The following story appeared in the Park Labrea News and Beverly Press 70th Anniversary issue, published April 21. To view the entire issue, click here.
There’s the side of Corky Hale and Mike Stoller that music fans know. Hale, the acclaimed jazz pianist, harpist and vocalist, has performed, recorded or toured with some of the top names in music history – Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Nat “King” Cole, Liberace – at places like the White House and Carnegie Hall. Her new book, “Uncorked,” details lunch dates with James Dean and Sinatra, and the first time she met Harpo Marx. Hale’s husband, composer Mike Stoller, teamed up with Jerry Leiber and became Leiber & Stoller – one of the greatest songwriting teams in music history. The duo wrote and produced classics such as “Hound Dog,” and “Jailhouse Rock” and they produced “Smokey Joe’s Café” which holds the record for longest running musical revue in Broadway history.
But there’s also a side of Hale and Stoller that their fans might not be as familiar with. The two have been married since 1970, and some of their best work has been done outside of the recording studio.
Hale said her “very unusual, but fabulous mother” inspired her to champion women’s rights. Hale and Stoller partner with Planned Parenthood – Los Angeles and helped build three state-of-the-art health centers in L.A. that serve thousands of women every month. Hale serves on the national advisory board for the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) and the board for the Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistance Project in California, and she is working to correct misunderstandings about the services that Planned Parenthood offer.
“Three percent of Planned Parenthood’s work is abortions. Ninety-seven percent is mammograms and other examinations. It’s about women’s health,” Hale said.
In 2011, Hale was honored as the Champion of Choice by NARAL for her lifelong advocacy for women’s reproductive rights.
Hale’s father also inspired her to view people for who they are, and not for their race or religious beliefs. She remembered when she was a high school student in the Midwest and her friends initially invited her on a trip to a lake house in Wisconsin.
“I said, ‘Dad, I wanted to go with the girls but they said it’s restricted. No Jews allowed,’” she remembered. “He said, ‘I will not allow you to go back to school [with those people.]’”
Her father taught her that people should be treated equally and fairly, and today, Hale and Stoller are strong advocates for civil rights and equality. For more than 30 years they have supported the Southern Poverty Law Center, which Hale called “one of the most important groups in the country.”
In 2013, the Southern Poverty Law Center dedicated and named the Civil Rights Memorial Center Theatre in Montgomery, Alabama in honor of Stoller and Hale. At the dedication ceremony, former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi explained how valuable Hale and Stoller’s efforts are.
“Since the day Corky came to Mike’s studio to record demos as a musician, they have been partners in every sense of the word: fighting together for liberty and justice for all, for the basic dignity of every human being,” Pelosi said. “It is appropriate that the theater is named for Mike and Corky because of their ongoing commitment to the civil rights movement. The Stollers are two of a kind – in music, in activism, in their generosity of spirit. … At this theater and across the country, may all Americans associate the names of Mike Stoller and Corky Hale Stoller with their contributions to music and their leadership for civil rights.”
Hale also contributes to schools like Compton High School where she bought uniforms for the school’s band. Last year, Hale and Stoller were inspired by the jazz band at Foshay Learning Center at the corner of Western Avenue and Exposition Boulevard.
“They have the greatest jazz band – they are really wonderful,” Hale said.
The couple learned the band had the opportunity to perform in Paris but didn’t have the funds to get there.
“So we sent them to Paris,” Hale said. “That was the most heart-warming thing. Most of those kids said, ‘I’ve never been on an airplane,’ and ‘I never thought in my lifetime I would get to Paris.’”
Hale continued her selfless ways in December. She read a story in the Park Labrea News and Beverly Press about a fundraising campaign for the Hollywood-based meal service organization, Project Angel Food, which was in need of a new delivery van.
After celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary that month, Hale and Stoller wanted to find a way to help people who are less fortunate.
“If we can help [Project Angel Food] get food to those people, then that’s what we wanted to do,” she said.
Richard Ayoub, executive director of Project Angel Food, said he was very surprised when Hale called him.
“It’s like a dream come true,” he said. “It’s really inspiring to know that a story moves someone so much that they picked up the phone and said, ‘We’re going to buy you a van.’ It’s remarkable. You put these things out in the universe and hope something happens, and when it does it restores faith.”
Though her book will feature many stories that fans have never heard, the full extent to which Hale and Stoller have given to others may never truly be revealed.
“My husband doesn’t like to talk as much about it,” Hale said. “He’s so humble. He never tells you anything.”
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