Liza Minnelli - Biography

By J Poet


Liza Minnelli is the daughter of Judy Garland and her second husband, director Vincente Minnelli. She followed her mother into show business, and although Garland was a hard act to follow, Minnelli has carved out her own incendiary career, filled with the same kind of dramatic ups and downs that made her mother a legend. She’s had hits, three gold albums and a Grammy Living Legend Award and recorded pop, rock, blues, country, bluegrass, disco, dance, and jazz, but she made her reputation as an on stage cabaret performer and Academy Award winning film actor. Her most recent album, Liza's at the Palace (2009 Hybrid), is a live two CD set from her record breaking stint at The Palace in December of 2008.


Minnelli was born into show business and appeared in her first movie, In the Good Old Summertime, starring her mother, in 1949 when she was only three. She grew up on sound stages, watching her mother and father work and took dance lessons from MGM choreographer Nico Charisse. She was a backup for her mother before starting high school, but her life, like her mother’s, had a tragic side. As Judy Garland spun out of control due to drugs, alcohol and mental illness, Minnelli became her mother's best friend and personal manager, running her mother's household and behind the scenes life. When she was 16 she dropped out of high school and moved to New York City to make it. Her parents, by then divorced, refused to help her, but her name opened many doors. In 1963, she starred in an off Broadway revival of Best Foot Forward to rave reviews. Her work with touring theater companies led to a contract with Capital and her fist album Liza! Liza! (1964 Capitol) with Barbra Streisand’s arranger Peter Matz contributing charts. It’s a simmering collection of ballads including “Maybe This Time,” which became her theme song and was later included in the film Cabaret.


On November 8, 1964 she appeared on stage with her mother at the London Palladium and she did so well that her mother tried to upstage her, but both singers were praised for their performances. In 1965, Minnelli won a Tony for Best Actress in a Musical for Flora the Red Menace. She was 19 and the youngest actress to ever win a Tony. Flora’s songwriters Fred Ebb and John Kander became her arrangers and helped hone the cabaret act that made her a star. She toured heavily and released It Amazes Me (1965 Capitol), Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli Live at the London Palladium (1965 Capitol) a document of her baptism by fire, and There is a Time (1966 Capitol). The albums were not best sellers, but critics praised Minnelli for her power and vulnerability, noting her vocal similarities to her mother while complimenting her for finding her own individual style.


Minnelli signed with A&M and made Liza Minnelli (1968 A&M) and later the two LP set The Liza Minnelli Four Sider (1968 A&M). All her sessions for the label are on The Complete A&M Recordings (2008 A&M).


In 1968, she made her adult film debut in the movies Charlie Bubbles and The Sterile Cuckoo, for which she got a best actress Oscar nomination. When her mother died in 1969, she planned Garland’s funeral and managed her estate, worked on her first TV special for NBC, Liza Minnelli and continued touring with her cabaret act. In 1971 she became a mega star for her work in Bob Fosse’s Cabaret, her most famous and iconic screen role, with tunes by her friends Kander and Ebb. She won a Golden Globe, Academy Award and British Academy Award for her role as Sally Bowles. She also starred in another NBC TV special Liza With a Z, which won an Emmy. Cabaret: Original Soundtrack (1972 MCA) and Liza with a Z (1972 Columbia, 1972) capture her at her peak and got her onto the pop charts at last; both went gold. Liza: The Singer (1973 Columbia) was her highest charting album, finally cracking the Top 40, and Live at the Winter Garden (1974 Columbia) showed her doing what she loved, performing in front of an adoring crowd.


Minnelli continued her film career in the 70s, but had little success. Her most famous, or infamous, film of the decade was Scorcese’s musical New York, New York with Robert DeNiro. The soundtrack album New York, New York (1977 United Artists) included Minnelli singing the title tune, which later became a hit for Sinatra. Her disco album Tropical Nights (1977 Columbia) wasn’t a hit, but The Act (1978 DRG), a musical about a fading star staging a Las Vegas comeback, won her another Best Actress in a Musical Tony.


Minnelli starred in the Dudley Moore comedy Arthur in 1981, but mostly concentrated on her cabaret career, touring internationally and releasing sporadic recordings including I Believe In Music (1986 Columbia) and what may be her best live recording Liza Minnelli At Carnegie Hall (1987 Telarc). She also struggled with drugs and alcohol and went to the Betty Ford Center for detox in 1984. Her TV movie A Time to Live (1985 NBC) won a Golden Globe, and her TV specials include HBO’s Liza in London, Minnelli on Minnelli: Liza Remembers Vincente (1987 PBS) and the dramatic Liza Minnelli: Sam Found Out (1988 ABC). She closed the decade with Results (1989 Epic), a collaboration with the Pet Shop Boys that slowly went gold in the US. In England it was a smash and spawned the hits “Losing My Mind” and “Love Pains.”


As she enters her sixth decade of life as a show biz personality, Minnelli continues to tour with her cabaret show and make recordings, many of them live. They include: Stepping Out (1991 Milan), the two disc live concert album Paris: Aznavour-Minnelli (1995 EMI France) Liza Minnelli: Live from Radio City Music Hall (1992 Columbia), Liza (1993 Columbia), Gently (1996 Angel) which got a Best Traditional Pop Vocal Grammy nomination and features a duet with Johnny Mathis, Minnelli on Minnelli : Live at the Palace (200 Angel), a tribute to her parents that includes her versions of show and movie tunes associated with Garland and Minnelli, Sr., Liza’s Back! (J Records) which includes live versions of her signature tunes and Liza's at the Palace (2009 Hybrid.) The ever-surprising singer sang lead on “Mama,” one of the songs on My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade (2006 Reprise) and appeared as Lucille 2 on the underrated Fox TV comedy Arrested Development. Compilations of her work include the 53 track two disc set The Complete Capitol Collection (2006 Capital), The Best of Liza Minnelli (2008 Columbia), Liza Minnelli: The Collection (1997 PolyGram UK), and When It Comes Down to It: 1968-1977 (2004 Raven Australia) rare recordings from her early years.


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