Pianist and Singer Larry Woodard
BackStage Bistro Award and a MAC Award winner—the cabaret industry's highest honors.
Starting studying at 13:
“I asked for a piano for my birthday instead of a bicycle—which my father had already bought! Because our junior high music teacher was offering lessons at her house on Saturdays, and it was such fun! I got the piano for my 13th birthday, and before my 14th I was earning some money playing the piano.”
When he was young, Barbra Streisand: “There was a lot to learn from her, from her diction, her approach to a song, the musicality.” The Robert Shaw Chorale: “Unbelievable stuff, I’m a great lover of choral music, and if I had my druthers I would’ve been in choral music throughout my own career, and I was, because I always had a church job somewhere.” Also, “To hear Leontyne Price sing was a great inspiration, and to work with and hear Kathleen Battle’s voice…boy oh boy!”
Unusual early New York gig:
“All the Manhattan Savings Banks save one (it was just too small to have a piano) had pianists. While you were waiting in line you could make a request. I was photographed and appeared in Time magazine as one of the activities banks were offering in order to woo depositors. I loved it—I did it for several years.”
On playing at the Reagan White House:
“It’s such an honor just to be asked to come there. You can’t imagine how charming they were, and how hospitable. But to sit in a State Dinner and to have the strolling violins…it’s an incredible experience.”
“Bach and Rachmaninoff. (My teacher was Rachmaninoff’s second cousin—her father was Rachmaninoff’s first cousin.) Handel if I had to name a third."
The cabaret seed was planted by his mother:
She listened to her recordings of American popular song every morning. “My mother played lots of 78s…that she loves, and she would play them every morning.”
On his restaurant, The Maestro:
Larry was a partner in the venture, located across from Lincoln Center. Famous patrons included Elly Ameling, Lou Rawls, Tom Duncan, Marvin Hamlisch, Zubin Mehta, Stephen Sondheim and Hal and Judy Prince, and… “Horowitz played a duet with me one night. Vladimir Horwitz! I asked his wife if she had a favorite song, and she said 'My favorite song is my father’s favorite song (Her father was Toscanini), Tosti Seranata.' She didn’t think I knew it, just from the way she said it.” Larry went over to the piano, started performing the song, and "then Horowitz came over and said, 'My boy, ve play a duet.' I said. 'Excuse me?' He said, 'Ve play a duet! Top or bottom?' I said, ‘I’ll take the top, please!’ Isn’t that outrageous?!”
Advice for a young performers:
“Go and see a lot of everything, even if you have to stand. Go to the theater and try get in somehow, see everything and develop a network of friends and people who are insiders in show business, and they can often afford you opportunities like getting tickets to shows and plays. All that helps you grow as a performer and from there you can make a career.”
Larry is part of a very special community of unique individuals who reside at The Actors Fund's Lillian Booth Actors Home. The Home is the jewel in The Fund’s housing crown and a recipient of U.S. News and World Report’s coveted “Best Nursing Homes in America” award, bestowed on the best 2,700 of the 17,000 facilities nationwide. Our 124 residents represent a diverse cross-selection of the entertainment industry—from stagehands to writers to producers and, of course, dancers and actors, too. Nearly every entertainment union is represented under one roof in Englewood, New Jersey.
This interview originally appeared in Marquee, the official newsletter of The Actors Fund. Join The Fund today! Not only will you receive your own copy of Marquee twice yearly plus all the benefits of membership, you'll also play an important role in helping everyone in our creative community in times of need, crisis or transition and continue The Actors Fund tradition of caring for our own in entertainment.
Top photo: Joann Coates