For most children who grew up in the ‘70s, “The Electric Company” didn’t just inform on the English language, it made learning engaging thanks to catchy songs on proper pronunciation. For ‘80s actress Molly Ringwald, the show’s infectious melodies inspired an innate talent for singing and eventually catapulted a jazz career four decades in the making.
It was Ringwald’s mother who noticed her child’s vocal reach as she listened to her red-haired darling sing to herself. Rather than zinging through those famed PBS theme-song lyrics (“We’re gonna bring you the power!”), Ringwald was crooning for more mature audiences—specifically with Rita Moreno’s “The D Song.”
“She starts out really quietly and then ends up sort of belting it,” Ringwald recalls. “I really loved that song.”
While most children wrestled with “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” Ringwald learned classics like Eddie Green’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” thanks to inspiration from her jazz musician father. In fact, once his Fulton Street Jazz Band heard the 3-year-old, Ringwald took on lead vocals for his group. Despite the emotional weight behind jazz music, Ringwald remembers feeling the genre’s deep layers onstage while performing at clubs.
“It kind of blows me away now,” she says. “I have kids now, and I’ve taught them different songs. I can’t quite imagine how I did it. I had a pretty big repertoire when I was 3-years-old.”
By 6, she had recorded the album “I Wanna Be Loved By You.” As she grew older, Ringwald was drawn to musical theatre and acting, which eventually led to numerous starring roles in a trifecta of John Hughes’ teen flicks (“Pretty in Pink,” “The Breakfast Club” and “Sixteen Candles”). It wasn’t commonplace for most burgeoning stars of the ‘80s to have a hit song (something which Disney pretty much mandates nowadays). As well, the decade’s synth-laden pop scene and slew of hair metal bands didn’t really accommodate jazz artists either. However, the smooth, rich genre of sound—which Ringwald akins to comfort food—remained in her heart.
“I associate jazz with childhood, home and time spent with my dad,” she says. “It was our thing. When there are three children in the family, every kid is vying for special time with their parent. [Jazz] was my special time.”
Throughout her film career, Ringwald performed as part of her friend’s band and continued playing special gigs with her father. It wasn’t until she was in her 30s that she truly sank back into her music career. “I had this fantasy about singing in little smoky clubs,” Ringwald admits. And so once again, she followed that path.
In 2013 Ringwald released “Except Sometimes”—an album of cover songs, featuring everything from Ray Noble’s “The Very Thought of You” to Eydie Gormé’s “I’ll Take Romance.” During its making, Ringwald kept that famed director who catapulted her to fame close at heart, despite his 2009 death. She decided to record a jazzy rendition of Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me) from Hughes’ “The Breakfast Club.”
“I feel like [the song’s inclusion] is a nice bridge for people who know me from this other career,” Ringwald says. “Whenever I perform it, everyone gets really happy. [Audiences] know it and they know my version of it. It almost feels like it’s my [version of Tony Bennett’s] ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco.’”
The album’s title was inspired by the song “I Get Along Without You Very Well (Except Sometimes).” Ringwald wanted to stray from commonly performed jazz standards to keep the covers feeling fresh. Composer Hoagy Carmichael was inspired to create the song after receiving a poem titled “Except Sometimes.” He conducted a worldwide search for the poet to ensure he had the publishing rights after writing the song. As it turned out, it came from Philadelphia widow named Jane Brown Thompson.
“The whole thought of the song is: I get along without you very well except for this time and that time … really, the song is saying I don’t really get along well without you at all,” Ringwald tells. “I thought it was a beautiful story, and not that many people know it.”
Ringwald routinely works the story into her performances. It’s all about maintaining an intimate relationship with her audience. She often tells other stories, too, depending on the mood oon performance night.
Of course, when she’s not onstage, she’s still taking to the screen, as most recently seen in ABC Family’s “Secret Life of the American Teen.” She also is slated to return to the big screen with upcoming films “Wishin’ and Hopin’” and “Jem and the Hollograms,” set for release over the next two years.
“Time and time again, I’ll think: I’m too tired, the flight was too early, I’ve done too many interviews today, or things [will be] going on with my kids, and I think, ‘This is just going to be a drag,’” Ringwald admits about touring. “But then it’s not. It’s actually really energizing, and it’s a beautiful thing.”
The iconic member of “The Breakfast Club” will be performing classic standards from her new album, “Except Sometimes,” as part of UNCW Presents kickoff season on Wednesday, September 17th.
An Evening with Molly Ringwald
Wed., Sept. 17th, 7 p.m.
Kenan Auditorium, UNCW campus
601 S College Rd.