Celia Berk is a corporate powerhouse by day and a performer and recording artist after hours who released her second album, Manhattan Serenade, this past spring. New York Times reviewer Stephen Holden describes her as “a cabaret traditionalist whose taste runs to Rodgers and Hart and Irving Berlin standards” and then goes on to say she “makes you feel about New York the same way a Cole Porter song makes you feel about Paris.” Singer and champion of the Great American songbook Michael Feinstein says, “I so enjoy Celia’s beautiful vocal sound and style, and her taste in song choices.” Critic Rex Reed calls Berk “One of the best singers I’ve heard in a long time.”
Music shares the spotlight in Berk’s life with her position as Group Talent Partner, WPP and Chief Employee Experience Officer at J Walter Thompson. She has also held high profile positions with Young & Rubicam, Burson-Marsteller and Reuters America.
In the midst of her busy career, Berk, a graduate of Hofstra’s drama program, is a dedicated alumna who is very involved with University’s Women in Leadership Initiative, which was founded to be a professional resource and powerful network for both graduates and current students.
Berk took some time out to discuss her music, career and the importance of giving back.
Manhattan Serenade is your second album. What inspired you to get back into the recording studio and what did you want to do differently with your music this time around?
I was thinking about this album almost from the moment we finished the last one [You Can’t Rush Spring, 2014]. I wanted to immediately apply what I had learned the first time, and I wanted to work with the same collaborators when I knew they would be available. This time, we recorded more songs in each session, and so could move a bit faster. But the big difference was that I knew what all the steps would be from start to finish.
Your music seems to evoke another era for New York audiences – what do you hope they come away with after listening to your music in concert or even at home?
I hope they find themselves in the songs. And I hope they discover some music they never knew before. I consider myself a musical truffle hound, and go looking for “hidden gems.”
You are active with the University’s Women in Leadership Initiative – what interested you about this opportunity? How do you hope your story and success inspire or help current students?
I’ve been very fortunate professionally, and welcome the chance to pay it forward. I’m also really enjoying meeting a range of impressive women. I was in the Drama Department, which was a world of its own. So I didn’t meet a lot of students outside it after freshman year.
I hope my story shows current students that everything they learn in school can be applied to their life afterwards. And even if the area they major in doesn’t become their profession, they can still make it integral to their life or find their way back to it over time.
You’ve also had a very prestigious career in marketing communications. How has that part of your life spilled over and inspired your music and performance career?
I think like a marketer, because I’ve been surrounded by some of the world’s best for most of my career. And by the way, I’ve had help from a number of recent Hofstra grads in the areas of publicity, promotion, social media and web design.
Do you have a secret or a special approach for juggling all these various parts of your life – music, corporate job, mentoring, philanthropy?
I wish! I know I need to be very clear what my priorities are and not go off on a tangent. I’m someone who needs time alone and lots of sleep. And I’m very good at finding great collaborators, teachers and advisors who I trust and can help me keep things in perspective.
Celia Berk will perform at New York City’s Metropolitan Room on August 3 and October 14; and as part of the 27th Cabaret Convention presented by the Mabel Mercer Foundation at Lincoln Center in October. More information