A Song for the Ages and the Woman Who Wrote It: From the Cold War to COVID-19

4 Min Read

I am unabashedly a woman in a man's world. I've never tried to play it like a man. And I've steered clear of being "femme" to get what I want. So maybe, on second thought, what I am is a bohemian who is comfortable interacting in a man's world. The world I'm referring to is the music business. There have always been a few women who have somehow survived on talent and pluck or talent and destiny. To me, talent is a way of thinking... a way of looking at life. A woman needs to find her best talent and work it.

I had written hundreds, maybe thousands of songs already when I was invited to participate in Music Speaks Louder Than Words. It was the first-ever arts exchange between Soviet and American artists, and it wasn't ballet or Beethoven. It was American songwriters going to Russia to co-write and collaborate with our Soviet counterparts. It was during glasnost and Gorbachev, and it was a magical experience. Along on the trip were some great women songwriters like Brenda Russell ("Piano in the Dark"), Franne Golde ("Night Shift"), Holly Knight ("Love is a Battlefield"), and Diane Warren (every other song on the radio!). I had no illusions about why I was invited with all these divas. It was because I was a competent lyricist who could sit in a room with almost anyone and write a good song. I'd written for Frank Sinatra ("Monday Morning Quarterback"), Whitney Houston ("Nobody Loves Me Like You Do"), and I at the time I had a single out with Aretha Franklin & The Four Tops ("If Ever A Love There Was"). These were Russians we'd be writing with, so bringing along at least one English-speaking lyricist was sine qua non, indispensable.

We flew into Helsinki, Finland, gave a seminar to Finnish writers, and then we took a ferry to Tallin, Estonia. There, we had a decadent feast and a show reminiscent of living the movie Cabaret. A night like this had only happened once before in Estonia —when President Reagan was being feted by them. What a night! What food! What delicacies! Caviar! A smoky room and a semi-nude show! I thought at the time that the country had spent their gross national product for the day just on entertaining us, and I felt uncomfortable about that as it was a very poor country still pre-revolution.

In Moscow, we were introduced to the most wonderful array of songwriters, and I found myself in my suite at the ancient communist hotel Hotel Rossya with two talented Estonians — Mikk Targo and Sergey Manoukyan — and the Oscar-winning American songwriter Franke Previte who had written "(I've Had) The Time Of My Life" for the film Dirty Dancing. Where to begin? With a title — I always think of a title as a roadmap for a song. Otherwise, it's like getting in a car with no destination in mind. The idea we agreed on was "One World," and we spent a few very special hours writing it. Now and again, I had the impish impulse to lift the lampshade and ask the KGB (I was sure they were listening in) "Did you like that line?" which got giggles from my new friends. Two film crews, from Finland and from the US, came and filmed us in progress.

Once we returned to the US, the song was recorded by Earth, Wind & Fire. And after that, it sat idle until Franke approached me during the first month of COVID-19 and said, "We have to help the musicians. Nobody is earning a living."

I thought, "How do they eat, how do they pay their rent?" Music had come to a grinding halt. No movies were being made, so none were being scored. No artists could be touring. Recording studios shut down. So we rewrote "One World," not for Russians and Americans meeting at last, but to reflect the whole world, our times and hardships, and all our dreams now put on hold.

I asked Jon Gilutin, and he stepped up to produce the record. The writer of "New Attitude" and the occasional musical director for artists such as Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor, Jon is top of the heap when it comes to talent. He brought in a mind-blowing roster of A+ musicians and singers who have all appeared on Grammy-, Emmy-, Oscar-, and every other kind of award-winning projects, all of whom donated their time and talents.

And Franke went out and negotiated with four charities: Musicians Foundation, Actors Fund, First Responders Children's Foundation, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Our idea was to give everyone who donated to these charities a free download of our song "One World" as a thank you for being generous. All of the money that we make on this goes directly to these charity partners. Helping people out is a great feeling, and, by the way, I'm very proud to be the only woman on this creative team — as usual! Please watch the music video and donate here.

5 min read

Lessons Learned and the Power of Turning 50

Except for 16, I have celebrated all of my milestone birthdays in New York City.

I turned 16 in Arnold, Missouri. Arnold is a small town (though not small anymore) 20 miles south of St. Louis. St. Louis is known for the Gateway Arch, a beautiful arch of shiny stainless steel, built by the National Parks Service in 1935 to commemorate Thomas Jefferson's vision of a transcontinental U.S. St. Louis is also known for its custard, a frozen dessert that is so thick, they hand it to you upside down with a spoon inside. Something else about St. Louis you should know is that there is a courthouse just steps from the base of the Gateway Arch where one of the most important cases in history was tried: Dred Scott v. Sanford.

I'm turning 50 during what I define as a miraculous time to be alive.

Mr. Scott was born into enslavement around 1799 and, in 1830, was sold to a military surgeon who traveled back and forth between his military posts in Illinois and Wisconsin, where slavery was prohibited under the Missouri Compromise of 1820. In 1842 the doctor and Mr. Scott both married, and they, all four, returned to St. Louis. Still enslaved, Dred Scott filed a lawsuit against the doctor's wife for his and his wife Harriet's freedom. We don't know exactly why he chose this moment in time to file a lawsuit, however, he did. At the time of filing his, now, famous lawsuit, he was 50 years old. Ultimately, The Scott family did not gain their freedom, but their profound courage in filling this case helped ignite the Civil War and what we would come to know (or think we know) as freedom from enslavement for all human beings. Powerful then and even more powerful now.

My next milestone was turning 21, and I did it in the Big Apple. Having only moved to "the city that never sleeps" a few months prior, I knew nobody except my new friends, the bus-boys from the restaurant I was working at, Patzo's on the Upper West Side. And, yes, pazzo is actually the correct spelling of the Italian word, which translates to "crazy." Trust me we all had several laughs about the misspelling and the definition going hand in hand. I worked a full shift, closing out at around 11 PM, when, my kitchen team came out from the line with a cake singing, "Cumpleaños Feliz." It was fantastic. And the kindness of these almost-strangers was a powerful reminder of connection then as it still is today almost 29 years later.

I design the life I desire and the Universe creates it for me every day. I show up, keep the story moving, and work hard because I am relentlessly devoted to making the world a better place and this is how I choose to leave my legacy.

When I turned 30, I had just finished a European tour with Lucinda Childs dance company. The company had been on tour for months together and were inseparable. We traveled through Paris, Vienna, Lisbon, and Rome. We ate together, we rode on a bus together, we had drinks after shows together, and we even took turns giving company class to get warmed up before a show. It was deeply meaningful and dreamy. We ended the tour back in New York City at BAM, The Brooklyn Academy of Music. It was an incredible way to end the tour, by being on our home court, not to mention I was having an important birthday at the culmination of this already incredible experience.

So, when I invited everyone to join me at Chelsea Pier's Sky Rink to ice skate in late August, I was schooled really quickly that "tour" does not mean you are friends in real life, it means you are tour friends. When the tour ends, so does the relationship. I skated a few laps and then went home. This was a beautiful lesson learned about who your real friends are; it was powerful then as it is today.

Turning 40 was a completely different experience. I was in a serious relationship with my now-husband, Joe. I had just come off of a successful one-woman dance show that I produced, choreographed, and danced in, I had just choreographed a feature film, John Turturro's Romance and Cigarettes, with A-list actors, including Kate Winslet and James Gandolfini, who became a dear friend and had even been on the red carpet with Susan Sarandon at the Venice Film Festival for the movie a year earlier.

And I encourage all women to identify their power and choose to be fully in your power at any age.

This was a very special birthday, and I had, in those 10 years between 30 and 40, come to cultivate very real friendships with some wonderful colleagues. We all celebrated at a local Italian restaurant, Etcetera Etcetera (who is delivering for those of you in NYC — we order weekly to support them during COVID), a staple in the theater district. Joe and I were (and are) regulars and, of course, wanted to celebrate my 40th with our restaurant family and friends. We were upstairs in the private room, and it was really lovely. Many of those in attendance are no longer with us, including Joe's Dad, Bob Ricci, and my dear friend Jim Gandolfini having transitioned to the other side. Currently, that restaurant is holding on by a thread of loving neighbors and regulars like us. Life is precious. Powerful then and today even more so.

I write this article because I'm turning 50, still in New York City. However, I'm turning 50 during what I define as a miraculous time to be alive. And I could not be more filled with hope, love, possibility, and power. This year has included an impeachment hearing, a global pandemic, and global protests that are finally giving a larger platform to the Black Lives Matter movement. Being able to fully embody who I am as a woman, a 50-year-old woman who is living fully in purpose, takes the cake, the rink, and the party.

I'm making movies about conversations around race. I've been happily married for 11 years to the love of my life, Joe Ricci. I'm amplifying and elevating the voices of those who have not previously had a platform for speaking out. I choose who to spend time with and how long! I design the life I desire and the Universe creates it for me every day. I show up, keep the story moving, and work hard because I am relentlessly devoted to making the world a better place and this is how I choose to leave my legacy. Being 50 is one of the most amazing things I ever thought I could experience. And I encourage all women to identify their power and choose to be fully in your power at any age. I'm 50 and powerful. Dred Scott was 50 and powerful. This powerful lesson is for today and tomorrow. We have the power. No matter what age you are, I invite you to use your powerful voice to join me in making the world a better place.