by Len Lear
We’ve all heard the lyrics from Frank Sinatra’s song about New York: “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.” Well, then there’s no doubt that Karen Gross, multi-talented cabaret singer/songwriter who was born in Chestnut Hill, is a bold-face name because she has brought down the house in numerous New York venues (and Philly also).
Among her many audience-pleasing headlines, Karen, mid-30ish, performed her own show, “Sex & the Single Singer,” at Don’t Tell Mama, a legendary cabaret room in the New York theater district. In 2013, she headlined The Metropolitan Room twice with her show, “Cabaret Mixtape,” an homage to music of the 1980s and 1990s.
She also performed at Lincoln Center as part of the release of David Leopold’s book, “Irving Berlin’s Show Business.” (Leopold is a distinguished curator, author and advocate for the arts and artists.) Gross was also the featured entertainer at a private party in Frank Sinatra’s former New York City penthouse, featured on the HGTV show “Selling New York.” And she has presented a concert of Oscar Hammerstein’s music for a sold-out crowd at Hammerstein’s historic home, Highland Farm in Doylestown.
Now Gross has returned to the Delaware Valley to collaborate with David Leopold for “A Sparkling Midsummer Night Cabaret with Karen Gross Singing Songs from the 1920s.” This evening of song will take place at a Bucks County artistic treasure, the farm studio of Ben Solowey, 3551 Olde Bedminster Rd. in Bedminster. The show, which will include pop classics by Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Hoagy Carmichael, etc., will begin Saturday, June 23, 8 p.m., preceded by a reception and croquet.
“My musical tastes are pretty varied,” Gross said in an interview last week. “Of course, I admire the great singers like Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, who put so much feeling into their singing, and each had such a distinctive way of conveying a lyric. Listening to them is like taking a master class.
“I did actually take a master class in NYC with a wonderful cabaret singer named Marilyn Maye. She is a living legend, and her performances in New York are not to be missed. I believe she is in her 80s, and she still brings the house down! I’m also very inspired by singer-songwriters who write from the heart, like Joni Mitchell and Carole King.”
Karen was born in Chestnut Hill, but her family moved to Doylestown when she was just seven months old. Her father, Dr. Michael Gross, was a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology who practiced at Chestnut Hill Hospital from the late 1970s to the late 1980s. When Karen was born, the family was living in the Chestnut Hill Apartments, right next to the Wyndmoor Train Station.
After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Wesleyan College in Connecticut, Karen moved back with her parents in Bucks County. Late in 2004, however, the bubbly singer/songwriter decided to move to Philly, and her mom suggested that she check out the real estate rental ads in the Local.
After doing so, Karen, who began writing songs at age 14, moved to Chestnut Hill in December, 2004, and lucked into an apartment, where she stayed for two years. After college, Karen, an American Studies major, landed a job as news editor at the weekly Bucks County Herald for two-and-a-half years. She has also been a freelance contributor to Philadelphia magazine, covering dance and art galleries.
What is the best advice Karen ever received? “My long-time cabaret teacher and director in New York City, Lina Koutrakos, knows that I’m a people-pleaser,” Karen replied. “So she often advises me not to play ‘hostess’ when I’m onstage. It’s kind of counter-intuitive because you want to make sure everyone is enjoying the show. But I’ve noticed that people often enjoy the experience more when you stay in your zone and really focus on what you are doing, rather than what everyone else is doing. I think this is a good life-lesson as well.”
For tickets and additional information about the June 23 performance, visit www.karengross.com. 1920s period attire is welcome.