By: Dale King Contributing Writer
Michael Zager has scored big time in just about every segment of the music industry — writing, recording, performing and teaching.
Founder of the Hoot/Wisdom record label at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton and a music professor there since 2002, Zager was just inducted into the Legends of Vinyl Artists Hall of Fame during a ceremony in New York.
The organization presents awards to DJ’s, artists and others who have given music a boost, honoring them for their contributions to the trade.
The 16-year FAU professor who assumed the distinction of Dorothy F. Schmidt Eminent Scholar in the Performing Arts when he arrived on the Boca campus has a list of accomplishments in the music field that could fill volumes.
Not only did his Michael Zager Band earn high marks in the disco field some years back, he recorded 15-year-old Whitney Houston when she was asked to fill in as a background singer for her mother, Cissy, after one of the studio vocalists left the session.
Zager received 15 gold or platinum records and has served on the Board of Governors for the Florida chapter of the Recording Academy (Grammy Awards). He founded FAU’s commercial music program, in addition to creating the Hoot and Wisdom labels, which have now been combined as one musical signature.
Before coming to FAU, Zager said he “was a full time arranger and composer.” He has produced, composed and/or arranged original music in a wide range of musical idioms, including commercials, albums, network television and source and theme music for major motion pictures.
The 75-year-old man of music also produced Grammy Award-winning artists including Whitney Houston, Cissy Houston, Peabo Bryson, Luther Vandross, Denise Williams, Jennifer Holliday, Joe Williams, Arturo Sandoval, Herb Alpert, Olatunji and The Spinners. Some of Zager’s original scores and original studio recordings of Whitney Houston, The Spinners and The Michael Zager Band reside in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland.
Working with Whitney left a vivid impression. “I was recording her mother, and one of the background singers dropped out. Cissy said her daughter could fill in. So, we waited until Whitney came from school. She showed up about 5 o’clock in her school uniform, a blue skirt and white top.”
“When she opened her mouth, I couldn’t believe it,” said the astonished Zager.
For the record, in 1977, the Michael Zager Band single, “Life’s a Party” was released, featuring a 15-year-old Whitney Houston and her mother, Cissy, on vocals.
In 1978, the Michael Zager Band had a huge disco hit with “Let’s All Chant”. During 1979 and 1980, Zager wrote the medley arrangements for the Spinners’ “Working My Way Back to You”/”Forgive Me, Girl” and “Cupid”/”I’ve Loved You for a Long Time.”
Zager graduated from the University of Miami and the Mannes College of Music. He taught at the Mannes College of Music, a division of New School University, in New York.
For a time, he taught at the College of Music at Payap University in Chiang Mai, Thailand, during the summers of 2006 and 2008. He returned as a Payap-sponsored scholar/consultant for the 2009 summer to advise the university’s new recording studio on commercial music production.
Professor Zager received three Fulbright Specialist grants and five Visiting Professor grants. He studied theatre music under the tutelage of Stephen Sondheim, as well as orchestration, jazz arranging and composition at the Manhattan School of Music, and conducting at the Juilliard School of Music. He has written two instructional books.
FAU’s Hoot/Wisdom Recordings is the most productive full service university-affiliated record label in the world. Its mission is to record and produce new music or under recorded music. Through the label, students are trained in all aspects of the music production process.