His full-time job has been entertaining audiences as a torch singer mostly at night for the past 40 years. That’s why Toronto-based singer Aubrey Mann’s wife was in total disbelief a few months ago when he boldly announced he was seeking a day job.
The entertainer, who celebrated his 58th birthday last Saturday, had just released a new CD celebrating his four decades in the music industry and was looking for a new challenge.
“You could see the shock on her face,” recalled Mann who recently accepted a salesman position at a Markham men’s clothing store. “I have had a fulfilling career as a musician and I wanted to prove to myself that I could do something else and be just as successful.
“I had four job offers, including one at FedEx that was paying more, but I chose this because I love clothes and people. I am not doing this job for the money but rather to build relationships.”
Mann easily talks about the fact that he’s comfortable earning a weekly $500 wage plus commission as a salesman.
“I know there are some people who may say things might be rough with me and this is why I have turned to this gig,” he acknowledged. “That, however, is far from the truth.”
In 1994, the provincial government hired Mann to create and produce a Motown-style show – Soul to Soul – at Ontario Place’s Island Club. When that show ended two years later, prominent theatre booking agent, Mark Ireland, who had fallen in love with the production, suggested that the show should be taken to theaters across Canada.
Mann agreed and started “An Evening at the Apollo” to salute the legendary Motown era. The 12-member band, comprising six vocalists and a six-piece orchestra, performs at theatres, corporate galas and award shows, and has received rave reviews over the past 12 years.
Mann was turned on to music by his parents Clem Thomas, who was a civilian drummer with the Guyana Police Force band and his mother Sheila Mansfield-Grenardo who was a soprano with the popular Woodside Choir, which was the oldest secular mixed voice choir in the Caribbean. They both succumbed to cancer at age 75 in 2000 and 2004.
Their son sang in the church choir in Guyana and spent a few months in New York with family friends who brought him to Expo ’67 in Montreal, but he became homesick and returned to Guyana to pursue a high school education and a soccer career.
A member of the national youth team that trained under popular Caribbean sports commentator, Joseph “Reds” Perreira and Surinamese, August Wooter, Mann quit the sport in 1968 while preparing to represent Guyana at a junior Caribbean tournament.
“Just before we left, one of our players broke his leg and the coach took us to hospital to visit him,” Mann, a stepson of former Guyana inside left, Compton Julian, recalled. “When I saw his condition, I said I did not want to end up like that and I stopped playing the sport immediately. That was the end of my soccer career.”
Mann launched his musical career with The Cosmonauts the same year, and performed with some of the top bands in Guyana, including Curtis and the MGs, Mischievous Guys and Des Glasford’s Combo 7 whose MC was the late radio personality, Terrence “Pancho” Carew.
“It’s funny looking back, but Pancho was responsible for me changing my name from Aubrey Mansfield to Aubrey Mann,” the singer recounted. “I was about to go on stage to do a show when he came up to me and asked what was my name. When I told him Aubrey Mansfield, he said Mansfield is too long and Mann would work. That was it.”
Mann also performed with showman Phil “Bumpy” Dino who lived in Edmonton, sold insurance for a few months and won a trip to Barbados, as the top sales agent, to attend the Millionaires convention in 1975.
“On the last night of the convention, they had a big party and unbeknownst to me, one of my colleagues (Percy Boyce) went behind my back and told the organizers I was a very good singer,” he said. “I was surprised when, in the middle of the party, I was summoned onstage to perform.”
He proved an instant hit in Barbados and quit his insurance job to stay and perform with The Lunar 7. Calypsonian, The Mighty Sparrow, soon came calling and Mann toured with him for several months before leaving to get married.
A phone call from a friend performing with a band in Canada quickly ended that marriage.
Arriving here in September 1976, Mann performed on the Canadian club circuit for nearly three years and toured the Bahamas before slipping into the United States in June 1979.
“I was granted several extensions to stay in Canada and when I could not get anymore, I decided to go to the U.S. to see what the scene was like there,” he said. “At first, I met many friends who were very accommodating, but soon I was on my own with no one to turn to for advice or help with my career. As a result, I started using and selling drugs for about six weeks. That was the lowest point in my career and had I not been rescued by a friend and given an opportunity to perform with BT Express (one of the top Guyanese bands in New York at the time), I don’t know if I would be here talking to you.”
Mann illegally sneaked back into Canada in October 1979 and launched his first album, Feeling Good that included the hit song, “Stealing Love on the Side”. His second album, Tribute to the Man, in which he paid respect to soul singer Otis Redding, whom he deeply admired, was released a year later.
He also started his own band, Reflections, which has been thrilling audiences in Canada, the United States and on the cruise liner, Voyager of the Seas, for the past 22 years.
Forty Years of Love and Soul, released to celebrate Mann’s 40 years in show business, is his first musical compilation in 29 years. The CD comprises10 top soul tunes recorded in the past four decades and two of his originals, “We’ll still be Making Love on the Side” and “It’s Never Been the Same”.
“Over the years, I have recorded songs that I have been told I sang better than the singers that originally did the tunes,” said the father of five whose second marriage has lasted 18 years and counting. “That was one the main reasons I decided to do this CD.”
Forty Years of Love and Soul is available online at CD Baby, iTunes, eMusic, Amazon and Rhapsody.