Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


McGOVERN, Maureen

(b 27 July 1949, Youngstown OH) Singer, queen of screen songs in the 1970s, then a marvellous cabaret artist, a singing actress. As a secretary she became a part-time folksinger; 20th Century label boss Russ Regan was looking for someone to record 'The Morning After' (theme from disaster movie The Poseidon Adventure, written by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschorn); her record was a USA no. 1 mid-'73 and the song won an Oscar. Theme from The Towering Inferno by the same writers won another Oscar '75, but her single did not go as far; she reached the top 20 again with 'Different Worlds' '79, the theme from TV's Angie. She suffered from bad management, seeing almost none of the money from these huge hits. Her LPs '73-9 included The Morning After, Nice To Be Around and Academy Award Performances on 20th Century, Maureen McGovern on WB; today's Greatest Hits on MCA/Curb probably includes the movie themes.

Then with better management (Ron and Judy Barron) and superbly musical backing from pianist/ arrangers Jeff Harris and Mike Renzi, she became the chanteuse her most loyal fans knew she was. She sang a duet with Placido Domingo, 'A Love Until The End Of Time', for his pop album, and contributed two tracks to Hits Of The 1900s for CBS Masterworks '85. A PBS Tribute To Tommy Dorsey taped early '86 at the Hollywood Palladium had her singing a few words a cappella before the band came in to astonishing effect, and must have made her a lot of new fans on the spot. Her own show with Harris Live At Wolftrap in Washington DC was also taped by PBS.

Meanwhile her Columbia CDs began with Another Woman In Love '87, a recital accompanied by just Renzi on piano, songs by Blossom Dearie, Jerome Kern, Stephen Sondheim and others; you could imagine these people performing in your living room. The fully orchestrated State Of The Heart '88 was followed by Naughty Baby: Maureen McGovern Sings Gershwin '89, backed by Harris, Grady Tate on drums, Jay Leonhart on bass, Lou Marini on reeds and Mark Sherman on percussion and vibes. A studio was turned into a club with invited guests as she recorded 25 songs, including seven in a medley, 'A Corner of Heaven With You' and a restored 'Somebody Loves Me', both only discovered '82: the former a piece of fascinating craftsmanship, the latter revealing a hitherto lost patter section. She sang in a concert version of Gershwin's Of Thee I Sing/Let 'Em Eat Cake '87 for CBS Masterworks, and sang one song in a live concert recording of Cole Porter's Nymph Errant '90 on EMI, the first recording of that show; and made a Christmas album '90 with classic holiday songs plus four new ones written by Judy Barron, Renzi and Harris. She has sung with as many as 25 symphony orchestras a year. She played on Broadway in Pirates Of Penzance '81-2, Nine '82-3 (a musical version of Fellini's film 8-1/2, songs by Maury Yeston), and Threepenny Opera '89-90 opposite Sting; and half a dozen other shows off-Broadway, in stock and in workshops, but mostly revivals.

Her live cabaret appearances also reveal the actress: at Pizza on the Park in London mid-1990 (closed in 2010) she sang Peter Allen's lovely 'I Could Have Been A Sailor' (from Another Woman In Love), patter songs and love/hate comedy drama: if television, which helped to destroy Broadway, had replaced it with original music drama, this artist would be a household name; there are not enough places for such talent to be seen and heard. She also sang a couple of the Beatles' best love songs in her act, so that her next album came as less of a shock: on Baby I'm Yours '92 (on RCA) she transmuted the best songs of the baby- boomer era into new gold; her version of 'Put Your Head On My Shoulder' making a better song of it than Paul Anka's brash bellowing on his '59 hit. She toured the USA in 'The Great American Songbook' with Mel Tormé‚ and her new music director Lee Musiker for six weeks early '92: the tour must have made still more fans, to await each new album with anticipation. Out Of This World: McGovern Sings Harold Arlen '96 and The Music Never Ends: The Lyrics Of Alan And Marilyn Bergman '97 appeared on Sterling; in the Schwann catalogue some of her CDs were listed in pop, some in jazz.