Lorna Luft did something she said she would never do. The stage and screen star performed “Over the Rainbow”—her late mother’s signature song—during an emotional finale to her June 22 concert performance at Feinstein’s/54 Below.
The daughter of entertainment icon Judy Garland is in town this week performing at Feinstein’s/54 Below as part of the nightlife venue’s Pride Week programming.
Luft arrived in town early to be part of a special event at the Stonewall Inn on Monday. The Greenwich Village venue, which was the site of the 1969 uprising that ignited the modern Gay Rights movement, received National Historic Landmark Status from President Obama June 24, 2016, making it the first LGBTQ establishment in the history of the U.S to receive this distinction. To celebrate this milestone, members of the theatre community descended on Stonewall June 20 to not only commemorate history, but to take part in it as part of Playbill Pride's Stonewall Portraits. The exclusive portrait series was shot by photographer Eric McNatt.
The visit was Luft’s first to Stonewall. She told Playbill.com on Monday, “It’s been 47 years,” referencing the death of her mother on June 22, 1969.
She expanded on her emotions during the June 22 concert, telling the crowd that she had never been to Stonewall, and only learned of the Stonewall Uprising much later in life: during the national tour of Guys & Dolls, when a reporter for the Advocate asked her how she felt about her mother’s legacy and its connection to the Stonewall Riots. Luft had to confess that she didn’t know of Stonewall, and was completely unaware of the events that occurred in connection with her mother’s death. Luft was only 16 at the time.
(Garland’s funeral and memorial service were held in Manhattan June 27, 1969, hours before the Stonewall Inn was raided by the New York Police Department in the early hours of June 28. Her death has long been counted among the factors that caused a group of marginalized LGBT people to take a stand that night, igniting the modern Gay Rights Movement.)
Luft told the crowd that she was moved to learn of Stonewall’s connection to her own family history and that her mother would have supported the uprising, saying that “she hated bigotry of any kind.” Luft added, “I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the LGBT community.”
Luft also addressed the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, a direct attack on the LGBT community that left 49 people dead and 53 injured—the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.
“I said I would never sing this song, and it’s not because it was too emotional for me. But my mother died when she was 47 years old, and it has been 47 years since the Stonewall Uprising,” she said, before adding, “If there was ever a time to sing it, now is the time.”
To cheers and applause, the piano began the introduction to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and Luft began the rarely-sung verse, “When all the world is a hopeless jumble and the raindrops tumble all around…”
The room fell silent as a visibly emotional Luft arrived at the chorus, “Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high…” With tears in her eyes, she continued the song all the way through a full-voiced, powerful finish that was met with a standing ovation.