By Ted Bordelon
Wire Managing Editor
Marion Evans will tell you that his career in the music industry has been defined by the adage, “luck is where opportunity meets preparation.”
The 87-year-old almost missed his chance at a career that would make anyone — whether musically inclined or not — envious.
He has won multiple Grammy Awards and wrote the closing theme for the Johnny Carson Show. He’s worked with countless A-listers, including Steve Lawrence, Judy Garland, Perry Como, Eydie Gorme and Sammy Davis Jr. He’s even arranged the music for Some Like it Hot and will nonchalantly say that he and Jack Lemmon “go way back.”
And he’ll be returning to New York City this week for a series of recording sessions with his longtime friend, Tony Bennett, and Lady Gaga.
But Evans never thought he would become the highly regarded music arranger that he is.
“I never planned to be a musician or work in the industry,” Evans said from his home in the Regency at Northampton retirement community in Holland.
He was born in the flyspeck town of Goodwater, Ala., and still speaks with a deep southern drawl, which he says, “you can’t lose or learn.”
After attending Auburn University (only because it had the best college dance band in America), Evans served as a United States Marine in the Pacific Theater during World War II.
Upon returning, he had every intention of becoming an engineer, as per his course of study at Auburn.
However, a friend who was still attending Auburn fortuitously sent some of the arrangements Evans had completed for the college band to the Glenn Miller Orchestra, which was then being led by Tex Beneke following Miller’s death.
“I was furious with him,” Evans recalled, noting that he wasn’t confident in the quality of his college-era arrangements. “I was just a kid then, I didn’t want them seeing that.”
A few weeks passed, and a letter arrived in the mail from Beneke and the band, but Evans couldn’t bring himself to open it.
“I tortured myself for a whole week,” Evans said.
He held it up to the light in an attempt to see what was written inside and carried it in his pocket everywhere he went. Finally, one Sunday night, he tore it open and watched a check flutter to the floor.
Not only did Beneke and the band enjoy the arrangements, they offered him a job.
He moved to New York, enrolled in the Juilliard School on the G.I. Bill and began his prolific career as an arranger.
“You can walk out the door and go to the left instead of the right and have a whole different life,” Evans said.
Evans’ marriage to his wife, Terri, in 1990 was the result of a certain amount of “luck,” as well. The two met in New York City 1965, a few years after Terri won Miss Alabama and was first runner-up in the Miss America pageant.
A fellow Alabamian and Juilliard student, Terri looked up Marion after hearing from friends that someone from her home state was arranging music in New York.
“After all, you can’t just sing and bring sheet music,” Evans said of her decision to contact her future husband.
The two became friends but fell out of touch.
Marion pursued his career in arranging and, later, investment banking. Terri pursued her own career on Broadway, at nightclubs in New York and Las Vegas such as Caesar’s Palace and in films such as The Detective starring Frank Sinatra.
Shortly before their marriage, while Terri was doing shows in Jacksonville, Fla., she decided to once again look up Marion.
“I called him and said ‘it’s always your arrangements,’” Evans said, laughing. “They always outshine me.”
From there, the two again hit it off and eventually married.
The multi-talented couple has developed a costumed performance entitled The Music Of Downton Abbey, showcasing the music featured on the hit television show, as well as a few numbers from the roaring 20s and the years leading up to World War II.
“I thought that when we moved here I’d be making chocolate chip cookies and get fat,” the starlet said of the couple’s move to Bucks County five years ago.
The stages are a bit smaller — over 55 communities, rotary club meetings, libraries — but the Evans’ are still doing what they love.
Marion is considering working with Canadian vocalist Michael Buble, and teaches a Masters course at Arcadia University. Terri, who served as a professor of voice at New York University, gives private lessons to area students.
For those looking to enter the music industry, Marion’s advice is rooted in his own experience.
“Anyone can become famous if they get lucky and sing a song someone likes,” he said.