In her first full-length album release and Concord Records debut, Inspired: Standards—Good For the Soul, vocalist Mary Haskell lifts listeners to new heights with a magical collection of classic standards sung from a fresh perspective and place of light.
On Inspired: Standards—Good For the Soul, Mary eloquently combines the music she loves with her deep faith and spirituality to create a CD that respectfully brings reverence and a sense of hope to listeners. “In today’s world, it’s important to find music that brings us a positive message, and lifts us up,” she explains. “I think this CD is a collection of great music that also is encouraging and motivating for the soul.”
A successful television actress and children’s recording artist, Mary is a captivating live performer, singing at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. and with symphony orchestras across the United States. In fact, it was a live performance aboard the Presidential yacht “Sequoia” that inspired her debut album. Mary was invited to sing one of her favorite holiday songs, “The Secret of Christmas,” by America’s Ambassador of Song, pianist and singer Michael Feinstein, when they began to discuss the universal messages that can be found in other beloved classic pop standards. “’The Secret of Christmas’ isn’t about the things you do at Christmas,” explains Haskell, “it’s about the Christmas things you do all year long. That’s what it’s all about—the messages these songs bring to our hearts.”
Producer Allen Sviridoff, who worked with Feinstein and was Rosemary Clooney’s longtime manager and producer, heard Mary’s poignant performance that night and, later, her vision for the music that would eventually become the perfect theme for her first CD. “I have always believed music has the power to inspire the heart and lift the soul,” says Mary. “Often the original intention of the composer or lyricist can have a meaning that motivates beyond words. For me, both the original meaning and the messages of faith also heard in the lyrics are woven together in a way that will carry you back, and at the same time, move you forward in hope.”
Inspired: Standards—Good For the Soul does just that. Each song carries a special importance for Mary, and was carefully chosen for its ability to transcend the words and inspire the listener. Her exquisite voice warmly radiates the messages of love, hope, joy, and, most of all, faith with flowing clarity. “Listening to this album helps you to feel good,” says Sviridoff. “It proclaims hope for the future, and a belief in all that surrounds you. It’s good for your soul.” Indeed, from favorites like the Irving Berlin classic “How Deep is the Ocean” and the Carpenter’s “I Won’t Last a Day Without You,” to “And I’ll Be There” and Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” the tender simplicity of the music and lyrics evokes a feeling of comfort and assurance that there is a greater power overseeing our lives.
In homage to her southern roots, the former Miss Mississippi invited a Los Angeles-based inner city choir to join her on the old-fashioned gospel tracks “You’ll Never Walk Alone/I Believe,” which cleverly intertwines two classics, and “You’re All I Need to Get By,” which has an R&B feeling. “They really brought a unique and distinctive flavor—it’s exactly what I wanted to do with those cuts. I’ve sung gospel music my entire life, it’s a real and deep part of who I am,” she explains. Mary’s rendition of “When a Child is Born” speaks to the possibilities that are in every child, and for a moment we feel a presence and a power which is not our own, but a reminder of the foundation of faith we are given.
Appropriately for a debut CD, the singer treats listeners to two never-before-recorded songs, including the beautiful and hopeful Dolly Parton-penned ballad “Try” and an intensely spiritual track called “He Is With You,” from a new Broadway musical written by family friend Kathie Lee Gifford, “Under the Bridge.” Also for the first time, friend and EMMY Award-winning actress Patricia Heaton takes to the recording studio to perform the climactic duet, “For Good,” a song from the Broadway smash “Wicked.” “These first recordings are so special and fit so well with our intent to find songs that reach beyond the music and lyrics to a deeper place. All three are songs that truly lift the spirit the spirit and inspire us to dream; to know that we are loved. We had to include them,” Mary says, adding, “These ladies were all so gracious to share their talents with us.”
Recording the CD at the famed Capitol Studios in L.A. was, Mary says, “an incredible experience—to be in that studio where so many great artists recorded at one time or another, Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Nat “King” Cole, Dean Martin, the best of the best.” These legendary singers, along with others like Rosemary Clooney, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Karen Carpenter and friend Michael Feinstein, left a lasting impression on Mary and helped shape the warm and enveloping style that we hear on Inspired: Standards—Good For the Soul.
Born and raised in Beaumont, Texas, Mary remembers always loving music: “I’ve had a heart for music all my life. There are pictures of me in the children’s choir at our church when I was 5-years-old.” She took to the stage and performed her first professional show for the Six Flags Company in Houston when she was aged 17. Shortly after, she would major in music at the University of Mississippi, where she was active in the theater and sang in the Ole Miss Jazz Band and Chi Omega Sorority.
Mary moved to Los Angeles in 1982, married her college sweetheart, Sam Haskell, and embarked upon a successful stage and television acting career. Throughout, her passion for music never faded. After the birth of her son, Sam IV, in 1988, and daughter Mary Lane a year later, she recognized a void in the children’s music business. As a musician and a mother, she decided to do something about it and co-founded, along with her partner Michael Reno, My Songs, a music company that creates personalized recordings for children.
Grateful for a fulfilling family life and a multi-faceted career, Mary has made a lasting commitment to give back to the place she considers home. “It’s vitally important to me to try to reach out to my community to make a difference in people’s lives,” she says. Whether it’s her work as an elder and soloist at her church, the Bel Air Presbyterian, or her dedicated involvement with local charities, the singer gives of her time and talents tirelessly. Through the Celebrity Action Council (founded by actress and friend Mary Frann), which serves the Los Angeles Mission through the Anne Douglas Center, Mary lends encouragement and support to the women in the program there. In the past, she has worked with the women’s gospel choir as well. She explains, “It’s been a blessing for me to see these women, who are choosing day-by-day to turn their lives around and regain their strength, faith and courage.”
Mary is also Vice-Chairman of the Mary Kirkpatrick Haskell Scholarship Foundation, founded 12-years ago in honor of her mother-in-law, a nurse who served the children of the tiny town of Amory, Mississippi. “She was all about giving children in small rural communities a chance,” she explains. Every two years, the foundation holds a huge star-studded charity event in the town to raise money to send underprivileged Mississippi children to college.
When discussing her new role as recording artist, Mary Haskell is humble and reassuringly grateful: “The process has been incredible. To have the opportunity to share my faith through these songs that I have loved singing for so long is an amazing blessing.”