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Master of Disaster

Oscar winner who sings about burning buildings and sinking ships comes to Akron.

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Youngstown native Maureen McGovern launches into an American songbook of big-band and Broadway classics at today’s University of Akron JazzFest 2007. Accompanied by the school’s Jazz Ensemble, she’ll work her way through standards like “I’ll Be Seeing You” and “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead.” “It’s great, feel-good music,” says McGovern. “There’s a freedom, joy, and a great sense of fun. It’s hard to find songs that joyous.”

McGovern gives props to her late dad (who sang in barbershop quartets) for turning her on to musical idols Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, and Frank Sinatra. When she graduated from Boardman High School in 1967, McGovern admits she was an “odd duck” for favoring World War II-era music over the pop tunes her classmates were listening to. “I grew up with the Beatles, which I loved as well, but I always gravitated toward literate music,” she says. “The irony is that there was this uplifting music written when the country was on the brink of war.”

After snagging an Academy Award for The Poseidon Adventure’s “The Morning After” in 1972, McGovern recorded another Oscar winner a couple of years later -- “We May Never Love Like This Again” from The Towering Inferno. She soon became known as the Disaster-Theme Queen. “I still get letters that show how much the songs mean to people and how they get them through a death, divorce, or some traumatic experience,” she says. “I thought, If that’s the power music has, I should harness that into music with a purpose.”

These days, McGovern splits her time between running a foundation that provides uplifting tunes to terminally ill patients and touring in support of her latest album, Help Is on the Way. “We’re all water and vibrations, and we respond to music in deep, profound ways,” she says. “Music is part of complimentary medicine for the mind, body, and spirit.”
Sun., March 11, 3 p.m.

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