Some of Corky's favorite artists she has appeared or recorded with:
Tony Bennett ,
George Michael ,
Nat "King" Cole, Mel Tormé and more...
Corky Hale (Pianist, Harpist and Vocalist) was born in a small mid-western farm town and started taking piano lessons at age three. At age seven, while vacationing with her family in Florida, Hale was heard in the lobby of her hotel picking out tunes on the piano by House bandleader, Horace Heidt. Heidt had a little band jacket made for her and featured her for the next few weeks in the evening show. She began studying piano at Chicago Conservatory at the age of seven, and harp at the age of eight.
She has performed at The White House with Tony Bennett, soloed with Barbra Streisand in Central Park and at the Hollywood Bowl, and performed with Björk on her MTV Special in London. Hale has also appeared with George Michael at London’s Royal Albert Hall and Washington, D.C.’s RFK Stadium. She has played harp for Liberace (on his television show and at Madison Square Garden) and Judy Collins, piano for Billie Holiday, Mel Tormé and Peggy Lee, and sung with the bands of
Harry James, Ray Anthony and Jerry Gray.
Hale’s harp, piano and vocals can be heard on her three albums “CORKY!;” “Have Yourself A Jazzy Little Christmas;”and her current CD “Corky Hale and Friends...I’m Glad There Is You.” Corky Hale’s CDs are available at www.cdbaby.com and www.amazon.com.
Her sold-out performances at the Oak Room at the Algonquin in New York, Davenport’s in Chicago, the Cinegrill and Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. in Los Angeles, the Plush Room in San Francisco, and Pizza On The Park in London have led Los Angeles Times’ jazz reviewer Don Heckman to observe that Hale is “more than a triple threat,” and the San Francisco Examiner’s Philip Ellwood noted her performances are “of cyclonic proportions.” She has also been seen and heard on “The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson.”
Hale produced “Give ‘em Hell Harry,” starring Jason Alexander at the Tiffany Theatre in Los Angeles in 1992. Since 2000 Hale has frequently produced and performed her star-studded show “Corky Hale and Friends: From Tin Pan Alley to Beverly Hills,” at the Beverly Hills Civic Center. In March 2003 her “Salute To Hollywood Songwriters” opened the newly restored Ferry Building at a Gala for San Francisco’s “Raising Hope” charity, and in 2002 this show opened the 25th Anniversary Season of the 1,000-seat La Mirada Theatre. In that same year Hale’s musical “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” broke Box Office records at the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Florida. She also produced 1998’s “Lullaby Of Broadway” at the Tiffany Theatre in West Hollywood, voted one of the “10 Best Shows” of the year by the Los Angeles Times. Latera concert version of the show starring Sally Kellerman was presented at the University of Judaism. She is currently preparing a new version of the production, re-titled “I Only Have Eyes For You.”
On November 22, 2007, Corky Hale made her debut at Carnegie Hall as a Piano Soloist with the New York Pops Orchestra, under the baton of Guest Conductor, Barry Levitt. In 2008 she appeared at the Metropolitan Room in New York and produced a Tribute to Sammy Cahn at the Wilshire Theatre Beverly Hills. In 2009 she appeared at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. in Los Angeles, selling it out for the third time. Also in 2009, she also appeared as a performer on the Inaugural Playboy Jazz Cruise of the Caribbean.
In December 2008 – January 2009, she produced a Sold Out, Standing Room Only Revival of Leiber & Stoller’s Smokey Joe’s Café at El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood, which received rave reviews, including a Critics Choice in the Los Angeles Times. The same production was also nominated for 10 Ovation Awards in 2009, receiving the most nominations of any single theatrical show produced in Los Angeles during that year. Currently discussions are underway for another National Tour of the Revival of the show. In 2010, Corky Hale served as one of the financial backers of Academy AwardÒ nominated documentary film, “The Most Dangerous Man In America – Daniel Ellsberg and The Pentagon Papers.” Hale also appeared at Catalina Bar & Grill and the Hillcrest Country Club in Los Angeles in 2010.
2011 appearances included: the 22nd New York Cabaret Convention at Lincoln Center; the 16th Annual Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts; the Knickerbocker Bar & Grill in New York; Midtown Jazz at Midday at St. Peter’s Church in New York; Catalina Bar & Grill in Los Angeles, CA, and the Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles, CA.
In addition to her musical accomplishments, Hale jokingly considers herself the ultimate cook-housewife. She has been happily married since 1970 for 41 years to songwriter Mike Stoller of the team Leiber & Stoller, whose show Smokey Joe’s Café still holds the record as the longest running musical revue in Broadway history. She and her husband built the state-of-the-art Dorothy Hecht Health Center in partnership with Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, which serves 2,000 women monthly. She and her husband are currently building another health center in South Los Angeles. In 2011 Hale was honored as the Champion of Choice by NARAL Pro-Choice America (National Abortion Rights Action League) for her lifelong advocacy for women’s reproductive rights.
Hale serves on the national advisory board of NARAL, the national advisory board of Planned Parenthood and the California board of the Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistance Project (WRRAP). She and her husband are strong advocates of the Southern Poverty Law Center and serve on the board of the National Coalition to Ban Gun Violence. In 2012, besides appearing at Catalina Bar & Grill in “A Birthday Tribute To Billie Holiday” with Freda Payne and Tricia Tahara, she will be appearing with her husband, Mike Stoller, as the Inaugural Guests in the new “In Conversation” Speaker Series at the Museum at Eldridge Street in Manhattan, NY, in celebration of the museum’s home, the historic 1887 Eldridge Street Synagogue. To learn more about Corky Hale, please visit www.corkyhale.com
Photo by Peter Basch
with Buddy Collette
Corky Hale with Billie Holiday
While Corky was performing on the weekly Freddie Martin show, she got a phone call.
"Hello, my name is George, and I play the violin and my brother, Walter, is a piano player. We saw you and love your harp playing. We're starting a new television show, and we'd love for you to join us."
So Corky joined what would become an immensely popular television show starring Liberace. The show took off right away. She toured with Liberace, appeared in his movie, Sincerely Yours, and accompanied him for three years. She also bleached her dark hair platinum blonde, since Liberace convinced her that it would pick up the lights better.
"He became the most popular entertainer in the world at that time. He was also the nicest, sweetest man, and my really good buddy."
Meanwhile, back in Illinois, her parents, thinking that Corky was still in college, finally discovered their now platinum blonde daughter on television. Not only did they see Corky, their neighbors also saw Corky. Immediately, her mother flew to Los Angeles and found her daughter not in classes, but in TV shows, and she was making good money at it.
"I was 18 years old. I had my own apartment, I bought myself a big white Buick convertible. When I think of the money I was throwing away..."
One show followed another, Liberace, The Red Skelton Show and most of the other variety shows of that time.
"I got a call from Cecil B. DeMille."
And the result was that her harp music can be heard accompanying Anne Baxter in The Ten Commandments.
So at a tender age, Merrilyn Hecht and her harp were all over the little screen, and her music was on one of the biggest films every made for the big screen.
But what happened with the piano?
LIVE AND ON STAGE
"I always have considered myself a pianist."
Ironically, Corky's early successes have focused on the harp while piano has been her primary instrument since she was three years old.
"Without fail, almost entirely, everywhere I go, everyone says, 'Oh, Corky Hale, you're the harpist'...I get crazy about that. I say, 'Yes, I'm really a pianist, but most people know me as the harpist."
Her public association with the harp continues, although by the mid-50's, her piano began to slowly advance to a front position. She appeared at the Coconut Grove nightclub, joining again with the Freddie Martin Orchestra, first as a harpist, then adding piano during intermissions. And still later, when they found she could sing, she was asked to do vocals.
"That was unbelievably glamorous. Remember, I'm from a small farm town, and there I am in probably the most glamorous place in the United States. I would look down every night from the stage and there was Lana Turner, Robert Taylor and Van Johnson, the biggest stars in the world. Every week the Coconut Grove would book a big act."
These acts were the leading performers of the day, including Martin and Lewis, Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee. And there was also that singer named, Frank Sinatra, although it was at his low point, with his marriage to Ava Gardner ending and not much work coming his way. In fact, a newspaper review during that time talked of Sinatra's thin voice and waning career, but the writer mentioned to look out for the young lady playing the harp and intermission piano.
The young lady went on to date Frank Sinatra a few years later. Says Corky,
"If Frank was invited to a very nice cocktail party or dinner, he would often invite me, because I had a "little black dress and pearls," and we could talk about music if he got bored...I thought he was divine."
While at the Coconut Grove, she became known as Corky Hale for the weekly remotes which were heard throughout the country. . She was one of the first women piano players with a big band.
Jerry Grey brought her to Las Vegas to sing and play piano with the band. On opening day of rehearsal, Jerry mentioned that they had booked a last-minute act.
"And in walked Billie Holiday!"
Looking over at Corky Hale, all cute and platinum blonde, a skeptical Billie asked who the piano player was. But at the end of the rehearsal session, Billie was satisfied and said to Corky,
"You is my little girl."
After Las Vegas, she hired Corky to play with at Los Angeles Jazz City and to accompany her to the Phillipines, but Corky had discovered that Billie's husband at the time was far from the likeable and upstanding man portrayed in the movie, Lady Sings The Blues. She was not comfortable traveling with him, and reluctantly turned down the gig.
By this time, Corky's parents had also moved to Los Angeles. After all, somebody had to look after their platinum blonde, unmarried daughter who was hanging around with musicians and working in nightclubs and movie soundstages and television. At the very least, their Corky needed some stability, so they opened up a clothing store for her on the Sunset Strip, called, Corky Hale.
It put a halt to her musical career, and although the store was an immediate success, Corky was unhappy there. However, Corky found herself linked to another adventure; while looking at a line of Italian knits, she met the president of the knit company, a charming Englishman. She fell in love. They were married. It lasted four years.
"The one good thing that came out of that is that I speak fluent Italian."
During the marriage, she lived part of the time in Italy, and she loved it, so after the divorce, Corky moved to Italy for three years. She appeared there on a weekly television show, Tempo di Jazz, and now her hair its natural dark color, she appeared Italian-looking enough to get some bit parts in Italian movies. Back in Los Angeles, her parents ran the shop.
Corky returned home in 1966, but found she was unhappy in Los Angeles, so she moved to New York. Restless there as well, she went on to London, and there ran into another musical connection, Tony Martin. He invited her to be his piano accompanist, so she moved back to New York, commuting to Los Angeles for Tony Martin's nightclub acts. This arrangement did not last long, and in New York, Corky began playing her harp and piano on many recordings for such artists as Peter Allen, Judy Collins and James Brown, as well as Tony Bennett, and Barbra Streisand, who used Corky in her first three television shows. Corky is still impressed with Streisand's musical savvy.
"She is my idol. She can do no wrong. I think she is the greatest voice, the smartest woman."
While in New York, she also got a call from songwriter Jerry Leiber of the legendary writing team Leiber and Stoller. Leiber asked her to come to their office to discuss doing demos for them. She went for a meeting in their office.
Then "I saw Mike Stoller and lightening struck......"
They started dating, eventually moved in together, and in 1970, Corky and Mike were married. Although the couple lived in New York, they were working on both coasts, Corky busy accompanying artists such as Peter Allen, Judy Collins and James Brown, as well as Tony Bennett, and Barbra Streisand, who used Corky in her first three television shows. Corky is still impressed with Streisand's musical savvy:
"She is my idol. She can do no wrong. I think she is the greatest voice, the smartest woman."
Corky also performed instrumentally and vocally on commercials; in fact, she was the Barton's kosher candy voice. And in case you're wondering about her spare time, there was the restaurant, Corky's, that she opened on the Upper East Side. The restaurant has since closed, but Corky still loves to cook for her family and visitors at the Stollers' impressive hilltop home overlooking Los Angeles, where they moved in 1989.
Los Angeles is where most of their work is now, and where much of both their families live. Corky's brother is a lawyer, her father has died; her mother lived well into her 90’s, traveling, wearing Chanel suits, active in Los Angeles charities and well-known in the community. Corky called her, “Los Angeles' Auntie Mame. “”
In the last several years Corky recorded on Bjork’s album Debut, and was brought by Bjork to London to back her in her MTV Special.
Singer George Michael subsequently bought the album in London and told his producer, “Find this woman, I want to record with her.” Corky was flown to New York to record the album Songs of the Century with George. He then flew her to London to appear with him at Royal Albert Hall on the bill with Elton John and Boy George. Later he brought her to Washington, D.C. to appear in a human rights concert before 40,000 at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium.
A great respecter of lyrics and lyricists, Corky questioned why composer Harry Warren alone is always credited for the hits of the 1930's that he wrote with lyricist Al Dubin. This led to her successful Los Angeles theatrical production, Lullaby of Broadway, dealing with the life of lyricist Al Dubin. Later renamed Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Corky’s show sold out Florida’s Coconut Grove Playhouse in 2003.
Although she is currently busy producing theater and movie projects, she still finds time to occasionally perform.
One thing is sure -- the career of Corky Hale continues, full of twists and turns, but certainly fascinating.