Singer Janis Siegel can’t be categorized by her music or the people she sings with. Her repertoire includes Broadway, jazz, rhythm and blues, swing and other genres, both as a solo performer and as a member of the four-part jazz group The Manhattan Transfer.
Siegel will showcase her vocal talents with The Manhattan Transfer at Koerner Hall in Toronto on March 8 in a Royal Conservatory of Music concert. She also may sing a solo from her latest CD, Night Songs, a collection of Caribbean and Latin-flavoured songs.
Siegel is the rare singer to have dual careers – singing for 41 years with The Manhattan Transfer while also performing solo for 32 years and never leaving the group for her solo career.
“I love all aspects of music. I never want to stop the individual style of singing solo, and yet, at the same time,
I always enjoyed the beauty of singing in harmony,” the 61-year-old Siegel said in a phone conversation from her home in New York.
The Manhattan Transfer’s original four members, including Siegel, have endured longer than The Beatles, The Four Seasons and most other vocal groups.
“All four of us care and have both professional and personal friendships that have endured for decades,” Siegel said. “We instinctively know how to harmonize and which songs fit best for each singer in the group. It is a blessing for me to have been with The Manhattan Transfer for most of my life.”
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Siegel started singing at age 12 with the group The Young Generation, and released two singles on record while still a teen. She had no intention of making singing a career, studying nursing in college, but a chance meeting with Tim Hauser, who was to create The Manhattan Transfer with Siegel and two other singers, led her to a new path.
“I loved singing, and the thought of doing it full time for a kid who loved Motown, Beatles, jazz and Streisand was too enticing to resist. I never had any regrets for choosing singing as my career.”
Over her career, Siegel has earned nine Grammy Awards and 17 nominations for her music, both with The Manhattan Transfer and as a solo performer. Her strong vocals led to songs such as Operator, Chanson D’Amour and Route 66 becoming hits for The Manhattan Transfer.
Less well-known are Siegel’s strong Jewish roots and love of Judaism, especially because she has been romantically involved with Rabbi Harry Levin for several years.
“Harry has made me appreciate his deep connection and love for Judaism that inspires me and [makes me] wish to share the more meaningful values and ethics of our religion.”
Siegel has used her vocal talents to express her joy at being Jewish. In the 1993 film Swing Boys, set in Nazi Germany, she gave a stirring emotional interpretation of the famed Yiddish song Bei Mir Bist Du Schein.
She also teamed with Jewish vocal partner Alan Paul of The Manhattan Transfer in the 2008 CD Jewish Songbook, singing vocal harmony in the song Ut A Zoi.
The Manhattan Transfer has performed in Israel many times and will perform there again in May.
“I especially enjoyed my first trip, taking my parents to see me perform there, and it was thrilling,” Siegel said.
Siegel performs with The Manhattan Transfer March 8, 8 p.m., at Koerner Hall, 273 Bloor St. W. in downtown Toronto. For tickets, call 416-408-0208 or go to www.rcmusic.ca.