Mancini said many of the singers she knew 60 years ago, around the time she was performing with Mel Torme and meeting her husband Henry Mancini, today are struggling to make the rent and schedule medical appointments. Mancini said she was fortunate to marry someone whose star was rising; most were not as lucky.

"I was a professional singer before I was anybody, and I made a good living doing it," Mancini said. "But never once did I think about what would happen to me when I couldn't sing."

So the organization worked for years to pull together plans for a retirement home for singers. At one time, Society of Singers tried to partner with the Motion Picture & Television Fund's retirement home, now undergoing a major expansion, to build a wing for singers. Instead the 12-year effort has culminated in the $1.7 million purchase of the Sherman Oaks complex for singers of all ages in need of low-cost housing.

"We've been dreaming about having a place for singers for a long time," Mancini said.

Grander ambitions

The organization hopes to buy another complex if the money can be raised.

"We'll see how this goes," Garfinkel said. "I hope that building will be full soon and, as soon as it's full, we'll move on to the next venture."

Mancini is hoping that big-time music stars will make financial contributions to the effort, possibly in exchange for having their name put on a particular apartment unit, or even an entire wing of a complex, depending on how much they give, just like at universities and museums.

She envisions Vega and other residents one day strolling through that song-filled complex past The Dinah Shore Apartment or the Neil Sedaka Wing.

The group can't help all the bathroom divas out there, though. To move into the Sherman Oaks complex, apartment applicants must have earned their primary living as a professional singer for at least five years.

"They may be back-up singers, session singers, cabaret singers, club singers," Garfinkel said.

In the meantime, Vega said, her professional prospects have picked up. And she is getting voice therapy.

"While other people reject you and figure you're finished and washed-up, this organization has really put a lot of hope in me," Vega said.


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