A MAN AND HIS MUSIC..MICHAEL SACKLER-BERNER By Sandra Castillo
As a writer, one of my favorite things in life is having the privilege to meet those individuals who create, make a difference in this world with their art or music and to whom I am privy to interview and write about. Of course, this opportunity is made even the more sweeter when it involves a phone call and invitation to meet Michael Sackler-Berner, the lead singer of The Slim Kings, a band that I personally consider as one of the best studio, live performing acts to have emerged from the New York music scene in years.
When I met up with Michael at The Slim Kings’ recording studio in Brooklyn this past June, I felt as if I had known him for years. Besides being one of the most successful, prolific songwriters in the music business, he is also one of the nicest people you will ever meet. Charming, laidback and very easy-on-the-eyes, which is definitely to one’s advantage when fronting a high-energy, testosterone-driven, Rock and Soul band such as The Slim Kings, Michael parlays all of these wonderful characteristics into making it work exclusively for him and his Converse-wearing brothers-in-arms.
For those of you who are not familiar with The Slim Kings, the Brooklyn-based band was founded by Michael and guitarist Henry Geller, who has known Michael since childhood. The two friends decided to look into adding a few more musicians for their musical project; once the word got out that a bassist and drummer were needed to complete the outfit, the rest was, as they say, musical history. In the end, bassist Andy Attanasio and Liberty DeVitto, former drummer for international superstar Billy Joel, teamed up with Michael and Henry in The Slim Kings.
Born in Manhattan, on October 12, 1983, Michael Sackler-Berner’s pedigree includes a litany of prominent individuals, who are major benefactors to the Arts and Science community in New York City. His grandfather was the renowned American psychiatrist-philanthropist, Arthur M. Sackler, who was the founder of the prestigious publication, Medical Tribune, and namesake of several institutions, including the Arthur M. Sackler Museum at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Michael’s father, Fred Berner, is a television/film producer, who has worked on the long-running series, Law and Order, and his mother, Elizabeth Sackler, is an arts activist, currently serving as Chairman of the Board of the Brooklyn Museum. Michael credits his mother and father for their remarkable support in his musical pursuits and aspirations, affectionately recognizing them both for their longstanding, parental commitment to being there for him. His uncle, Marc Berner, is also a musician, who Michael deems as a “remarkable Jazz flutist and sax player.”
A mostly self-taught musician, who proclaims that he took music lessons twice in his life, including a “six-month stint,” when he was 11-years-old, Michael began his musical journey, performing with the band, Deegan, while he was still in high school. After graduation, he relocated to Montreal, Canada and attended McGill University, where he studied Music Technology and Humanistics. During college, he founded Hearts of Palm, a popular band that had garnered a large following, which proved to be a strong, musical suitor for the guitarist. When Michael graduated and returned to New York, he soon met up with his former teacher, Paul Lambert, who had subsequently moved to New York, and joined Michael, as his bandmate, in The Outside Talkers.
Aside from recording and touring with The Slim Kings, who have opened for the likes of ZZ Top and Southside Johnny and The Asbury Jukes, Michael creates his own signature brand of music, the kind of aural magic that showcases not only his vocal prowess but, more importantly, his gifts as a songwriter. As a solo artist, with three albums to his credit, including the eponymous Michael Sackler-Berner, Beginning, End and In-Between, he has collaborated and worked with some of the biggest names in the music industry, including studio producers Steve Jordan (John Mayer, Keith Richards), Bob Thiele, Jr. (Bonnie Raitt, Barrington Levy), David Kahne (Paul McCartney, Sublime, Regina Spector) and the legendary rocker Marshall Crenshaw, who recorded the 1982 chart-topping hit single, “Someday, Someway.” Michael reveres Crenshaw, not only for his skills as a top-rate musician but also for his integrity, expertise on how to take a good song and construct it into a viable work-of-art. He had this to say about the man who once played John Lennon in BEATLEMANIA.
“It was really inspiring and validating to work with an artist, such as Marshall Crenshaw, that you are a fan of, and, honestly speaking, Marshall is a hero.”
Several of Michael’s songs have also been used for television, for inclusion in such shows as Sons of Anarchy and Law and Order. Incidentally, the singer has acted in both Law and Order and Law and Order: Criminal Intent and was featured in small roles in Disney’s, Straight Talk, starring Dolly Parton, and the 2009 HBO film, A Dog Year, starring Jeff Bridges.
Whether he is recording, touring or performing at the Mercury Lounge in New York City or Stephen Talkhouse in the tony Hamptons, one thing’s for certain and that is this: