A vocal group that proved the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s weren’t absent from the music of the ‘80s, Manhattan Transfer was a very successful act in that decade. Deriving their name from a novel about 1920s New York, the original group formed in New York City in 1969 and included Tim Hauser, Erin Dickins, Marty Nelson and Pat Rosalia, Gene Pistilli (later with Cashman, Pistilli, and West on Capitol Records in 1971), . Hauser sand with a Brooklyn doo wop group in 1959 called THE CRITERIONS, who recorded the obscure releases “Don’t Say Goodbye” and “I Remain Truly Yours” on Cecilia Records. Ironically, the lead singer of the Criterions, one Tommy West, became the West of Cashman, Pistilli, and-some 12 years later. The Transfer’s earlier releases could best be described as a cross between “let’s not take ourselves too seriously” and folk doo wop with a touch of country. Recordings like “Chicken Bone Bone,” “Java Jive,” and “Rosianna” didn’t have much commerciality, but the group still managed to get a Capitol Records recording contract.
By 1972, Hauser’s then current occupation as a cab driver had led to a fateful meeting with Janis Siegel through an introduction by a passenger in Hauser’s cab. At the time Siegel was singing with the group Laurel Canyon and had been in the Young Generation on Red Bird Records in 1965. Hauser’s cab proved to be mecca for talent; that’s where he also met singer Laurel Masse . He filled out the foursome with an acquaintance of Messe’s, Alan Paul, who was then appearing in the original cast of Grease.With a common taste for four-part harmony that was uncharacteristic for a group in the early and mid-‘70s, they landed a recording contract with Atlantic Records. Their second single, a gospel/ pop recording titled “Operator” (1975), showed Atlantic’s faith was well placed. It went up to number 22 on the pop charts and garnered the group the opportunity to star in their own TV summer replacement series (it ran for three weeks.)While American chart hits were hard to come by for the group after “Operator,” their December 1976 recording of “Chanson D’Amour” (the Art and Dottie Todd hit from 1959) became a number one record in France and England by April 1977. In 1979, Laurel Masse left for a solo career and Cheryl Bentyne, formerly of the New Deal Rhythm Band (1975) took her place.Changing vocal direction with almost every LP through the ‘70s and ‘80s, the group’s most successful chart single was a jazz-flavored doo wop remake of THE AD LIBS’ 1965 hit “The Boy from New York City,” reaching number seven in the summer of 1981.The group’s flexibility and growing expertise enabled them to perform music from the ‘30s to the ‘80s, touching on bebop, fusion jazz, doo wop, Latin melodies, pop/rock, and so on. Although never considered a superstar act, their accomplishments (such as having each of their six studio LPs between 1980 and 1989 contain at least on Grammy-winning performance, and being the first group to win Grammys in the same year in both jazz and pop categories) won them a loyal worldwide following. Due to their varied style, Manhattan Transfer’s recordings placed on the pop, R&B, and jazz charts and registered 10 chart singles in England.Through 1989, the group recorded 12 LPs and nine singles (two R&B charters and seven pop charters) and won 10 Grammys.
– Jay Warner