Songwriters are natural story-tellers.
Listening to legendary songwriters perform and tell the stories behind some of their biggest hits made for an unbelievable evening Monday at the Wadsworth Theatre, where the fourth annual “The Songs of Our Lives” concert benefiting the Fulfillment Fund took place.
The Fulfillment Fund provides mentors, tutors, college counseling and guidance to under-privileged youth in Los Angeles.
“It’s just a wonderful evening and the talent here is beyond belief,” said Gary Gitnick, chairman and founder of the Fulfillment Fund. “Every year this event is historic, but the important thing is that it saves lives. The proceeds from this event will change the lives of young people in our city who really have no hope and no opportunity, by providing them with an education.”
Tony Danza emceed the event, which featured performances by award-winning songwriters such as: Jeff Barry (“Chapel of Love”), Felix Cavaliere (“Groovin"), Steve Dorff (“Through the Years”), Richard Marx (“Don’t Mean Nothing”), David Pack ("You’re the Only Woman”) and Allee Willis (“September”).
Songwriters Hall of Fam inductee Charles Fox organized the event.
“This event is possible because of the generosity of spirit of all these fantastic performers, artists, songwriters and musicians who are here tonight because I called them and said, ‘Hey, I have a great cause that helps students,’” Fox said. “When I was young, I had opportunities and help in my education that were given to me, so ‘The Songs of Our Lives’ concert is my way of paying it forward so that students in Los Angeles get the same opportunity to achieve their dreams.”
For more than 30 years, the Fulfillment Fund has provided first generation, low-income students with the support necessary to graduate from high school and go on to college.
Danza said he felt excited about sharing a stage with such an amazing array of musical talent, more excited about being able to help.
“You look at the statistics of the kids that get involved with the Fulfillment Fund, and their college completion rate is unbelievable,” Danza said. “If the entire country was graduating kids on the whole like that, China would be worried about us.”
Fulfillment Fund students graduate high school at a rate of 85 percent, and of those who graduate, 91 percent go on to college. According to the California Department of Education, the Los Angeles Unified School District has a high school graduation rate of just 69 percent.
Concert highlights included Danza breaking out his ukulele and performing “Watch What Happens” with Brazilian music composer Oscar Castro-Neves.
Fox and his longtime songwriting partner, Norman Gimbel, took the stage together for the first time in 30 years to perform their hit “Killing Me Softly” and the theme from the 1970's television show “Laverne and Shirley.”
However, the stories behind the songs added a touch of magic to the performances.
For instance, while working on a song with co-writer Danny Sembello, Willis looked out the studio window and saw a kid trying to jimmy the lock on her car. She ran out of the studio yelling, “Someone stole my brand new Chevrolet!”
Sambrello, thinking she was calling out the next line, went with it.
That line became part of the hit song “Neutron Dance” of "Beverly Hills Cop" soundtrack fame. The song won a Grammy award.
Of course, the song never would have made it onto the soundtrack in the first place if movie producerJerry Bruckheimer hadn’t dug through his trash looking for a discarded tape to tape another song over.
“True story,” Willis said. “He heard the song again and decided to use it.”
Felix Cavaliere dedicated one of his songs to the soldiers serving overseas.
“I’ve been doing this song for a long time and it’s amazing that it still means so much in our world,” Cavaliere said before singing “People Got to be Free.”
Steve Dorff has 11 number one records and five Emmy nominations, but his most memorable song only took him about six minutes to write, he told the audience.
“I was asked to write the theme song for a new television show, so I went to watch the pilot and I came home thinking, ‘Okay, that show’s never going to even make it to the air,’” Dorff said.
The theme from “Growing Pains” ended up playing in American households every week for eight seasons.
“So that shows how much I know about television,” Dorff said.