Cheers to the Pink Martini
By Robin Jay
Phyllis Diller once toasted with a Pink Martini. But Diller wasn’t drinking and the Pink Martini wasn’t a cocktail. Confused? Don’t be. You see, Pink Martini is “a little orchestra” with whom Phyllis Diller once recorded Charlie Chaplin’s song “Smile.” And, recently, it was smiles-all-around in Miami when Pink Martini gave
a splash performance at the Adrienne Arsht Center.
Stirring up a Recipe for a Unique Musical Group
As you can see from the photo, Pink Martini is no run-of-the-mill orchestra. The eclectic conglomeration, featuring 10-12 musicians, performs its multilingual repertoire on concert stages and with symphony orchestras worldwide. With an innovative global mission, the group is the whimsical braintrust of pianist Thomas Lauderdale. South Florida Opulence sat down with Lauderdale for a chat about this unique bunch.
“I grew up in rural Indiana, surrounded by Guernseys and cornfields,” Lauderdale mused. “My parents were both from the earnest side of the 1960s and adopted a rainbow tribe of children … I’m the mystery Asian; I have an African-American brother, an African-American sister and an Iranian brother. After seeing a production of ‘Oklahoma,’ I tried to re-create the spectacle with my siblings, a Radio Flyer wagon and a couple of wigs. From that point on, I think I loved the idea of creating a spectacle of non-stop entertainment packed with music and whatever friends, neighbors and relatives I could wrangle.”
Campaign Trail BandLeader
Fast-forward to 1994. Now living in Portland, Oregon, Lauderdale worked in politics. He toyed with the idea of running for mayor one day and, like most politicians-in-training, went to gads of political fundraisers, where he made an interesting discovery: Music at these events was bland, loud and, frankly, un-neighborly. It was just the inspiration Lauderdale needed.
Drawing incentive from a mix of global music – crossing genres of classical, jazz and old-fashioned pop – and aiming to appeal to conservatives and liberals alike, Lauderdale founded the “little orchestra” Pink Martini. His mission: to provide more attractive and inclusive musical soundtracks for political fundraisers for causes such as civil rights, education and parks, and affordable housing. About a year later, Lauderdale asked a former Harvard classmate, China Forbes, to join Pink Martini. The first song they wrote together, “Sympathique,” became an overnight sensation in France. The band’s grand achievements may also have a bit to do with Lauderdale handpicking other accomplished performers – like Phil Baker who was formerly
Diana Ross’ bass player, and Brian Davis who played percussions with Herbie Hancock.
“I think one thing that certainly sets us apart from other groups is that we have a multilingual repertoire – songs in 20 different languages,“ said Lauderdale. “50 years ago, it was quite common for pop artists to sing songs in different languages. These days, I can’t think of another American band that has a multilingual repertoire – except for Pink Martini. So, for audiences in Romania, for example, I think it’s a revelation to hear an American band sing a Maria Tanase song in Romanian.
“We’re very much an American band [they once performed for the FBI’s Christmas party], but we spend a lot of time abroad and therefore have the incredible diplomatic opportunity to represent the America which remains the most heterogeneously populated country in the world – composed of people of every country, every language, every religion.”
Pink Martini’s newest album, titled ‘Get Happy,’ was released in 2013, featuring singers China Forbes, Storm Large, Rufus Wainwright, Ari Shapiro and the von Trapps [yes, the real-live dependents of the singing von Trapps portrayed in the 1965 movie The Sound of Music – read the interview below].
Meet the Modern Day von Trapps
The great-grandchildren of Captain and Maria von Trapp carry on the family’s singing tradition
By Robin Jay
The American musical film The Sound of Music, adapted from the book The Story of the Trapp Family Singers by Maria von Trapp, has inspired
generations since the epic Academy Award-winning film was released in 1965. History carries on today as the great-grandchildren of the
Captain and Maria von Trapp continue the family singing legacy – with a few modern amenities.
“Transportation has gotten a whole lot easier!” quipped Sofi von Trapp, 25, the eldest sibling of the von Trapp Family Singers. “Our grandfather was portrayed as ‘Kurt’ (one of the children) in The Sound of Music; his real name was Werner von Trapp and his youngest son is our father. They started singing to survive; we started because it was fun.”
After Sofi’s grandfather and family escaped Austria, the Captain moved them to Vermont. “Our father then moved us to Montana,” she said. “Grandfather would visit and teach us Austrian songs, until he had a stroke 13 years ago. We recorded the songs he taught us to make him feel better in the hospital, and our singing took off from there. Our audiences are surprised when we tell them our parents can’t sing at all. And they seem impressed with our ability to communicate telepathically, or at least that’s what it looks like on stage.”
Sofi, Melanie (23), Amanda (22), and August von Trapp (19) have toured over five continents – Europe, Australia, Asia, Africa and North America. Yet, the von Trapp children haven’t forgotten how to enjoy simple things in life.
“The four of us like to cook. When we first moved to Portland last year, we would throw Schnitzel nights in an effort to make friends. Free food and a funny theme like Schnitzel, how could one resist?” Sofi said.
The four musical siblings say they are ambassadors of music, heritage, and hope. The group traveled to Rwanda in 2009, where they taught music at an orphanage. They learned the Rwandan National Anthem and performed it for the Rwandan President. He was so moved that he gave 13-year-old August a cow from the presidential herd. The cow, however, opted to stay in Rwanda.
“Our favorite thing about singing together as siblings is sharing all the fun memories,” Sofi said. “We encourage others to cherish their families and their heritage.”
There are some aspects of the von Trapp legacy that this generation has chosen to leave behind. “Lederhosen and I have been inseparable since the earliest childhood, even before our musical career,” August said. “I look forward to a future of more modern attire. Who knows though, maybe they will come back into fashion?”