AN INTERVIEW WITH ARETHA FRANKLIN’S PIANO TEACHER
New York City, NY: Piano School of NYC faculty member, Melissa Manning, was recently featured on 20/20: Aretha as she was Aretha Franklin’s piano teacher. Manning honored Franklin in the tribute and shared personal stories about the “Queen of Soul.”
Manning received a call in 2008 from her office assistant mentioning that Aretha Franklin left her a message saying she wanted piano lessons. Manning was in the middle of a music rehearsal of a children’s version of The Sound of Music and asked if she could take a break if Franklin called. Her co-workers excitedly responded, “Of course!”. Her first thought was that it was a hoax until her phone rang, and the voice on the other end spoke; Manning instantly knew that Franklin had called her directly! Franklin explained that she found Manning on the internet and wanted to learn the Juilliard method. Manning replied, “Sure. I would be honored to work with you.”
Melissa Manning is a Juilliard trained concert pianist who attended Manhattan School of Music and Montclair University as a piano performance major. She was chosen first runner-up to Vanessa Williams, Miss America, and was crowned Miss New York State, 1983. Her talent in the pageant was playing “Rhapsody in Blue” on the piano. She has music directed musicals, played in orchestra pits, worked as a church organist and choir director, produced Opera Night Concerts at L’arista Italian Restaurant, accompanied opera singers, music directed, and taught music to countless students, including celebrities for the past 38 years. She has been a faculty member of the Piano School of NYC for 7 years.
A representative from ABC reached out to PSNYC founder, Vera Anselmo, after seeing Melissa’s bio on the Piano School of NYC website. ABC wanted to feature Manning as Ms. Franklin’s piano teacher on her special one hour 20/20 tribute and asked Anselmo to put them in touch.
“It all happened so fast,” Manning stated. ABC asked her to be interviewed for their TV segment the following day, so Manning quickly went to the beauty parlor and did a google search to find out what one should wear on TV. The following day, she styled her own hair and made the drive to NYC for the interview. She found out on the drive to film the tribute that Ms. Franklin passed away. She was grateful she did not have mascara on that day, as her eyes welled up with tears on the drive.
ABC interviewed Ms. Manning at the beautiful Merkin Concert Hall in NYC on Thursday, August 16th. The special tribute aired that evening. The segment features Manning at a Grand Piano sharing her experience and playing the piano. Manning mentioned that one of the things that did not make it into her segment was that of her demonstrating what Franklin had come in already knowing on the piano. Franklin came in playing gospel harmony chords to which she would sing the melody over, and Manning taught her a new technique of playing with curled fingers to allow for classical playing.