Money

How Barry Manilow's biggest money mistake left him with just $11,000 in the bank

Barry Manilow grew up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, back when the now ultra-hip New York neighborhood was less than desirable. His earliest music gigs, he worked as a piano player, accompanying other more successful artists.

Then his single, "Mandy," released in 1974, hit big. When he got paid for it, he literally went from broke to millionaire in a single day.

Clive Davis, then-president of Arista Records, personally handed Manilow a $1 million check. "I'll never forget it, because that was the beginning of my career," Manilow tells Forbes. "I didn't tell him I had literally just bounced a check that morning."

Barry Manilow
Photo by NBC
Barry Manilow

Manilow was ill-equipped to handle the windfall. He was passionate about music, but his finances were another matter.

"We [musicians] are all into the music!" Manilow tells CNBC. "I came from bouncing checks at the A&P [supermarket] to getting big crazy checks. What am I supposed to do with that?"

So Manilow hired someone to take care of his finances. What he didn't do, however, was think carefully about hiring the right person.

"I hired the wrong guy," says Manilow to CNBC. "From 'Mandy' all the way through to 'Copacabana,' I didn't see anything. And I didn't know it until my manager, Garry Kief, came along and said, 'You know, you have only got $11,000 in the bank.'

"From 'Mandy' all the way through 'Copa,' I had $11,000 in the bank."

"Mandy" had topped the charts. So did "Copacabana," which came out in 1978. It also won Manilow a Grammy Award. Those were prolific years for the singer. He released five full albums.

So Manilow was shocked and upset when he realized had only $11,000 left to show for it. He didn't have a choice but to start over. "I started to go to work," he tells CNBC.

Indeed, he did. Manilow released more than 30 of his own albums and produced albums for other artists including Bette Midler, Nancy Wilson and Dionne Warwick. He won numerous accolades including 11 Grammy nominations, two Emmy's, a Tony for his performance in "Barry Manilow on Broadway," and three American Music Awards.

“Whenever there was a choice between music and anything else, music won hands down every time.”

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He even produced jingles and commercials for brands including State Farm, Band-Aids, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pepsi, Dr. Pepper and McDonald's.

With a career including more than 85 million albums sold worldwide and 50 Top 40 singles, Manilow is no longer bouncing checks. But he has become more involved in managing his own finances.

"I pay attention more than I did, believe me," he tells CNBC.

Classic vinyl @dancingkostas

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He's still not interested in spending his days obsessing over money, though. "I like a piano keyboard not a computer keyboard," Manilow says.

First and foremost, he is driven by his passion to make music.

"I started off just wanting to be a musician and that's all that is important to me," he says. "The rest of it I am grateful to have, don't get me wrong, but it's never really been what I went after."

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