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Mensch Foundation honors "Smokey Joe's Cafe" composer, Mike Stoller, and wife musician/ singer/ producer, Corky Hale

Mike Stoller and Jerry Lieber perform some of their hits on Late Night with David Letterman with Paul Schaffer's Band.
Mensch Foundation's Steven Geiger, songwriter Mike Stoller, pianist Corky
Hale, Richard Stellar, and Rabbi David Baron (Photo: Steve Moyer)

The Mensch Foundation's executive director, Steven Geiger, presented a ceremony at the Saban Theater / Temple of the Arts service (hosted by Rabbi David Baron) to honor the philanthropic efforts of musical couple, Mike Stoller and Corky Hale. Mike is the surviving member of rock/ rhythm 'n' blues songwriting duo, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller ("Kansas City," "Jailhouse Rock," and "Smokey Joe's Cafe" also the title of the long-running broadway musical revue which features their music). Corky Hale is an accomplished musician, singer, and entertainment producer. 

The creative couple have become benefactors of a number of Jewish causes and liberal causes.  A recipient of their largesse, Richard Stellar of the Man/Kind Project read at the ceremony this tribute he penned:

"I’m holding a copy of Corky Hale’s biography “Uncorked!” – and if you’re looking for some really hot sex, celebrity gossip and dirt – well, uh… you’ve got the wrong book.

Eden and Illysia sing Mike's "Stand by Me" to the Stollers 
(Photo: Steve Moyer)
As a matter of fact I really don’t need to read about Corky, and Mike, her husband of almost fifty years.  I mean, not only have I seen them in Temple since I first found Temple of the Arts, but I’ve been fortunate enough to be on the receiving end of their charity and friendship.

It was only a few years ago when Sharon Farber and I approached Corky and Mike to support the performance of Sharon’s Bestemming Concerto.  This was a work that featured the voice of a holocaust survivor and hero, another congregant, Curt Lowens. Corky and Mike’s support enabled the voices of Holocaust survivors to ring out.  They also supported, and still support our efforts through Man/Kind to feed impoverished Holocaust survivors.  And if you think all they do is write checks, you’d be wrong.

Corky and Mike had me over to to their house for lunch to discuss the recent wave of anti-Semitism that is infecting high schools.  We brainstormed, and came up with a program called The Empathy Express, that brings high school students who appear in anti-Semitic YouTube videos to Holocaust museums, led by celebrities and survivors.  Some of you may remember  Scared Straight, the old television series that brought at-risk delinquent teenagers to prisons, where they learned first hand where hate for your fellow man can lead.

At the risk of sounding selfish, it’s not only me and Sharon and our efforts to fight anti-Semitism who they have helped.

Mike, who wrote the anthems of our youth – the songs we hummed in school, the songs we sang when our children were born, when we made out, when we broke up – Mike’s affinity for the human condition made it natural for him to reach out – and reach out he did.  Mike joined forces with HomeBoy Industries here in Los Angeles to provide rehabilitation through music.  HomeBoy’s “Music Heals” program has helped those who are looking for a break to ‘take a sad song and make it better’.  It is the inspiration of the arts that builds bridges. And building bridges is what Mike and Corky do best.

Together, Mike and Corky breathed life into the Southern Poverty Law Center where the Civil Rights Memorial Theater bares their name.  Having read about an unusual number of teenage pregnancies in Compton was the impetus for Mike and Corky to fund Planned Parenthoods Dorothy Hecht Clinic – named in honor of Corky’s mom.

As a student at the University of Wisconsin, Corky became the first white person to join the NAACP.  As a member of Temple of the Arts – well look around, Corky and Mike have been huge benefactors.

If a bay needed healing, Corky and Mike were there with Heal The Bay, if a fence needed mending, Corky and Mike were there with Habitat for Humanity, and if the elderly needed a commitment from the community, Corky and Mike supported The Jewish Homes for the Aging.

Healing the cleft palates of children through Smile Train, feeding those who are hungry through Jewish Family Services, and addressing the cancer of gun ownership that is killing our children, Corky and Mike work diligently to Stop Gun Violence.

If there is a cause that needs a champion, then two super heroes are better than one.  My non-profit would not exist if it weren’t for their help.  Our concerto would not have been played if it weren’t for their help.  Women’s reproduction rights would not be as tenuous and at risk if it weren’t for their help.

Thank you Mike. Thank you Corky.  I know that you’d probably want to be anywhere else than to have your resume of giving made public, but – you deserve this award, and I am honored to be here to tell everyone what I already know."

Transcript from video:

Steven Geiger: Both Corky and Mike have done a great deal for the Jewish community for Holocaust survivors, it's a whole list of things that certifies them as being Mensches and there's very few Mensches around. And I'm very happy that I had this opportunity to award them.

Hale: We don't only do it for Jews or the Holocaust.

Geiger: That's the most important one.

Hale: Well no I think everything we do is very important because, for example in Montgomery, Alabama they've named the civil rights memorial theater for us because we work for a lot of different groups. We work for the NAACP and we work for the Democrats and we were . . . 

He was raised in New York yes but I was raised in a town of 11,000 where there were five Jewish families and so my father wanted us to the only synagogue was 30 miles away so we were - my brother and I were driven there every Sunday so that my father said so we would know we were Jewish - and I was shocked tonight my brother was singing.

JewTube: Why would they drive you there on Sunday? 

Hale: Because that's when we had services - a Sunday school our Sunday school.  I'm a farm girl. I call myself a Jewish farm girl because it is in the sticks they're really they were I guess eleven twelve thousand people and there were five Jewish families. So the temple we we are a benefactor of this temple - yes I am - and we support the Jewish Homes for the Aged. And I still - the Dorot in New York which is in New York which is also a Jewish people from Holocaust but I mean we support a lot of everything! And that's why this wonderful man honored us tonight, which I'm very pleased by that! 

1996 First National Tour of "Smokey Joe's Cafe - the music of Lieber and Stoller"

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