It all started in the back of a taxi and then took off in a big way in a lesbian bar. So goes the story of the legendary singing group, The Manhattan Transfer.

The quartet, back in Sydney to take to the stage of the Opera House with the Sydney Symphony, had its origins in New York in 1972.

Tim Hauser, the founding member of the band, was a struggling musician at the time, driving a cab to make ends meet. One night, he picked up a passenger, aspiring singer Laurel Masse, and they began talking about music.

Within weeks, Hauser and Masse had met fellow singer Janis Siegel as well as Broadway performer Alan Paul. The foursome created an act called The Manhattan Transfer and had their debut at Trudy Heller’s, at the time one of the city’s most popular lesbian clubs. Appearances at the legendary gay cabaret club Reno Sweeney’s soon followed.

That was how we started out, Hauser says in the lead-up to the Opera House concerts. We played to a largely gay crowd, and they were the first crowd to embrace The Manhattan Transfer. Then, for some reason, the rag trade crowd embraced us as well, so we had these two very different, but very strong, followings in New York.

Once we went mainstream, that was it with the gay crowd as we weren’t so hip. But things like that shift and change, and we have some people from those days still coming back to our shows, which is always great.

The Manhattan Transfer has had a multi-platinum selling career across the past 33 years, but is most famous for such classic hits as Chanson D’Amour, Boy From New York City and The Twilight Zone. The line-up changed in 1979 when Cheryl Bentyne replaced Masse, and the band first performed with the backing of a full symphony orchestra in Boston in 1984.

In recent years, the Grammy-winning quartet has explored more contemporary sounds within the pop music scene by recording songs by artists like Rufus Wainwright on their recent jazz-pop-Latin album, Vibrate.

Janis found his song My Phone’s On Vibrate For You, and then Alan’s daughter also liked Rufus’s music and turned her dad on to Rufus, Hauser says. Our last album Vibrate was like a throwback to some of our earlier stuff. We go back and forth between doing stuff with people like Rufus and then doing traditional tunes. It is our forte.

The Manhattan Transfer plays with the Sydney Symphony at the Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House, on Friday 2 September and Saturday 3 September at 8pm. Bookings: 9250 7777.

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