Tim Hauser, the Founder of the Manhattan Transfer, Dies at 72
Tim Hauser, a singer and showman who founded the Manhattan Transfer, a Grammy-winning vocal group that brought four-part harmonies to several decades’ worth of American popular songs, died on Thursday in Sayre, Pa. He was 72.
The cause was cardiac arrest, said his sister, Fayette. She said he had been taken to a hospital in Elmira, N.Y., with pneumonia shortly after arriving in nearby Corning for a scheduled performance and was later moved to a hospital in Sayre, where he died.
Begun in 1972 when Mr. Hauser was making ends meet as a New York City cabdriver, the Manhattan Transfer became known for its jazzy treatment of a wide spectrum of musical styles, from gospel and swing to doo-wop, pop and rhythm and blues; for stylish and sophisticated arrangements; and for a razzle-dazzle stage presence featuring slick costuming and arch choreography.
The group’s wide repertoire embraced different eras. It included Louis Armstrong numbers from the first half of the 20th century; “Tuxedo Junction,” which had been a hit for Glenn Miller in 1940; “Route 66,”Bobby Troup’s 1946 paean to the great American highway, which had been covered by Nat King Cole, Chuck Berry and others; the gospel tune “Operator,” recorded by the Friendly Brothers in 1959; the Rascals’ 1967 pop hit “Groovin’ ”; and soul songs like “The Boy From New York City,” a remake of a 1965 hit by the Ad Libs that was the group’s only Top 10 single.
Before Mr. Hauser’s death, the Manhattan Transfer had the same four members — the others were Janis Siegel, Alan Paul and Cheryl Bentyne — since the late ’70s, when Ms. Bentyne replaced Laurel Massé, who had been Mr. Hauser’s first recruit for his new vocal group but who had been injured in a car accident. By then the Manhattan Transfer had earned a substantial following, touring extensively, recording for Atlantic Records and headlining a summer variety series on CBS in 1975.
Still, the years between 1979 and the early 1990s were the group’s heyday. During that time they recorded their best-known albums — among them “Extensions,” which included a vocal version of the Weather Report song “Birdland,” which became one of their signatures; “Vocalese,” a collection of songs with lyrics (written by Jon Hendricks of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross) set to previously recorded jazz instrumentals; and the samba-tinged “Brasil” — and won multiple Grammys in both jazz and pop categories.
In addition to providing a smooth tenor and crisp diction to the group’s renditions, Mr. Hauser was in charge of its public image, of which he was very conscious. Always flashily dressed onstage — sometimes with casual extravagance, now and then in formal wear — the Manhattan Transfer employed a showbizzy dance steps in live performances, a Hollywood or even Las Vegas touch that appealed to many fans but that critics sometimes found irritating.
“On the one hand,” the New York Times critic Robert Palmer wrote in 1980, the four vocalists “are genuine aficionados of pop music’s many vocal-group idioms.” But, he added, “they’ve built their following with the help of a liberal amount of flash and often their jive talk, costume changes and showy stagings have tended to overwhelm the more musicianly qualities in their work.”
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Timothy DuPron Hauser was born in Troy, N.Y., on Dec. 12, 1941, and grew up mostly on the Jersey Shore, in Ocean Township and Asbury Park. His father, F. Jackson Hauser, was an insurance adjuster; his mother, the former Theresa Butters, was a school secretary who later opened her own travel agency. She died earlier this year.
Mr. Hauser went to high school in Belmar, N.J., and studied economics at Villanova University. He was interested in vocal pop music from an early age and sang in his high school glee club.
In 1956, he met the members of the doo-wop group Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers.
“I heard them warm up a cappella in the dressing room before a concert, and that did it for me,” Mr. Hauser recalled in a 2012 interview for the Archive of Music Preservation. “I would say karmically, that was God hitting me with that lightning bolt, going, ‘Here it is, kid; if you miss it, it ain’t my fault.’ ”
When he was still in his teens, Mr. Hauser and a friend started a singing group called the Criterions, recording several songs and appearing on the same bill with groups including Dion and the Belmonts. He later sang in a folk trio, the Troubadours Three.
After graduating from Villanova in 1963 and serving in the Air National Guard, he worked for a time in advertising and in the marketing department of Nabisco. In 1969 he started a singing group, a quintet with a country and rhythm-and-blues bent that he called the Manhattan Transfer. (The name comes from the title of a 1925 novel by John Dos Passos.)
They recorded one album, “Jukin’,” for Capitol Records before disbanding. In 1972, Mr. Hauser was driving a cab to pay the bills when he picked up Ms. Massé, then a waitress and aspiring singer, as a fare, and the second iteration of the Manhattan Transfer began to gestate. Several weeks later, another fare brought him to a party, where he met Ms. Siegel. Mr. Paul, who was performing in the original Broadway production of “Grease,” was a friend of Ms. Massé’s boyfriend.
Mr. Hauser, who lived in the Los Angeles area, recorded a solo album, “Love Stories,” that was released in 2007. He also appeared as an actor in the 1991 film “The Marrying Man,” whose soundtrack he helped produce.
His first two marriages ended in divorce. In addition to his sister, he is survived by his wife, Barb Sennet Hauser; a son, Basie; and a daughter, Lily.
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