Music played a defining role in Liza Minnelli's life from the day she was born. She was named after the George Gershwin song "Liza."
Growing up in Los Angeles, the child of film director Vincente Minnelli and actress Judy Garland, Minnelli was a shy child who had a hard time expressing herself — until she listened to the music her parents played around the house.
"There was always music," she said. "My mother loved funny songs; my father loved romantic songs. I listened to everything. And that's why now, still, I can find a song for how I feel when I don't quite know how I'm feeling. The music will tell me."
Listening to music not only helped her express her feelings, it also gave her the inspiration to perform.
"You know, I always put on music right before I go onstage," said Minnelli. "I listen to other people. It's wonderful to have other people's music push you onto a stage."
Following in the footsteps of her mother, Minnelli made her stage debut at 17 in the Off-Broadway musical "Best Foot Forward." The following year, she performed with her mother at the London Palladium to rave reviews.
At 19, Minnelli won her first Tony Award for her role in "Flora the Red Menace."
She soon moved into the world of film, appearing in movies like "Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon" and winning a best actress Oscar for her role as the eccentric Sally Bowles in the movie version of "Cabaret."
As can happen to one in the limelight, Minnelli has long been a tabloid target, for her rehab stints and messy divorces. She has been open about her struggle with addiction to alcohol and painkillers and has been married four times.
In 2000, she almost died after a bout of viral encephalitis, which is an inflammation of the brain caused by a virus. Through all of her struggles, she said that music kept her going.
"I grew up hearing everything, you know? And … music, it was and is probably my dearest and most faithful friend. It's just — it's always there," Minnelli said. "When your world shakes a little; you think, holy Toledo what's going on — you can find a song that'll make you feel better. And those are the types of songs I like."
As a young child, Minnelli lived in a home filled with the sounds of George Gershwin, Cole Porter and Rogers & Hart. One of Minnelli's earliest music-related memories from when she was young is singing Billie Holiday.
"I'm with my parents in Las Vegas somewhere, and I go out by the pool and I'm singing 'He's Funny That Way' to myself — you know, at 7!"
It's still one of her favorite songs.
Minnelli believes music has the power to not only describe a mood but define it. She believes it can "change your mind about how you were feeling at the moment," or allow you "to feel it more."
"I Can't Make You Love Me," by Bonnie Raitt, is a tune that epitomizes that experience for Minnelli, who describes it as a song that can make you fall apart, in a good way.
"If you were really sad and you were bottling it up — you get it out of your system," said Minnelli. "'I Can't Make You Love Me If You Don't' — I mean, please, that's got to be the saddest song I've ever heard."
As the daughter of an actress and a director, it's no surprise that Minnelli appreciates a song that can tell a story.
"I love Charles Aznavour," she said. "He's a French writer and an actor, and he writes songs that are like little movies."
Her favorite is "You've Let Yourself Go," a song that tells a story about a married couple, that, in her mind, perfectly illustrates the relationship between husband and wife. The imagery is so vivid for her that she has even come up with her an idea for a music video for the song.
"I would have the back of a chair — an armchair — and see a man's arm with a can of beer and at the very end — he's fallen asleep watching boxing," she described. "And it's a moment in time. It's right at the moment."
Seeing Aznavour perform live brought this storytelling to a new level for Minnelli.
"He came onto the stage and every song was an acting moment. Every song he grabbed you and he took you with him," said Minnelli. "It was amazing, and I thought, that's what I want to do."
Minnelli keeps up with more recent current chart toppers and lists Pink, Fall Out Boy and Maroon 5 among her favorites. One song that stands out is the first song she heard by Maroon 5, "This Love."
"It carried me," she said. "I thought, this guy's got jazz and he's put it into rock in his own way. So original. I like everything about it."
Some of the songs Minnelli likes best are those that were written particularly for her.
"Kander and Ebb wrote everything I sing," laughed Minnelli. "And I sing everything they wrote."
Those include some of her most popular songs, such as "New York, New York," "The World Goes 'Round" and one of her favorites, "Maybe This Time."
"They're wonderful songs, and Fred Ebb had a way of talking in his lyrics that made me understand exactly — the best way to express a thought, a feeling," Minnelli said.
But the lyrics are only half of the story.
"Melody-wise, how could you beat a melody like 'Maybe This Time?' The way it builds -- it's just so thrilling to think that was written for me."
"He's Funny That Way" BILLIE HOLIDAY
"I Can't Make You Love Me" BONNIE RAITT
"You've Let Yourself Go" CHARLES AZNAVOUR
"This Love" MAROON 5
"Maybe This Time" KANDER & EBB