Broadway show tunes and cantorial music roll off senior’s tongue
Music makes the world go round for Scottsdale virtuosa Sharon Friendly. The classically trained performer has been singing professionally for most of her life and relishes every opportunity to belt out a tune.
“I love the challenge of performing and making people laugh or cry,” says the Toronto native, who has been entertaining audiences since her teen years. At the youthful age of 72, Friendly exudes vitality and passion, two attributes that fueled her sparkling career.
“I’ve been a singer for a thousand years,” she says with a laugh. “I’ve performed in nightclubs, retirement centers, veterans’ homes, military shows, cruise ships and private parties.”
As if a continual carousel ride of singing engagements weren’t enough to keep her life humming, Friendly is also the cantorial soloist at Scottsdale Desert Foothills Jewish Community Association. “I am the ‘crying cantor,’ ” she says. “You could put a million dollars on the table and say don’t cry, and I’d lose it. As soon as the Yizkor music starts, it just gets in my heart and soul, and I lose it. When we sing ‘We Remember Them,’ it really gets to me. It’s an honor and a privilege that I’ve been able to do something that my father had always wanted me to do and (had) never seen me do it. He was very against me being in show business, but he eventually came around.”
Friendly had an epiphany at age 8 when she heard Mario Lanza, “The Great Caruso,” perform. She knew at that moment her life’s ambition was to be a singer. Throughout her high school years, she threw herself into performing in plays, orchestra and variety shows. At 16 she turned to Broadway and pop music and won a talent contest called Ken Sobel’s Amateur Hour singing “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” from “My Fair Lady.” When a manager wanted to send her all over the world, her protective parents rejected the idea.
“So instead, I got married at 18 and went from the frying pan into the fire,” she says.
“My husband was very threatened by my singing and made me stop.”
After the divorce she reunited with her true love – singing. She delighted in performing for American troops in Thailand, Okinawa, Taiwan, Japan and the Philippines.
Friendly entertained extensively – singing pop music, ballads and Broadway songs in restaurants, hotels and anywhere else her manager thought was appropriate. “I never had it in my soul to create the songs; I always felt I could interpret someone else’s words better than my own,” she says. Her band, aptly named “Let’s Get Friendly,” traveled with her, including a base, saxophone, drums and occasionally a banjo band.
In the early ’80s, Friendly decided to strike out in a challenging new direction: She became the host of a cable show, also called “Let’s Get Friendly.”
“I was the host, and I talked about anything that interested me and I picked my own guests,” she explains. “Cable networks were just learning at that time, and I was on a learning curve with them. I hosted a lot of people and learned a lot. I had authors, a couple of minor movie stars. I loved learning about people, and I still do. People trusted me and opened up about all sorts of things they would not normally do.”
The magnitude of the ’94 California earthquake (6.9) was a game changer for the singer’s career. Emotionally shaken, she decided to head for a place not famous for fault lines … Arizona. Soon her love for singing sprang back to life, and she expanded into private parties, while joining “The Class Act,” a group of five seniors who performed at libraries, RV parks and care facilities.
Fourteen years ago, Friendly reinvented herself once again, seizing a unique opportunity to be part of a traveling theater group. The show, called “The Gift,” was put on by Chase Manhattan Bank and included a kaleidoscope of ethnicity: a Muslim, a Jew, a Mexican woman and man, a Native American boy torn between the reservation and the big city, an angry young black man, an older black man, a Caucasian man, a gay man and a woman.
“I was one of the women and dressed as a cantor, even before I became one,” says Friendly. “It was a special show to show how people are discriminated against. We told our stories of how skin color and religion affected us, and we performed at Chase facilities in New York, Tempe, Delaware, Florida.”
In 2007 talent and glamour took center stage in Friendly’s life, as she entered the Ms. Senior Arizona competition, winning second runner up. The event involved modeling a gown, telling her philosophy of life and performing a talent, which was singing “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” The prize was a Mexico River cruise and a pageant ring. “I also got to represent Arizona at a lot of functions and parades,” she says. “When you have your banner, everyone wants a picture of you,” she says with a laugh. “Since the event, I’ve been in the Parada de Sol Parade, Fiesta Bowl Parade, Prescott Frontier Days and Veterans Day Parade.”
Friendly is a true “muse for all seasons.” As if her resume weren’t colorful enough, 10 years ago she added another highlight – jewelry designing. “A friend kept showing up with gorgeous necklaces I admired,” she says. “I asked to learn how to create them, and soon my business, Leave No Stone Unturned, was born. When you are a performer, you are creative in many different parts of your life.” The singer now sells her jewelry at boutiques such as Ritzy Rags in Scottsdale and at home parties.
She also creates distinctive bridal jewelry. “I love color and the challenge of creating,” she says. The artist’s creations consist of earrings, bracelets and necklaces made from stones such as turquoise, adventurine, chalcedony, carnelian, pearls, coral and quartz. As a paid instructor as well, her classes include materials and are enjoyed at resorts, cruises and anyplace that teaches crafts. Crochet beading is her specialty, but she can also teach basic beading classes.
She won the Ms. Senior Arizona title of Queen in March 2007. In October of that year she came in second runner up in the national Ms. Senior America pageant in Las Vegas. Now Friendly sings with a group called The Cameo Club, consisting of seniors who have been in the Ms. Senior America Pageant. They perform at veterans homes, care facilities and resorts. She also teaches singing at her home.