By BARRY GOODRICH
Cleveland has always been Michael Stanley’s town.
As front man for the Michael Stanley Band, the Rocky River High School grad has forged a career with remarkable staying power in both music and radio. Formed in 1974, MSB hit its peak in the late 1970s and early 1980s, drawing record-setting, sellout crowds to Northeast Ohio venues such as the Richfield Coliseum and Blossom Music Center.
Stanley continues to play to packed houses, his legion of loyal fans now including a new generation. And he has another impressive streak as the host of his WNCX-FM radio show since 1990. Along the way he has also been a philanthropic force, lending his time to such events and causes as the Cleveland International Film Festival, Animal Protective League, Cleveland Red Cross, American Cancer Society, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum Foundation and Greater Cleveland Food Bank.
So it’s no surprise the Cleveland Arts Prize will honor Stanley with a Lifetime Achievement Award with a May 4 event celebrating his 50-year career in music, local media and philanthropy at the Beachland Ballroom. The event includes a VIP party in the tavern, silent auction with rock and roll memorabilia and a benefit concert featuring An Acoustic Evening with Michael Stanley and Friends.
“It is a great honor for the Cleveland Arts Prize to recognize Michael Stanley for his artistic achievement, which has enriched our lives in Northeastern Ohio for decades,” said Arts Prize chair Howard Freedman.
“Michael Stanley has delivered exceptional music to a large and loyal fan base for decades,” said Rock and Roll Hall of Fame president and CEO Greg Harris. “For all he has done for rock and roll, and for Cleveland, we salute Michael on this milestone.”
The 71-year-old Stanley remembers the formative days of the group, when a lengthy music career was far from his mind.
“We wanted to do a record and hear it on the radio,” he said. “Never did I think I’d still be doing it this far down the line. I still remember headlining the Coliseum and thinking it doesn’t get much better than this. But it did.”
MSB’s legend grew after the band drew 20,320 to the Coliseum in 1979 and returned to that venue for a combined 40,529 turnout for shows on New Year’s Eve 1981 and New Year’s Day 1982. In August, 1982, the band set the staggering attendance mark of 74,404 for a four-night stand at Blossom Music Center.
“We’re not as spry as we used to be but we’re doing some of the best work we’ve ever done,” said Stanley. “It’s something that means a lot to us. It’s a good thing to walk on stage knowing there’s some underlying history there.”
Cleveland Arts Prize executive director Alenka Banco remembers seeing MSB in a concert where John Cougar Mellencamp served as the opening act. “You don’t achieve the things Michael Stanley has done in his life unless you’re devoted to your craft,” she said. “Music changes who we are and shapes us. That’s why his fan base has been very committed over the years.”
Stanley remains impressed by the devotion of his and MSB’s fans. “It never ceases to amaze me,” he said. “I would not go to see the Beatles this many times. We’re blessed that people still come to see us.”
And to think none of it would have happened had Stanley become a professional baseball player after attending Hiram College on scholarship as a pitcher.
“I had a pretty good fastball and absolutely nothing else,” he said.
What Michael Stanley did have was an unbeatable home field advantage. And he’s still swinging for the fences.