The Singer, Not the Song

On the twenty-fifth anniversary of their meeting, a pop singer visits the newspaperman who helped launch her career and became her first lover.

An excerpt:

A response of sorts arrived nearly two years later: An envelope from Karma Records that contained a ticket to "Sharona at Carnegie Hall" and a backstage pass. He wasn't sure he wanted to go but at the last minute he got onto the afternoon train in Providence, checked into the Barbizon Plaza, had a quick meal at the Wienerwald, and arrived at Carnegie Hall a few minutes before Sharona went on.

He scanned the audience before sitting down. He estimated it was seventy to eighty percent girls, most in their teens, a few even younger than that. Some were with parents or boyfriends, but most were in clumps of friends. They cheered—shrieked, really—after every song. Art didn't like her performance any more than he'd liked the album, but he had to admit that she had enthusiastic fans for her current style.

At least there was no band, no backup singers, it was just Sharona with her piano and her voice. But she had abandoned the delicate understatement of her Bournemouth performances. She played the piano loudly, often pounding the keys, and her once clear voice had become grating, even strident at times, to his ear.

After the concert ended, a large group of girls gathered in front of the stage and Sharona came to the footlights. She signed programs and chatted with them, smiling the whole time. Art stood well apart from the group and watched, remembering how she had acted and reacted with the kindergarten-age children the first time he had seen her, when she was Miss Sharon. Those kids would be about ten or eleven years old now. He idly wondered if any of Miss Sharon's Romper Room pupils were now fans of Sharona, the singer.

After fifteen or twenty minutes, ushers began to herd the girls toward the exits. Sharona gave them all a final wave and blew kisses at them before leaving. An usher asked Art, "Anything I can do for you?" and Art showed him the backstage pass. The usher led him to a door to the right of the stage, opened it, and pointed down the corridor. "Take a left at the end and then the first door on your right."

He tapped on the door and heard Sharona's voice: "Come in."

She turned in her chair to face the door as he entered. A burly, scowling guy in a muscle shirt was sitting near her, looking out of place in the brightly lit dressing room. A bodyguard? That didn't seem likely, especially since he hadn't been out on the stage with her when she was signing autographs for her fans.

"I'm so glad you could make it!" Sharona exclaimed. "I wasn't sure.I know you weren't crazy about my first album but I did hope you would come." As he took a step toward her, she said, "Art, this is my husband, Tadeusz Wolansky. Tad, I've told you about how Art helped me when I was just starting out."

"Nice to meet you, Tad." Art extended his hand but Tad ignored it and simply responded, "Yeah," with something like a sneer. "So you didn't like her album?"

"It wasn't what I expected, at all. She was really a jazz singer when I knew her."

"Can't make money with that shit." He glared at Art.

Sharona interposed. "See, Tad's a record producer, so he knows what will work and what will sell, so he helped me create my act. And he got me writing songs, too."

Art nodded.

"I should tell you how we met," she went on. "It's a pretty funny story. Isn't it, Tad?"


"I was doing everything to find jobs, especially in children's theater, and I did get a couple small parts but nothing to brag about, and then I saw this role that sounded perfect for me because they wanted an actress who could sing and play the piano. When the time came, I went rushing to the building because I wanted to be first in line but when I got there I wasn't sure of the room number and I left the paper home. I went into a couple rooms that I thought might have the right number but they weren't auditioning anybody.

"I was getting panicky about missing the audition completely. I went into another room and there was Tad, sitting behind a desk, and I said, 'Is this where I audition?' and he said, 'Sure,' and I looked around and said, 'Where's the piano?' and he said, 'If you need a piano, we have to go down the hall.'

"So we down the hall to this big room"—-

"A friend's studio," Tad interposed.

—"and I sat down and did 'They All Laughed' and Tad said I sing good but need better material."

"More current stuff," Tad said. "Top Forty, that kind of shit."

Sharona laughed. "That was when I realized this wasn't the audition I was looking for. I thought I was auditioning for a show and Tad thought I was auditioning for a record contract. He was just starting in the business."

"Wasn't just starting."

"Well, I know you had experience with other companies, I only meant you'd just started your own company. So, anyway, we started talking and Tad said I had to do some gigs to get some fans before cutting an album and he had all these ideas that sounded good to me. For one thing, he asked if I ever wrote songs and I said I had written a couple and he liked them and said I should write more. So I signed a contract to make him my manager and sure enough he got me some gigs, especially at some music festivals-oh, and we also got married. Of course, the big gig was at Woodstock but we didn't know how really big that was going to be."

"I did," Tad said.

"Well, maybe you did but I sure didn't. But, you know, a lot of people seemed to like my performance there, so that got me kind of a name and Tad decided it was time to do an album. And that got me more fans and I did more gigs and then we did this Carnegie Hall thing and that will be my second album, 'Sharona at Carnegie Hall.'"

"Two-record set," Tad said.

"It all sounds great," Art said. "I'm really happy for you and I wish you continued success."

"Thanks, Art. And thanks for coming."

A few months later, the "Sharona at Carnegie Hall" album arrived, with a note.

Dear Art,

I hoped we'd have some time to talk alone but Tad insisted on being there. I think he's suspicious of you. He was upset that I wasn't a virgin when we got married.

I don't know if we'll ever see each other again but I'll always remember you as my first fan. I know you don't like the way my career has worked out but I'll always be grateful to you for helping it get started.

Love, Sharona

After that, there was nothing for about twenty years.

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