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Martha Wright Manuche

Martha Wright Manuche, 92, died peacefully with family by her side on March 1, 2016 at Country Center, a caring and loving skilled nursing center in Newburyport. Martha was residing in Ipswich.

She was born Martha Lucile Wiederrecht on March 23, 1923 in Seattle, WA to Lucile (Wright) and Fred Wiederrecht. Together with her parents, aunts and uncles, Martha grew up in a home full of music, love, and humor on the farm of her maternal grandparents, Edward and Cora (Coleman) Wright, in Cherry Valley (Duvall), WA. Martha’s father, Fred had a lovely tenor voice and took lessons from Cora, who was a concert pianist and had attended both the Chicago and New England Conservatory. It was Cora who lovingly first taught Martha to sing and play piano, and that is why Martha later adopted her mother’s maiden name. Martha spoke often of her happy childhood and young adult years on the farm with great love and admiration for her family.

Martha rose to success as a singer and actress best known for her performances on Broadway and television. Beginning to sing in radio, musical theater and opera in her native Seattle, Martha moved to New York City and debuted on Broadway by the age of 21, where she soon had major success in the lead roles of "South Pacific" and "The Sound of Music", replacing Mary Martin.

She first hit New York City as a member of the chorus in “Up in Central Park”. Soon after, she opened as the lead in a show called “Music in My Heart”, when she stepped in from understudy for the ailing Florence George just before the show came to Broadway, making Martha's Broadway debut a starring one. Although the show was not a critical success, Martha was. Brooks Atkinson of the New York Times wrote of her, “...she has the voice and the training to put color into the music she is singing.” 

Martha's other early Broadway roles included Carol in “Great to Be Alive” and then as Nellie Forbush in “South Pacific” from 1951-1954, where, with much critical acclaim, she delighted packed houses for the Rogers and Hammerstein classic in 1,047 shows. She again played the lead as Maria in another Rogers and Hammerstein classic, “The Sound of Music” on Broadway beginning in 1960. 

Martha appeared on television in "The Eyes Have It”, “Three’s Company", "The Tonight Show with Jack Parr”, "The NBC 10th Anniversary Special" , "American Musical Theater (Stephen Sondheim)", "The Ed Sullivan Show", "The Bell Telephone Hour", and her own television series, “The Martha Wright Show”. She performed a solo act at clubs in venues such as New York’s St. Regis and Waldorf hotels, Chicago’s Palmer House, Los Angeles’ Cocoanut Grove and The Ambassador Hotel, among others. Some New Yorker Giants fans may recall that she sang “The Star Spangled Banner” for twenty-seven seasons at home games from 1961 until 1989.

Martha sang on her own CBS radio show six days a week, and recorded several albums under the RCA label. Two of these albums were HMS Pinafore and The Mikado with Al Goodman and his orchestra. Later she recorded Censored and Love, Honor, and All that Jazz, both arranged and conducted by Joe HarnellAdditionally, she appeared on Firestone Presents Your Christmas Favorites (1964) with the best renditions of Silver Bells, The Holly and the Ivy, and White Christmas you’ll ever hear.

In May of 1955, she married and became leading lady to George J. (‘Mike’) Manuche Jr., owner of the legendary Manhattan restaurant, Mike Manuche’s. With Mike, she created a family and home life that was very important to her. Mike predeceased her in 2013.

Martha was a loving mother to, and is survived by, their four children, Michael Manuche, Maria Manuche, Jayvie Anderson, and Jenny Vellante, as well as her ten grandchildren, Michael, AJ, and Nick Manuche, Michael, Jennifer, and Jacqueline Allen, Sarah and Judy Anderson, and Katharine and Colin Vellante. Martha's warmth, wit, humor, spirit, and unconditional love will be deeply missed by all.

Martha was passionate about current events and politics, read newspapers daily, and was an avid environmentalist and animal lover. Although the family is planning a private gathering in her honor, they suggest that in lieu of flowers, donations can be made to one of her favorite environmental or animal rescue organizations such as The Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, or the ASPCA.

Private funeral arrangements were under the direction of the Whittier-Porter Funeral Home of Ipswich.


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