Saturday, April 23, 2011

On This Day In Gay History, 50 Years Ago: Judy At Carnegie Hall

Judy Garland was only 37 years old, but near death, addicted to booze & pills. Her acting & singing careers were considered long over. Defying doctors’ directives, Garland put all her eggs in one big show biz basket- a 1961 Carnegie Hall Concert. That performance became a moment in time for those who were there & a showbiz legend for everyone else. The evening is still considered the greatest night in show business history.

Garland had not worked in films since A Star Is Born in 1954. After a period of rest & nutrition, & a more moderate indulgence in alchahol & pharmacuticals,she had gradually been building a solid reoputaion for showing up, & giving well regarded performances in all sorts of venues in Europe & North America in 1960 & early 1961. But no one was anticipating the mania was on the evening she brought her act she to Carnegie Hall. Her audience would call her her back for encore after encore, even asking her to repeat a song after her book of arrangements sung through.

On Sunday, April 23rd, 1961, after a bombastic overture that built high emotion, Garland made her entrance 20 minutes late, looking exceptionally restored, & put together, to a very loud ovation from the audience. Her audience that night included theatre performers & show biz greats on their usual Sunday night off & the celebrities were as crazed in their veneration towards Garland as her gay audience.

Barry Manilow: “Name me one other artist, ever, whose concert is celebrated 50 years after the concert was done. When her voice was in tip-top shape, everything she did was filled with the truth. I think that’s the big difference between her & everybody else. Everybody else, oh yeah, they’re great singers—they do vocal acrobatics. But they don’t tell the truth. This woman always told the truth, and especially that night.”

Lorna Luft attending with sister Liza & brother Joey: “The one thing I remember, when you’re 8, adults are supposed to act like adults. They are not supposed to jump out of their chairs, screaming, yelling, running towards the stage. They’re supposed to be in control. There they were, all dressed up in the tuxedos, going nuts.”

The recording of this evening is the only Judy Garland recording on my collection. I don’t need another, she sings each song as if it were her last. The album is still stunning, vivid & vital. It was #1 on the Billboard charts for 13 weeks in 1961, & has never been out of print since.

Judy Garland At Carnegie Hall is the only Garland recording on my collection. I don’t need another, she sings each song as if it were her last. The album is still stunning, vivid & vital. It was #1 on the Billboard charts for 13 weeks in 1961, & has never been out of print since. Judy at Carnegie Hall is an essential album for those who wish to understand pop culture of the 20th century.

Whoopi Goldberg: “When she sings ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’, she combusts onstage at the end of it, that’s how I always wanted to be as an actor. That has always been one of my bars to reach, that state of grace that she goes into at the end of that song, when she sounds like she’s shaking like a branch that’s being blown, & she’s slightly off-key—just slightly. But it doesn’t matter, because she’s on fire.”

Garland's return to the top would be brief. In 1962, Garland was nominated for a best-supporting-actress Oscar for Stanley Kramer’s Judgment at Nuremberg; & a CBS TV special she did with Frank Sinatra & Dean Martin was a smash hit, leading the network to sign her to a $24 million variety series.

We know the sad story: she couldn’t stay away from the pills & her health deteriorated. In 1967, Garland married Mickey Deans, who supplied her with drugs. 3 months later, soon after her 47th birthday, her new husband found her dead of a barbiturate overdose in the bathroom of their London apartment. The viewing of her body at NYC’s Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home, was a stupendous spectacle, with tens of thousands mourners, just a few days before the Stonewall riots, a coincidence connecting the 2 events in many gay peoples’ minds & cemented Garland’s status as The Gay Icon. But Garland was a great artist & remains an icon to people of all persuasions, & the audience at her most celebrated concert was distinguished by diversity as well as devotion.


  1. I'm inspired to get that album! Great article - thanks!

  2. Hi-
    I had Easter dinner in Kenton at the home of two of my favorite PDX females. I noticed that they had the Judy at Carnegie Hall album in a boxed frame on the wall and commented that I read that it was the 50th anniversary of the concert... So my host took the frame down, pulled out the album and played it! Fantastic ;)


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