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Songbook Foundation stars heading to Carnegie Hall!

May 15, 2019

We caught up with Songbook Foundation board member, Roger Schmelzer, and Songbook Academy alum, Anaïs Reno, as they prepare to debut at Carnegie Hall in The Mabel Mercer Foundation’s “All the Things You Are”/The Music of Jerome Kern.  With more than twenty preeminent cabaret vocalists scheduled to celebrate the man whose compositions “turned American popular song into an art form – first on Broadway and then in the movies.”  


Learn more about Roger and Anaïs’ involvement in this upcoming show on May 21st in our interview with them below!  

Tell us about yourself, your background in music, your involvement with the Great American Songbook Foundation and why you fell in love with the Songbook and enjoy performing it? 

Roger: My father introduced our family to the great vocalists of the 1950s and 1960s who were singing what we know today as the "Great American Songbook." Roles in musical theater gave me a chance to sing some of these songs. Then, Michael Feinstein’s work breathed new life into the Songbook for me and eventually drew me to the GASF. My wife Lucinda, an actor in Indianapolis, encouraged me to pursue cabaret intensive training where we met and became friends with Marilyn Maye. The collaboration with Marilyn has made it possible for me to perform selections from the Songbook at a deep, meaningful level. 

Anaïs: I’ve been performing since I was roughly 7, and that passion became directed mainly towards the Songbook when I was 8. Over the years, I’ve dealt with trying to find my place singing older music as a younger person, and I can honestly say that Michael Feinstein’s Songbook Academy really propelled me performance-wise. I hadn’t even begun to fathom how much I was going to learn from that Academy when I started, and it only multiplied my appreciation for the music ten-fold. There is really something unique about the Great American Songbook, whether it be the messages carried in the songs, or the chord progressions, or the melodic arcs. It’s simply impossible for me to listen to other genres the way I do the Songbook, and Feinstein’s academy helped further open my eyes to how amazing it truly is.

How did you become involved with the Mabel Mercer Foundation and/or this particular tribute, “All The Things You Are: Celebrating Jerome Kern”? Is this your first time at Carnegie Hall? If so, what are you most excited about or looking forward to? 

Roger: This is my first time to even be inside Carnegie Hall! I’ve admired the Mabel Mercer Foundation for some time, most recently under the leadership of KT Sullivan, one of the top cabaret performers in the country. She came to a show I did in New York last year and invited me to participate in the Kern tribute. Carnegie is steeped in so much history and tradition; I want to take it all in. And sing well, of course! 

Anaïs: I became involved with the Mabel Mercer Foundation and this tribute through KT Sullivan. I met her at Birdland towards the end of last year, and I’m so thankful I did, not only for the opportunities she’s given me, but for her kind and giving soul. This is not my first time at Carnegie Hall. I participated in the Forte Music Competition there when I was 12. Although I’m not a stranger to Carnegie Hall, I am still incredibly excited to get to perform there again, especially in a different, non-competitive environment.

What will you be performing in this upcoming appearance? 

Roger: “I Won’t Dance” from the 1935 film “Roberta.” Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers sang and danced to it in the movie. Dorothy Fields wrote the lyrics. This arrangement was written by Tex Arnold, a Songbook Academy coach and Marilyn Maye. 

Anaïs: I will be performing an arrangement of Kern’s “Look For the Silver Lining” with Jon Weber.

Do you have a particular affinity for Jerome Kern’s music? Why? Why is a tribute like this important, as we continue to celebrate the lasting legacy of Jerome Kern and other legendary Songbook composers and lyricists? 


Roger: What’s not to like about Kern? Not only did he generate a long list of standards like “The Way You Look Tonight” and “All the Things You Are” that will be performed a hundred years from now, Kern was an innovator who changed the expectations of musical theatre-goers with songs that moved stories forward the same way dialogue does. It’s unimaginable to me not to highlight the work of composers and lyricists whose work will be with us forever. Can you imagine reading “The Great Gatsby” in high school but not knowing who wrote it? Jerome Kern’s work is as important to literary and cultural history as is the author of any renowned work. Kern and all contributors to the American Songbook deserve to be celebrated.


Anaïs: Jerome Kern is definitely one of the composers I appreciate the most. I especially love his compositions, “Ol’ Man River”, “I’m Old Fashioned”, “The Way You Look Tonight”, and more. His compositions have an element to them that touches me in a way that not many others do. It’s extremely important to pay tribute to him and other composers/lyricists, for it keeps their memory alive. It’s so easy to forget those who came before us and look towards what’s popular today, but music today wouldn’t be the same without inspirational, game-changing musical contributors such as Kern.


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