If you have never met a legend, you're in for a treat. I was fortunate recently to have a conversation with someone who has been in the music industry for over 40 years—and is still going strong. Most people have maybe one career; this person has been blessed to have two amazing careers and is looking forward to the future and what it has to offer. Ladies and gentlemen, I am talking about none other than the founding member of The Manhattans, Mr. Edward "Sonny" Bivins.
I thought it was fitting to give a man of his stature a proper introduction. I was honored to speak with Bivins recently about his career and the changes he has seen in the industry. Bivins says his longevity stems from his need to make good music. His ability to keep audiences around the world wanting more has enabled him to carry on even when things were not going so well. Bivins doesn't believe in quitting and he doesn't work with quitters. Maybe that is one of the reasons he has not only survived—he has thrived. The Manhattans have performed from Japan to Jamaica, and have gotten standing ovations at almost every show. Whether they are performing for one hour or ten minutes, their shows are always innovative and entertaining. This current group of musicians shows no signs of letting up. They are constantly updating their previous hits to make them even better. Bivins also feels blessed to have found a collection of artists who have the same determination to making a product that represents their best at all times.
To tell you I was in awe is an understatement. I wasn't sure what to expect. I didn't want this interview to be about his past accomplishments. I wanted to know what it was like for him to just live day to day. He was so down-to-earth, I almost forgot I was talking to someone who had received among other awards, the American Music Award and a Grammy. It was like having a conversation with a family member. He was straightforward and honest with his answers and if he couldn't remember a detail, he didn't try to fake it. He doesn't put on airs. He will stand for hours signing autographs and taking pictures with fans, because he loves them just has much as they love him.
There was so much to say about this man that I couldn't possibly include it all in this interview. What I am sharing with you today is a very small portion of our time together. There have been many articles about the history of the group and it's founder, but what I wanted to share today is not so much about the legend, but about the man.
*For the purposes of this article, we will refer to Mr. Bivins as "Sonny."
Sharon: It is a real pleasure to finally have a chance to talk with you.
Sonny: It's my pleasure.
Sharon: I don't really know where to start. I really just want to get a feel for what your life is like on a daily basis. I want your fans to learn about the real you.
Sonny: I'm just a simple man. I hang out with a few close friends, but mostly family. I shop for myself, I go to the doctors, and I pay bills. I'm just regular folk.
Sharon: OK. Let's just get this out of the way; are you married or single?
Sonny: (laughs) Single.
Sharon: Do you have any children who are in the music business?
Sonny: No. I have four children, but none of them are in the music business. My two sons own a trucking business together.
Sharon: That's awesome. Did you ever do anything other than music?
Sonny: I worked at a couple different places before going into the service. I was in the Air Force for nine years.
Sharon: You have worked with a lot of people in the industry. Do you have any tips or advice for people who want to follow in your footsteps?
Sonny: Stay humble and learn the business. It's important for new artists to learn as much as they can, especially from people who have or are working in the music industry. Don't ever feel like you know all there is to know. Keep working at it. Seek professional help in managing your money, but don't let anyone have complete control.
Sharon: Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
Sonny: Paid attention to the details. I spent a lot of time enjoying myself when I should have been learning about the business side of this industry.
Sharon: You write a lot of ballads. What or who has been the inspiration for some of your songs?
Sonny: My father once told me to express myself through my music, and that's what I have tried to do. I am a romantic at heart, so love songs just came naturally. I just love writing love songs.
Sharon: You've actually had two careers. I know music was one, what was the other?
Sonny: Baseball. I am a baseball fanatic. I played professionally for a few years until some injuries caused me to stop. My favorite teams are the New York Mets, the New YorkYankees, and the Baltimore Orioles.
Sharon: You like the Orioles?
Sonny: Yes. Although they're not doing so well right now (laughs). I don't get to the games as often as I like. There is nothing like seeing a game live. But I like watching on television too.
Sharon: What position did you play?
Sonny: I played Center and Right field. I actually hit against Satchel Paige when he was with the Jersey City All-Stars.
Sharon: How did you do?
Sonny: (laughs) He struck me out. It was just an honor to have played with all of those guys.
Sharon: What do you think is the key to your longevity?
Sonny: I stay positive, and I never try to take advantage of anyone. I work hard to put out the kind of music that will inspire or encourage people. As long as I can make people feel something with my music, I will continue to write and perform. Each time I step on stage, it's like the first time all over again. I love it.
Sharon: Who has been your role model?
Sonny: There have been different people at different times, but mainly my father. He was a musician. He played guitar, ukulele and danced tap. I also play guitar. That's how I write many of my songs. I also played guitar on some of our earlier recordings.
Sharon: You also do the choreography for the group is that right?
Sonny: Yes. I studied with some great dancers, like Charlie Atkins who also worked with The Temptations. He was amazing to watch.
Sharon: What are your favorite things to do?
Sonny: I like riding trains. I sometimes take day trips or go away on weekends. Riding trains relaxes me. It gives me time to think. I like traveling that way, and I do it as often as I can.
Sharon: OK, last question. How would you complete this sentence: I am described as…
Sonny: A nice guy.
And that he is. There aren't many people who can say that they know someone who is genuinely nice—but I can now say that I do. It was one of those interviews that leave you wanting to do it all over again. He was awesome. I am still blown away that someone who has won a Grammy, been on stage with some of the most famous entertainers around, played at the Apollo, and performed for two presidents took the time to share just a little of his life with his fans. I thank him for being so open, and I know that he will continue to give his fans his all just as he always has. We can continue to expect The Manhattans to produce the same kind of music that we have come to enjoy. Mr. Bivins wouldn't have it any other way.
This site was last updated 10/11/07