A Lot to Learn from 'Judy at Carnegie Hall'

Related NPR Stories

Singer and entertainer Rufus Wainwright will perform at Carnegie Hall on Wednesday in tribute to Judy Garland's legendary performance there in 1961. Musician and Day to Day contributor David Was listened again to the album recorded at that performance 45 years ago, Judy at Carnegie Hall, and says today's artists have a lot to learn from Garland.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MADELEINE BRAND, Host:

Tonight at New York's Carnegie Hall, musician Rufus Wainwright is recreating, song for song, a concert that took place there, 45 years ago. The performer: Judy Garland. Her show at Carnegie became a best-selling album that remains influential. With an appreciation of that concert way back in 1961, here is musician David Was.

(Soundbite of Judy Garland)

DAVID WAS reporting:

That Judy Garland continues to inspire artists and fans alike, more than 35 years after her death, is no great surprise.

(Soundbite of Judy Garland singing, When You're Smiling)

JUDY GARLAND: (Singing) When you're smiling, when you're smiling…

WAS: Her powerful pipes and passionate approach to song, were coupled with the charisma that an awestruck colleague once dubbed, a force field that could reach the back of the house.

(Soundbite of Judy Garland singing, When you're Smiling)

JUDY GARLAND: (Singing) But not for me.

(Soundbite of applause)

WAS: As is well known, she reached these heights while battling personal demons, which perhaps, lend an air of additional authenticity to her performances. Judy Garland was keeping it real, long before Kurt Cobain assumed a parallel role for his followers. There was an unmistakable fragility to both of them, which made them seem more proximate to an audience, than singers with more technical expertise and polish. They seemed human. Garland's over-the-top affect and outsider status, have also endeared her to the gay community over the years, which brings the Rufus Wainwright connection into perspective.

(Soundbite of Judy Garland singing, Somewhere Over the Rainbow)

JUDY GARLAND: (Singing) Somewhere…

WAS: Her version of Over the Rainbow is acknowledged to be a veritable gay national anthem but the catch factor alone doesn't explain Garland's enduring appeal, nor that the live recording of her Carnegie Hall concert in 1961, arranged and conducted by Morton Lindsey, garnered five Grammy's and stayed at the top of the charts for 13 weeks.

(Soundbite of Judy Garland singing, Somewhere Over the Rainbow)

JUDY GARLAND: (Singing) Birds fly over the rainbow, why then, oh why can't I?

WAS: The success of this album is evidence of her superior musicianship and an actress's respect to the text and not just the notes of a song. Judy Garland interpreted, long before there was a cabaret scene in Manhattan devoted to the preservation of such values. Arguably, she invented the genre single-handedly. And perhaps most impressively, she could belt with the best as she does on Chicago, but also caress a lyric with a whisper, as she did on Stormy Weather.

(Soundbite of Judy Garland singing, Stormy Weather)

JUDY GARLAND: (Singing) Everything I had is gone, stormy weather.

WAS: She didn't abuse an audience with mere power, nor jiggle notes for the sake of it. Contemporary singers like Christina Aguilera would do well to listen to Judy and emulate her cardinal virtues, taste, and restraint.

(Soundbite of Judy Garland singing, Stormy Weather)

JUDY GARLAND: (Singing) All the time.

WAS: Judy Garland rose from the mat so often she dubbed herself, The Comeback Kid. This self-deprecating star might have enjoyed the irony of her latest revival, which belies her oft-quoted reflection, that behind every cloud, there's another cloud.

(Soundbite of Judy Garland)

JUDY GARLAND: I know, we'll sing them all and we'll stay all night.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

BRAND: Judy Garland, from her 1961 concert at Carnegie Hall.

JUDY GARLAND: I don't ever want to go home. I never…

BRAND: Our reviewer, David Was, is half of the musical duo, Was (Not Was).

(Soundbite of Judy Garland singing, Somewhere Over the Rainbow)

JUDY GARLAND: (Singing) Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.