After Visiting 80 Countries, Why Did I Return To Lakewood?

After graduating from St. Ignatius and Boston College, working in 80 countries as a corporate event planner, living in San Francisco, Lake Tahoe, NYC, and Telluride, I returned to my hometown of Lakewood six months ago to form a new non-profit, "American Songbook Concerts". When people ask, “Why Cleveland?” I am quick to offer, "Are you kidding? Cleveland is our country’s best kept secret! And it is a mecca for artists."  This mission of our "American Songbook Concerts"  is to celebrate the American Songbook, to preserve this musical treasury, and to foster it for future generations through concerts and educational workshops. We define the American Songbook as any song with both a recognizable melody and meaningful lyrics written by Americans, from the past as well as contemporary, and of any genre (e.g. standards, Broadway, rock ‘n roll, folk, gospel, film, jazz, country, rhythm & blues, patriotic, spiritual, etc.)  Our first concert will be held on Mother’s Day “Songs for Mothers and Those They Love” at 4PM at Pilgrim Church, 2592 West 14th Street, in the Tremont neighborhood. We have planned it for 4PM, and it will last only 1 ½ hours, so it won’t interfere with church, brunch, or dinner.

The show will be performed by four of northeast Ohio’s most talented musical theatre performers: Rob Albrecht, Natalie Blalock, Meg Martinez, and Shane Patrick O’Neill. Making a special appearance will be the celebrated Ms. Pat Harris. Music director is Baldwin Wallace’s Sara Smith and I conceived, wrote, and directed the show. The audience will hear songs by George and Ira Gershwin, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, Carole King, Irving Berlin, Tom Waits, Harold Arlen, Yip Harburg, Simon & Garfunkel, Stephen Sondheim, Bob Dylan, and many more. There will be an art exhibit with works for sale of local artists, both adult and youth, of works depicting mothers or music, curated by Lakewood artist Victoria Higgins. A reception at the church will follow. Pre-sale prices: only $25 general admission and $20 for youth under 18; tickets at Brown Paper Tickets  Tickets at the door will be more expensive!

I often have to explain the importance of our American Songbook.  America’s greatest cultural export is not our films, tv shows, literature, art, nor plays. It is our songs. The entire world knows our songs. It is how they learn to speak English. Yet no American college I know of offers a course in The History of the American Songbook. History of American Art, Theatre, Architecture…yes. But our songbooks are totally overlooked.

Producing concerts is nothing new to me. In New York City, I served as board president of MAC (Manhattan Association of Cabarets) and produced the annual awards show with such stars as Liza Minelli, Bobby Short, Barbara Cook, Lily Tomlin, etc. I founded The American Songbook Project, which brought Broadway, folk, jazz, and cabaret singers into NYC schools from Harlem kindergartens to Juilliard. In Telluride, I produced eleven concerts starring Liz Callaway, Marilyn Maye, Andrea (the original Annie) McArdle, etc.  I also worked as a dee-jay with a weekly “American Songbook Show” with themes such as “Songs for Peace,” “Songs of Spring,” and tributes to the Gershwins, Rodgers & Hammerstein & Hart, Stephen Sondheim, Folk Songs, etc. I am hoping to find a local radio station here to continue that.

Whenever I speak to neighbors about this Mother’s Day concert and upcoming shows I am met with such great enthusiasm. If you would like to support us, visit   or email "

Leonard Bernstein once said ‘This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.’  So that is what we will be doing.

Michael Estwanik

Alumnus of St. Ignatius in the last century, worked in 80 countries as a corporate event planner, founded a new non-profit here American Songbook Concerts.

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Volume 14, Issue 9, Posted 12:39 PM, 05.01.2018