

The 10-time Grammy winners will perform at the Strathmore in North Bethesda, Maryland, on Friday.

“We’ll be performing with the great DIVA Jazz Orchestra, so you can expect some early big-band numbers that we haven’t really been doing live in the past 10 or 20 years, so that’s been a lot of fun,” singer Janis Siegel told WTOP. “It’s a little bit of a retrospective, though it’s hard to do 50 years’ worth in 90 minutes, but we’ll do our best.”

Founded by Tim Hauser in 1969 with Erin Dickins, Marty Nelson, Pat Rosalia and Gene Pistilli, the best-known lineup began in 1972 with Hauser, Alan Paul, Janis Siegel and Laurel Massé, who was replaced by Cheryl Bentyne.

“Tim was a cab driver and he actually picked up Laurel in the cab — and I also met him through the cab as well, funny enough,” Siegel said. “Tim, Laurel and I found ourselves together and decided to form a new iteration of The Manhattan Transfer. We wanted another man to make it two men and two women to make it even. … We found Alan swinging on a rope in Broadway in the original cast of ‘Grease.’ … He was Johnny Casino and Teen Angel.”

In the early years, the group developed a cult following around Manhattan before recording their self-titled breakthrough album in 1975 — the same year they landed their own CBS variety series on television.

“We were playing a lot of small clubs in New York City, underground clubs, late night shows, three shows a night,” Siegel said. “We performed a lot in these little cabarets that were popping up. Timing is everything. It was the time when glitter rock was starting and people were starting to dress up again after the jeans-and-t-shirt era of the introspective folk singer-songwriter. We were the perfect group for that. We dressed up in vintage clothes.”

The group won Grammy Awards for “Birdland” (1980), “Boy from New York City” (1981), “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” (1981), “Until I Met You (Corner Pocket)” (1981),  “Route 66” (1982), “Why Not! (Manhattan Carnival)” (1983), “Vocalese” (1986), “Another Night in Tunisia” (1986), “Brasil” (1989) and “Sassy” (1992).

In fact, their album “Vocalese,” received a near-record 12 Grammy nominations, making it second only to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” (1982) as the most nominated individual album in music history.

In 1992, the group recorded “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie” and “On the Sunny Side of the Street” for the soundtrack of “A League of Their Own.” That same year, they appeared on a Christmas episode of TV’s “Home Improvement” as guests on “Tool Time,” singing “Santa Claus is Coming’ to Town” as Tim Taylor used a chainsaw to free Al Borland from a makeshift chimney. After being asked, “Tim and Al? Do you assist him?,” Paul replies, “I don’t think so, Tim.”

“It was great,” Siegel said. “Tim Allen was wonderful, really. They made us feel very special.”

In 1998, The Manhattan Transfer was inducted into the prestigious Vocal Group Hall of Fame, cementing the lineup as one of the greatest four-part harmonizers to ever grace the industry.

“Alan is a pure, real entertainer,” Siegel said. “He was a role model for me to learn how to entertain because I came from just purely the music side of things in recording. Alan gives 1,000% on stage every show. … Cheryl is our super soprano. She’s also an incredible entertainer. … [Tim] had vision and he had knowledge. He knew so much about a wide array of music from doo-wop to bluegrass to bee-bop to swing, he just was a fountain of knowledge.”

Sadly, Hauser died in 2014, so Trist Curless stepped up to join the group, including at Strathmore.

“Trist was actually subbing for Tim when Tim was ill, so Trist has been with us for quite a while,” Siegel said. “Trist is an awesome musician. He really is the reason we could keep going after Tim’s passing, because that was pretty tragic and life-changing. He’s been a great, great companion in these final years of The Transfer.”

Find more information here.

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews The Manhattan Transfer at Strathmore (Part 2)

Hear our full conversation on my podcast “Beyond the Fame.”

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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