Forty-one years after assuring us there would be a morning after, Maureen McGovern is still spreading a message of hope, not only with her music but with her life.
The singer and actress, who has been helping raise funds for the fight against HIV and AIDS since the 1980s, will take the stage for this cause again Saturday night in San Francisco for the 20th annual edition of Help Is on the Way, a star-studded gala concert for the Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation, which will disburse the funds to AIDS service and research organizations.
“We’ve all lost so many dear friends to the disease,” McGovern says on the phone from her country home in central Ohio. “I’m in this fight to the end.”
She was thrust into the thick of the epidemic in 1980s New York, having come to the city in 1981 to perform on Broadway in The Pirates of Penzance. “So many friends were dying of AIDS,” she recalls. “In the ’80s in New York, you hated to pick up The New York Times. I’ve never forgotten that. We lost so many brilliant minds in the arts.”
McGovern did her first AIDS benefit in 1985, and since then she’s worked with organizations including Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, Project Angel Food, the AIDS Memorial Quilt, and the Desert AIDS Project, which in 1998 honored her with its Steve Chase Humanitarian Award. “It is a cause that is near and dear to my heart,” she says of her work in this arena.
She’s been part of Help Is on the Way at least four or five times, she notes, and Saturday night she’ll sing the event’s theme song, “Help Is on the Way,” with its composer, David Friedman. She’s also scheduled to sing Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “This Nearly Was Mine” from South Pacific.
Other performers set to appear include Florence Henderson, Richard Chamberlain, Glee’s Alex Newell, Broadway star Carole Cook, America’s Got Talent dance team John Narvaez and Andrew Cervantes, cast members from Motown the Musical, and many more. It all happens at 7:30 p.m. at the Palace of Fine Arts, with a silent auction and reception beforehand.
The nature of the epidemic has changed over the years, as people with HIV, at least those with access to medications, now have a normal life expectancy, but there’s still a crucial need for services, McGovern emphasizes. The funds raised and distributed by Richmond/Ermet go to agencies providing a variety of important services, such as testing, counseling, legal referrals, employment assistance, and help in accessing benefits, plus research toward a cure. “I see and hope for a cure in the near future,” McGovern says. “Hope is half the battle in any chronic disease.”
McGovern’s charitable efforts aren’t limited to HIV and AIDS; she has also done extensive work with the Muscular Dystrophy Association and served as an artist spokesperson for the American Music Therapy Association. “I’ve always believed in the power of music to aid in the healing process,” she says.
In keeping with that, she’s begun recording an album of spiritually oriented music, titled How Can I Keep From Singing. Among its tracks will be “Turn! Turn! Turn!” which Pete Seeger adapted from a Bible passage. “Pete Seeger was a hero of mine,” McGovern says.
Another new project is a concert program called Sing, My Sisters, Sing, a tribute to women singer-songwriters from the 1960s through the 1990s, such as Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon, Janis Ian, Laura Nyro, Annie Lennox, and Mary Chapin Carpenter, with a nod to earlier jazz artists like Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Annie Ross. She’ll perform it October 11 at the Penguin Rep Theater in upstate New York, and she hopes to book it at other venues and plans to make a recording of it as well.
Also, several times a year, she performs in 4 Girls 4, a musical revue where she joins three other leading ladies of Broadway, Donna McKechnie, Andrea McArdle, and Faith Prince.
With her extensive concert and recording résumé, plus Broadway credits that include Nine,The Threepenny Opera, and Little Women in addition to Pirates, McGovern has amassed an impressive body of work since she was the “disaster movie theme queen” in the 1970s — a period she capped off by appearing as a guitar-toting nun in the disaster-film spoof Airplane! and its sequel. But she recognizes that many people will always associate her with “The Morning After,” the theme from The Poseidon Adventure and a number 1 hit in 1973.
“I still get letters from people saying that ‘The Morning After’ is a song that has helped them,” she says. “That’s the greatest gift that comes back.”
So she’ll keep on offering hope through her music and activism. “I will always work in music and healing,” she says. “I think that’s what I was put here to do. ... I feel very blessed to be doing what I do.”
Help Is on the Way takes place Saturday at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, with a silent auction and VIP party at 5 p.m., reception at 6 p.m., concert at 7:30 p.m., and underwriter dessert party at 10 p.m. Primary beneficiaries include the Abzyme Research Foundation, Aguilas, AIDS Legal Referral Panel, and Positive Resource Center. Click here for tickets and information. And for more about McGovern, including her upcoming performances, visit her website here.