Erv Raible: A Personal Obituary

Erv Raible

An important man in the cabaret world, Erv Raible, has died, aged 68, after struggling with a long illness. Fiona-Jane Weston remembers him in this obituary.

Erv Raible, Fiona-Jane Weston,with Seth Hampton,  Mireille Rjavec at the International Cabaret Conference at Yale 2011

Erv Raible, Fiona-Jane Weston,with Seth Hampton, Mireille Rjavec at the International Cabaret Conference at Yale

New York City based cabaret coach, director, publicist, consultant and talent representative, Erv Raible, has died of pancreatic cancer. His achievements are too numerous to recount here, so for a more comprehensive list, visit his website or see here.
Suffice it to say that he was the Artistic Director of the Cabaret Conference At Yale University, which developed in conjunction with the Yale School of Drama and the Yale Repertory Theatre. He owned and booked cabaret clubs Eighty Eight’s (1988-99), Don’t Tell Mama Piano Bar & Cabaret (1982-89), Brandy’s Piano Bar (1980-85), and The Duplex Cabaret & Piano Bar (1978-84), where I was able to perform in 2011.
He co-founded the Manhattan Association of Cabarets & Clubs, who bestow the MAC Awards, was the recipient of the 2004 Back Stage Bistro Award for Outstanding Director, and in 1989 received the Piaf d’Honneur from the French government for promoting, producing and directing cabaret internationally.

I hope to recall some personal memories and say something about his legacy in the form of the talent he nurtured and the love and respect of cabaret he left behind.

He was a wonderful teacher, sometimes hard taskmaster and tremendous encourager, but Erv’s greatest talent was his ability to spot potential in people coming from very different and disparate backgrounds. Whilst retaining great respect for the American Songbook, he was never one to be constrained neither by it nor the conventions of what is traditionally seen as good songbook cabaret in the U.S.

He released country and western, jazz and blues, classical, music theatre singers, artists using foreign languages, and indeed, British Music Hall performers to use their musical disciplines in a personal, individual and expressive manner, reaching directly to the audience to take them along the highs and lows of a journey with them.

To actors, for whom he had enormous respect, he gave permission to break away from the character the song was originally written for, and significantly, to throw off the fetters of the beautiful, well trained voice.

To pass the audition to get onto the International Cabaret Conference at Yale, the international teaching program which examined intensively the art of cabaret performance technique, and trained professionals for the live entertainment industry, you did not necessarily need to be an accomplished singer. Indeed, some very good singers were turned down. But you did have to have something to say, and to be articulate in expressing it.

“I’ll take someone with only five good notes and a lot to say over someone who has a fabulous voice and is brain-dead”  He was often saying that, or something similar.

He encouraged students and artists to not only perform, but to teach, spread the word and form supportive communities. He made sure people from different areas of the world, and from different disciplines, shared dormitories together. Amanda McBroom, composer of the Bette Midler hit “The Rose” and cabaret performer herself, said of him on her Facebook page:

“..He taught me that I could teach. He made me laugh. He made me think. He gave me Tovah Feldshuh for a roommate!..”

For those who don’t know, Tovah Feldshuh is a Tony-nominated Broadway and film actress. Both were teachers on the Yale programme.

When I began work on my first cabaret show, 20th Century Woman: the Compact Cabaret in 2010, I felt a burning, continuous and relentless sensation that I had to do that show and have it up and running by the following year. I said to my husband and friends: “It’s got to be now, NOW! It can’t wait!”. And I didn’t know why.

In 2011, after playing the show at the Battersea Barge and at The Pheasantry, I somehow heard of an audition at the Royal Academy of Music for the Yale conference. I applied, got an audition that I nearly turned down, but that’s another story. That audition changed everything. I didn’t realise at the time (probably just as well!) that auditions had been held all over the States, for two days in London, Jerusalem, and video auditions were submitted from all over the world. The teaching faculty was to include Amanda McBroom, Tovah Feldshuh, Manhattan Transfer singer Laurel Massé, comedienne Sharon McKnight,cabaret singer Sally Mayes, cabaret legend Julie Wilson, blues singer Pam Tate and MDs Alex Rybeck, Hubert Tex Arnold and Paul Trueblood.

He took 26 of us. I nearly couldn’t go. Erv personally authorised a scholarship. It turned out to be the last Yale programme.

Whilst there, I loved talking to Erv, sometimes over lunch, sometimes in the tutorial rooms. We discovered we had other interests in common, including a passion for Chinese as well as European history. I used to live in China and at one time spoke Mandarin quite well (rusty now, alas!). Erv housed a vast collection of Chinese antiques.

He loved British history and spent time in the home of Edward Vlll and Wallis Simpson in Paris – and had written a musical about them he wanted to produce.

He was fiercely protective of his own artistic heritage, railing against the destruction of certain parts of Tin Pan Alley and other locations of American musical history.

His personality was mercurial – one minute genial, the next petulant, then naughty (he once impishly placed Amanda McBroom in a porn motel, apparently!), the next stubborn as hell, refusing to acknowledge his illness. I never witnessed the really difficult side of his nature, as I know some colleagues did, but everyone I met who knew him, loved him.

I was able to take the opportunity to stage 20th Century Woman: the Compact Cabaret in New York at The Duplex – one of his former clubs, though I didn’t realise that when I was booked. In the audience were Yale colleagues, including the wonderful Julie Wilson (which transformed my status within the club, I might add!), who was typically charming and generous, taking us out for a meal afterwards.

The last time I saw Erv was early in 2012, when he was coming to London and he made a special trip up to Market Harborough to see David Kent, Leanne Borghesi, Chloe-Jean Bishop (3 Yale students) and me perform a cabaret we put together up there. We were honoured and thrilled to see him.

Now, I pursue my own artistic path, creating cabarets that are unique to me and are a true reflection of my interests, passions and disciplines. I review and write about cabaret, with the confidence of knowing I have a sound grounding.

And, I know that my colleagues from my time in Yale, both staff and students alike, will remain friends for life. We keep in touch and support each other whenever possible, though we live far and wide.

Who knows what the future holds, but I am blessed indeed to have had Erv Raible prove so instrumental in my career, along with those of countless others. What a gift.

Fiona-Jane Weston

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About Fiona Jane Weston

I am Fiona-Jane Weston and as well as being a performer myself (see website), I write reviews of and features on shows, mainly on the London cabaret and theatre scene. I have worked in theatre for many years, but decided to embark on a new direction in cabaret in 2009, when I produced 20th Century Woman: The Compact Cabaret. Not wanting to neglect my love of spoken word, particularly drama and verse, I made the conscious decision to include these elements in the programme, as well as wonderful songs, to tell the story of women's changing status and preoccupations throughout the 20th Century and up to now. I was invited to audition for the renowned Cabaret Conference at Yale, run by the late legendary Erv Raible, and that was thrilled to be one of only 26 accepted that year, where I was taught by the masters of the genre. Amanda McBroom (composer of the Bette Middler hit "The Rose" and the poignant "Errol Flynn"), Laurel Massé, original member of Manhattan Transfer, Sally Mayes, Tony Award nominees Sharon McNight and Tovah Feldshuh, and New York cabaret veteran Julie Wilson were all on the faculty. We were also treated to the musical direction of Alex Rybeck, Hubert Tex Arnold and the now late Paul Trueblood. With the benefit of their insightful teaching and great encouragement, I took my show to The Duplex in New York, where I was delighted with the response. Since then, I have produced Loving London: The Capital Cabaret, using the same format of songs, poetry and drama, in various London venues, including Leicester Square Theatre and The Crazy Coqs. 2014, the centenary of World War 1, saw the launch of Wartime Women: the Khaki Cabaret to a sellout house at St. James Theatre, London, garnering great notices, including from The Times and Musical Theatre Review. I have since been touring the show to Belgium and throughout the UK. I hope these reviews and interviews entertain and educate at the same time, and if please do leave comments in the box. It's great to engage in a conversation about the Arts. Fiona-Jane Weston
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4 Responses to Erv Raible: A Personal Obituary

  1. That was really wonderful to read..Erv and I shared a deep 23 year friendship….my husband told Erv “he was the sister I wish I had”…Erv loved that !! I spoke with him the end of January…he was in such a bad state…I had hoped to come to NYC to see him..but it didn’t happen.He would have loved all the tributes to him.A brilliant mind…sometimes a tortured soul…but one of the funniest people in my life.A true mentor for a performer…Jane Scheckter

  2. Sarah Lee MIchaels says:

    Thank You Fiona for such a beautiful obituary. I too loved Erv and shared one on one time with him in NYC after my Yale 2010 experience. I took some of his workshops at Chelsea Piers. After the session was over, we would walk by the soccer fields and watch the players. He always had humorous and wonderful off the cuff comments. He made me laugh! He was so sincere and honest, and wasn’t afraid of anything. I loved that about him. In 2011, (your class year), he agreed to let my daughter into the program. He knew little about her, only that I promised him she was a accomplished singer.. he listened to me, and knew me well, and agreed. Later he confirmed how wonderful she had been for the program… and I only responded that “no, the program had been so good for her.” I also recommended Natalie’s friend Anthony. I knew he would love it too. He auditioned at The Duplex. Erv loved him right away and accepted him into the program.

    Erv had such a giving soul. I loved the way he trusted. I loved the way he believed in others. I hope that the bit of him he leaves behind for all of us. To Believe….in people, in music, in song…. I am a different vocal coach now because Erv Raible taught me a new way.. a better. clearer way to interpret song… because of Yale, and because I was able to meet and study with such great musicians and performers like Tovah Feldshuh, Tex Arnold, Pam Tate, Pam Myers, Sally Mayes and Faith Prince. How many people can say that they have studied with such great musicians in a short period of time….. I am grateful. I am thankful my daughter got to work with Erv, and you, and all the same great teachers. It was because of Erv’s work, his desire, his commitment and his spirit, that we all are better musicians We leave behind a legacy with Erv…. and a future in cabaret for us all.. Thank you Erv! We miss you.
    Sarah Lee Michaels

  3. Pingback: Erv Raible: An Obituary | Paul L Martin's cabaret blog

  4. Pingback: Celia Imrie: Laughing Matters | Capital Cabarets And Other Shows Scene

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