The Mabel Mercer Foundation’s Cabaret Convention: Why It’s Vitally Important

By MARILYN LESTER**** Tonight, October 16, at 6 PM, the twenty-eighth annual Cabaret Convention commences for four glorious evenings at the Frederick P. Rose Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center. The Gala Opening Night, hosted by KT Sullivan, features an A-list of cabaret stars: Corinna Sowers Adler, Danny Bacher, Carole J. Bufford, Joshua Lance Dixon, Tommy J. Dose, Greg Gropper, Luba Mason, Marilyn Maye, Tanya Moberly, Karen Oberlin, Lyric Peterson, Vivian Reed, Adam Shapiro, and Jacob Storms. The Donald F.Smith Award will go to a surprise recipient, and to Vivian Reed will go The Mabel Mercer Award.

It’s going to be quite a night, and here’s why the Mabel Mercer Foundation‘s (MMF) Cabaret Convention is so incredibly important: there’s hardly anything like it in the whole wide world. A quick Google search reveals the following (beside the Chicago Cabaret Convention, which is run by the MMF): In May, there is, in the NYC suburbs, the annual Artists in Partnership (A.I.P.) Cabaret Festival in Long Beach, Long Island, along with one in Orlando, Florida – both celebrating their 15th annual events in the same week this year. The Provincetown CabaretFest on Cape Cod celebrated three years last June. There have also been such events in Boston, run by BACA (Boston Association of Cabaret Artists), Seattle and St. Louis, as well as the Gaslight Festival at the same-named theatre in Chicago. Recently, here in NYC, Cabaret Scenes magazine collaborated with local clubs for an International Cabaret Festival, which even included “passports” for “frequent flyers.”  Overseas, there’s the Great Western Burlesque and Cabaret Festival in the UK and the Croatian Burlesque and Cabaret Festival. In Australia, nearly two weeks of cabaret is presented in Melbourne and  the Monash University Student Association (MSA) produces a Cabaret Festival in August. The motherlode of world-wide cabaret events is The Adelaide (Australia) Cabaret Festival, going since 2001, on the Queen’s Birthday long weekend each June. It claims to be the biggest festival of its kind, drawing more than 48,000 attendees.

Contrast this relative paucity of cabaret events – some not long-lived or reaching beyond their local area for visibility – to the innumerable jazz, folk and music festivals in the United States and world-wide. In these categories the numbers are enormous. There are Wikipedia lists devoted to them.

The fact is, quoting from an MMF press release, “with its unique combination of the best of past and present popular song, the annual Cabaret Convention stands as a pivotal, highly anticipated highlight of New York City’s autumn music season.” So as we gather tonight to “celebrate the pride of the cabaret profession and its repertoire,” let us not forget to thank the late Donald Smith, founder of the Mabel Mercer Foundation, and those who maintain it, especially Artistic Director, KT Sullivan, for keeping cabaret alive. The Cabaret Convention is a beacon of awareness for the genre. Is it too much to hope that one day the category of cabaret festivals will receive its own Wiki page?

Cabaret Convention concerts are this week, Monday through Thursday nights, at 6 PM, with different performers each night. See for the complete list and tickets in advance. The box office is on the street level at Jazz at Lincoln Center on West 60th Street and Broadway. In coming days, songwriters will be saluted: the Gershwins on Tuesday and Hoagy Carmichael and Richard Whiting sharing the honors on Thursday. Wednesday’s show is hosted by author James Gavin.